Sunday, May 2, 2010
I was recently talking to a parent whose child is on an athletic team. This parent told me what a narcissistic personality the coach was. Evidently he humiliated some of the kids in front of the others, and set down rules which he bent for his favorites but not for others. He questioned his athletes' college choices if they placed too much emphasis on academics, and even discouraged them from studying too much if it interfered with his practices. And he hated anything which interfered with his control. Unfortunately, this type of personality is not rare in coaching.
Perhaps this should not be a surprise. Why do people go into coaching in the first place? Often, because they can't get along with other adults. Narcissistic personalities don't like being put into a position where they must deal with others on an equal basis. They prefer to give orders, to be in control, to not be questioned, and to deal with people who can't talk back. What kind of career options does this leave you? You can become a Marine drill sergeant. You can become a prison guard. Or you can become a coach.
It is an unfortunate situation because these maladjusted men (for the most part, it is men who are attracted to coaching) have so much control over their athletes' lives. A teacher has a student for three hours a week, for one year. A coach can have that same student for ten hours a week, for four or more years. So if the student really loves his sport, he's at the coach's mercy. When I was in college, the most hated guys on campus were probably the football, basketball, and swimming coaches. Their athletes simply despised them.
This is certainly not always true. One of the most beloved figures at my college was the crew coach, whose athletes usually kept in touch with him even after they graduated. There also seems to be a difference between amateur and professional coaches. An amateur coach, who usually has a child who plays the sport, does it as a sideline to his regular occupation. These coaches tend to be reasonable and understanding. Someone who coaches for a living, on the other hand, is more likely to be a petty tyrant.
The next time you hear a coach say, "I got into coaching because I like working with kids," listen very carefully. You may hear this faint echo: "...and because I've never gotten along with people my own age."