Search Box

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."


Anonymous said...

Why does the athlete stay in the team, and why does the parent allow the athlete to stay in the team???

John Craig said...

Maybe the athlete loves the sport, and maybe the only other teams in that sport are not close by. Maybe the coach is actually a decent coach despite having a narcissistic personality, and maybe the athlete has a lot of friends on that team. Or maybe the team is associated with your college and so you're stuck. All sorts of reasons, I guess. I know I've been in situations when I was younger where I was basically stuck and had no choice unless I was going to give up my sport.

Anonymous said...

It's been the good fortune of both my children to have wonderful coaches for almost every team on which they have played, regardless of the sport. Granted they're still young (middle schoolers) and as you said, many of those coaches also have sons or daughters on the team and genuinely like kids, so they don't really fall into the category of coaches you describe in your post. But generally I think having to deal with a difficult coach, or teacher of any kind, can give a kid a realistic view of what it'll be like to deal with other difficult people later in life (bosses, co-workers, etc). Though that won't make their athletic experience pleasant, it'll definitely give them a skill they can use.

John Craig said...

Anonymous -- Excellent point. I used to tell my son that the guy he had to deal with when he was in middle school (a professional coach, and a screamer) was the type he would have to deal with his entire life, so get used to it.

Thanks for your comment.