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OPINION - A coach over the line?

by Chris Conley
NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Dave was a friend of mine in high school. He was a tall kid. He was a reasonably good basketball player. Good, not great. 

Dave’s height was his biggest asset. He was 6-9. But he wasn’t a physical, intimidating player. He’d score because he taller than most other kids. 

Dave would drive his coach crazy because he’d catch the ball near the basket and would take fade-away jump shots 5-feet away from the rim. When a tall player is moving backwards, or fading away from the basket, he loses his height advantage. A big player should be moving forward – towards the basket – which makes him much tougher to defend. It was not easy to coach Dave on this point. Coach’s frustration was mounting with each fade-away. The coach would blow his whistle. Practice would stop. “Forward!” coach would yell, getting into Dave's face. “Towards the rim!” Dave did it right sometimes. He did it wrong sometimes. Coach road him hard. 

I remember some of the things that were said. 

‘That’s a wimpy shot, and we don’t have wimps on this team!’ 

‘A man goes towards the rim… a girl fades away! Stop playing like a girl!” 

‘What are you, a [slang for the female anatomy]?’ 

For whatever reason, Dave was a hard kid to coach. He was singled out. He was also turned into a much better player by the end of the season. And his coach made sure to praise him for his success. When he did it right, he'd hear about that too. 

Where’s the line? When does a coach push too hard? I don’t think Dave was abused or mistreated. I’m sure others who saw these practices might disagree. 

The physical aspects of the ex-Rutgers coach Mike Rice are obvious to us, more so because they were caught on video. But those cases will be rare. The line of what is and isn’t acceptable is verbal – and where that line is will be up for debate. I think coaching can be forceful so long as it’s corrective and instructive. As we set boundaries for coaches, let’s remember that competitive sports attract competitive people. Within reasonable limits, they want to be pushed. And many say their best coaches were the ones who pushed them the hardest. 

Chris Conley