SPORT SAFETY: Be Forewarned – Immature Coaches Produce Immature Players
When Youth Coaches Taunt Opposing Players
By Doug Abrams
On April 2, a bench clearing brawl broke out in a California junior varsity baseball game between Yuba City High School and Fair Oaks Del Campo High School. With the score tied 3-3 in the sixth inning, Yuba City’s pitcher turned, hurled the ball at Del Campo’s first base coach, and left the mound to charge at the coach. The throw missed, but players began throwing punches and wrestling one another near first base before order was restored. As so often happens nowadays, a fan filmed the melee and posted it on YouTube, where it has received more than 175,000 views on several sites, including http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jssi_W0dNTU. (Caution: some brief, off-color language by a parent in the background).
The California baseball brawl recalls an even uglier incident that occurred last October 14 at the end of an overheated Georgia varsity football game between two local archrivals, Warren County High School and the Hancock Central High School. When the victorious Warren County squad left the field and headed for the visiting team’s locker room, they found the door locked. As the players waited outside for someone to arrive with the key, the two teams began fighting and players took off their helmets to swing them as weapons against their opponents. Sheriff’s deputies used pepper spray to separate the teams, and two players reportedly suffered concussions.
An opponent’s helmet struck Warren County’s head coach in the face, and he was rushed to the hospital with a severely shattered right eye socket that doctors held together with bolts. “It was like if you crushed up cornflakes, that’s what all this bone looked like,” the coach said later. “We are very lucky the hit did not move over just a little bit,” said Warren County’s school superintendent, “or we could have had a dead coach.”
When Coaches Lose Self-Control
These two confrontations happened coasts apart, but they share a common sinew unmentioned above — trash talking throughout the games. At least in the Georgia football game, trash talking began days earlier in the social media, but blaming Facebook deflects much of the attention from where it rightfully belongs. Press reports indicated that before both the California and Georgia brawls, coaches had also taunted opposing players.
The Maryville Appeal-Democrat reported that Del Campo’s first base coach allegedly yelled insults at the Yuba City dugout and the pitcher (including insults about the pitcher’s mother, according to at least one parent on the scene). The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported allegations that a Hancock volunteer assistant coach (who was Warren County’s former head coach) had sent an insulting text message directed at the Warren County players before the game.
“The Most Important Individuals for Maintaining Safety”
Perhaps influenced by widely broadcast trash talkers in the professional ranks, trash talking increasingly infects high school sports and youth leagues in many places today. For some pro stars and some impressionable youth leaguers, it no longer seems enough just to defeat your opponents; you must also try to rub their noses in the dirt before you leave the field. Rick Wolff and I have talked on the air about how the social media and interactive blogs can add fuel to the fire.
Youth league coaches need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. As team leaders, coaches are the last buffers between their players and game action. Indeed, pediatric professionals call youth coaches (in the words of Toronto neurosurgeon Charles H. Tator) “the most important individuals for maintaining safety” during games. Coaches compromise safety when they target opposing players with verbal cheap shots that most reasonable adults would find unacceptable coming from their own children. The brief YouTube video linked above shows how quickly coaches can supply the spark that ignites an overheated game when they trade words with opposing players.
Follow the Leader
Aside from safety risks, however, trash talking by youth coaches simply sends the wrong citizenship messages to the youngsters they supervise and influence. Coaching resembles a spirited game of “follow the leader” because the coach sets the team’s tone, for better or worse. Mature coaches tend to turn out mature players, and unhinged coaches tend to turn out unhinged players.
Coaches represent themselves, their families, their schools, and their communities in every game. Coaches do nobody any favor when they succumb to trash talking that sullies the values they should be trying to teach. Teams play just as well, and perhaps even better, when their coaches seek to win with the dignity and decorum that thoughtful adults expect from the players themselves.
Restraint and Example
With cooperation from parents at home and in the stands, coaches should restrain their players from trash talking by providing instructions that begin during the preseason meeting and continue in the locker room throughout the year. But before they can restrain players, coaches must restrain themselves. Coaches teach values best by the personal example they set on and off the field, and the formula is simple:
Children cannot learn much about maturity from coaches who conduct themselves like immature children.
[Sources: Bryan DeMain, Yuba City High JV Baseball Involved in Brawl, Marysville (Cal.) Appeal-Democrat, Apr. 3, 2012; Bill Lindelof, At Least One Player Disciplined for Yuba City High Baseball Brawl, Sacramento Bee, Apr. 6, 2012; Online Trash Talk Blamed for Turning Football Rivalry Violent, CNN Wire, Nov. 4, 2011; George Mathis, School Attorney: Football Coach Sent Threatening Texts Before Fight, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 28, 2011]