Two Ways We All Learn

Pitchers and catchers reported this past week!  My wife rolls her eyes when I get excited about that, but she’s still learning that February-April are usually the most exciting months for us Cubs fans.  Not this year though – Go Cubs!

My staff just finished hosting the regional hockey tournament last weekend.  I really do enjoy watching kids play hockey – my own included – but there is one aspect of the sport that continually drives me crazy.  All weekend long, I watched kids exhibit behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable to most adults had it not happened on the ice during a hockey game.

(Quick disclaimer – my intent isn’t to throw hockey under the proverbial bus today!  It’s just that my involvement in hockey this weekend reminded me of something I’d heard a few years ago that I still try to follow today.  I’m aware that poor behavior happens to some extent in all sports.)

This weekend, I watched kids chirp constantly at officials, go on profanity laced tirades in the penalty box, give each other extra hacks after the whistle, etc. etc.  Does that happen in other sports?  Sure, from time to time, but not nearly to this frequency.  It’s not tough to understand, though, when I consider the number of hockey dads I saw swearing at officials, yelling at coaches and kids, banging on the glass, etc.  Whenever I bring this up to casual observers, I get the same answer: “Oh, that’s just the hockey mentality.”  There are very few movements to clean this behavior up because it’s “just what happens in hockey.”

Which brings me to my point…

I was at a coaches’ clinic a few years back when I heard a coach give some of the best advice I’ve received.  (I wish I could remember or find my notes so I could give him credit for this observation!)  He said that kids learn in two ways: they learn by what they are taught, and they learn by what they are allowed to do.

Think about that.
Kids learn what they are taught, and
kids learn what they are allowed to do.

What really stuck out to me was how this made perfect sense to me as a parent, but I hadn’t correlated the thought to coaching.  I taught my kids how to fold and put away their clean laundry.  After I knew that they knew how, it was still up to me to make sure that they were doing it.  If all I did was tell them to put away their laundry then warn them time after time after time before putting it away myself, then I would have taught them that they could ignore my warnings, not get in trouble, and I’d put their stuff away.  I’d be allowing them to leave their clothes out.

Relate that to coaching.  As a young coach, I used to get fired up at kids who were using an incorrect technique during games.  I’d get frustrated because we’d work on it at practice, point it out in film, and talk/remind/yell whenever it wasn’t done correctly…then we’d start and play the same kid the next week.  Eventually, we’d hope to find another kid who performed the skill correctly and efficiently enough to replace the kid who wasn’t.  It’s amazing how quickly loss of playing time can usually change a kid’s behavior.

I had the same type of consequences/incentives for behavior, as did the head basketball coach I assisted.  If grades weren’t up to par, if kids didn’t look neat and respectable, if classroom or public behavior slipped, kids weren’t going to represent our teams.  We didn’t allow them to act in a manner that we felt was a poor representation of our programs.  Does that mean it never happened?  Of course not, but kids learned that there were consequences for it.  Because we didn’t allow it, I was proud to have a group of kids who were well behaved in public, played hard, were respectful of those around them, etc.

In organized athletics, this falls on the shoulders of everyone involved.

Coaches, what behaviors are you allowing?  What are the things that you complain about but still continually allow your kids to do?  Take a look at your program atmosphere; do you have rewards/consequences in place to address behaviors that you don’t want in your programs?

Officials, what behaviors are you allowing?  As an AD, I shake my head every time an official calls or emails me to let me know about some bad behavior from our kids or coaches the night before that didn’t result in a penalty.  I have this conversation with my basketball officials often: if you want coaches to stop chirping you during games, start calling technical fouls.  If you as an official call me in the morning to tell me that my coach deserved a T, then you’d better have given him/her one.

Parents, what behaviors are you allowing?  Are you watching your kids do something on the field/court/ice that you don’t agree with?  If so, how are you addressing it with your kids?  From time to time, I see parents in the stands who are embarrassed of their kid’s behavior during games, but I often wonder how this is being fixed at home…or is it just being allowed?

AD’s, what behaviors are you allowing?  I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.  I’ve complained about the conduct of my coaches before but haven’t gone any farther than discussing it with them.  I need to do a better job of making sure my own coaches are fixing their negative behaviors before those traits are passed on to our kids.  I also need to do a better job of holding my coaches accountable for the actions of their kids during games.

It’s a great reminder for everyone when we’re getting frustrated about kids’ behaviors or actions.  What have we taught, and what have we allowed?

As always, start a conversation via comment, Facebook, Twitter, or email.  I enjoy hearing from readers with opinions!

4 Responses

  1. Excellent points Mark. We have lost a few players from our BB program over the past couple of years, mainly because they could not or would not follow our rules and expectations. It may have hurts us a little in the short run, but long term it has made us a stronger program character wise.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thanks, Mr. P. Even having those kids make the decision to not play is a learning experience for them. They’ve seen, to a small extent, that organizations have different rules and different expectations. Hopefully, it won’t come as a shock to them when they get their first job in the adult world and are handed an employee handbook full of rules and regulations.

  2. Richard Dafoe

    As a cross-country coach, it is rare that I have any behavior issues at meets. There is a different bond between runners. They take the physical challenge to the extreme, trying to beat one another, but competing most profoundly with themselves. There is a comradare and friendship between athletes of opposing teams that I don’t see anywhere else.

    The issues I run into are when the school principal stops me before or after practice to let me know of a phone call he received from a concerned or upset community member who had some interaction with my athletes while they were out running the streets of our town. The behavior described often leads to a gut check on my part, a conversation with the team, and often an apology for setting a poor example. For often the behavior described is something the kids have learned from watching me while running or something I have observed them doing and allowed to go unchecked. For some reason runners are continually picked on by passersby. It is incredible what people will yell from the safety of their cars at complete harmless strangers going about their lonely toil. It is because of this that the us against them negative mentality creeps in during training runs instead of on the field or court or ice.

    Thought there is a shared bond and respect on the day of competition, I still share the same teaching burden as other coaches when it comes to athlete behavior and character. Often, however, I wonder who is learning more, my athletes or me? Seeing our behaviors in those we lead can be one of the sharpest learning tools in the business.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      Thank you for the comments, Coach Dafoe. I agree that seeing the behavior of the people we lead can often be a good mirror for our own style of leadership.

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