It can be a fine line that coaches walk. A balancing act between demanding discipline or the alternative to reinforcing behaviors. Both can be effective, but the growing perception is that they are mutually exclusive regarding coaching philosophy.

The Two Generations

What one witness as an archaic style of coaching, others find soft. These debates aren’t new, but the prominence and prevalence of social media make the dichotomy of coaching styles all the more polarizing. This is the era of Middle Child Coaching – shout out to J. Cole for the convenient metaphor.

Are we stuck between two generations of coaching?

Image by NBC Sports
Image by Houston Chronicle

Coaches tend to be a reflection of their predecessors or idols. One of the first pieces of advice I received from a veteran high-school coach, “Sometimes it is just as important to experience what you wouldn’t do as a coach, than what you agreed with.”

We take from what we know. We could probably all agree, coaches that find the most success are the ones that adapt and evolve with the student-athletes change over time. This is what makes alumni events with these coaches that have been around for over two decades so much fun. Hearing the stories of former players that can remember a younger, more animated coach (likely with more hair and in better shape) at the time deciding a consequence to poor performance. Or, the verbal lashing once received for disobedience to team rules. Except now, those former players are parents. And those parents may be coaches themselves, creating their own set of team rules. Or they are parents of prospective players hoping to censor their children from similar experiences with coaches. And all of those children are great with cell phones/technology who love to share a good story beyond just the alumni circles.

It is a challenge for coaches to strike that right balance today between firm, yet fair. What used to be considered firm may now be considered insensitive. What some considered fair, may now be perceived as excessive. And I think that the coaches existing today are a blend between two perspectives. On one end you have a guy like Tom Izzo still putting a finger in an athlete’s face reminding him a previous possession is unacceptable to program standards. On the other end, you may have a guy like Head Coach Mike Neighbors who will literally give his clipboard to players to draw up plays during games (a la Steve Kerr with Iguodala).

“If you turn your team over to your team, that’s a sign that you’ve done what you’re supposed to do in the off season.” – Mike Neighbors, University of Arkansas Women’s Basketball Coach (Former U. Washington)


It Is About Trust 

Wherever you stand on this paradigm of psychology in coaching; it all comes down to trust. I firmly believe that life catches up with your character. The debate on a coach’s philosophical approach regarding accountability and discipline can be a constructive conversation. A conversation that should revolve around their relationship between coach and player. Emotions can become high because of investment. True coaches have an investment in their players’ success and pride in the program they are helping to build or sustain. See the Johnny Dawkins post-game conversation with his kids after losing to Duke.

The coaches that can get exposed, develop poor relationships built on extrinsic motivation. It should never be forgotten the real return on investment. The opportunity to develop young men and women to be the next generation that leads the right way.



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