Walking into my office, I noticed the message-light blinking on my phone. I picked up the receiver and listened to the message, “The Athletic Director just received a call about you. He would like to see you in his office as soon as possible.”
Not a great way to start the day.
Should I Put “Be Attacked” On My To-Do List?
Today, all too often, coaches find themselves having hassles. Well … actually not just hassles, more like being attacked. In the history of sport it was never expected that everyone would agree with a coach; however, coaches were usually well regarded and their opinions and methods respected.
Today, not so much.
In today’s Wild World of Coaching Sport today it is very common and should be expected, that coaches will be challenged. And the way they are challenged can best be described as being attacked — to be harsh, verbal-criticized or physically harmed.
Let me clear on this point, I’m not talking about discussions with a superior where you are evaluated or critiqued in a constructive manner. The basis of those conversations is improvement. Instead, I’m talking about efforts leveled at a coach that are nothing but harmful in intent.
And let’s get this out in the open also — yes, there are some lunkheads in our profession who do some very bad things. But the vast majority of coaches are good, caring people who coach to make a difference. And those good coaches don’t deserve what is happening to them.
Why Coached Are Attacked
Here’s why I think so many coaches are being attacked — a power differential. Coaches have power and others don’t, and that does not sit well with some.
I found, over the years, that when I’ve been attacked it’s usually because the person disagrees with my position, say on team selection, and they feel like an injustice has happened. They disagree with the decision and they want their opinion known. And they want results. and they usually want them right now.
Hm…. I don’t know about you, but I’m also feeling a sense of entitlement creeping into the sports world recently.
And, heck, I’m on a roll, now that I’m thinking of it, there are few (if any) examples today in our instant-media world where people actually negotiate and discuss things with each other in a nice way without actually attacking the other person.
Whoa. That’s three significant reasons and they contribute to why so many of us are under fire.
What’s that you say? You haven’t been attacked yet? Just wait. As my friend likes to say, “There are two types of coaches: those who HAVE been attacked and those that WILL be attacked.”
Different Types Of Attacks
There’s a lot of thinking that goes into conflict-resolution but I’m presenting the following to you more from an experiential perspective than academic one. I’d like to suggest to you that a coach can suffer five different types of attacks.
These attacks, ranging from the basic snarky-competitor-fan-comments to lawsuits to the physical shoves, beatings and assaults are becoming a way of business for coaches. Those attacks can take a terrible toll on coaches and are driving many good, caring coaches out of the vocation.
What To Do?
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and reduce the price you pay when attacked. The first step is to understand the types of attacks you might suffer, and the second step is to have a defensive plan. I’ve put together the following in an attempt to help you find your way through the potential hardship of being attacked, and if you are under-the-gun or in a hurry you can find specific actions steps to take directly at the end of this post.
What it is: Its part of the game — that’s what they say about fans and opponents razzing. Y’know, talking trash, mouthing off, hoots from the opposing fans, fan-signs that lay-it-out. It happens a lot. Often it is just a mean way for fans to support their team, and attemptto throw you off your game.
Defense: The best coaches ignore the razzing, even though the words can be hurtful. There’s nothing like a drunk fan shouting, “Hey coach, you suck!” To start your contest off with a bang, but it needs to and deserves to be ignored.
Interesting, I’ve witnessed creative and funny razzing. Once, the athletic trainer for the opposing team wore a sweater vest. The entire game the crowd chanted “Sweater Vest. Sweater Vest.” This went on for three quarters of the game. Even the home team’s fans joined in. (I never realized how many people don’t like sweater vests.) Finally, the trainer took off the vest in dramatic fashion and threw it into a large trash can on the sidelines. He got a standing ovation from the crowd and high fives from his own players.
Razzing can be good natured but often it goes too far and can be insultive and disrespectful. The best defense is to just ignore it.
What it is: Where razzing comes from the opposing camp, naysaying comes from those around you. Often from your peers, colleagues, alumni, and own teammates. Naysaying happens when an idea, plan, or your actions (like a coaching strategy or philosophy) is criticized.
Defense: Two things can make naysaying difficult to deal with. First, the naysayer may actually have power or control over you that could make your job difficult. Second, where razzing is expected, naysaying often is not. Naysaying comes from those who know you or work with you, often making naysaying surprising when it happens.
My suggestion for handling a naysaying attack: acknowledge it, listen to the person, negotiate if possible/needed, move on.
What Is it: A degnigration attack has one goal, to lay waste to you and/or your job.
Fifteen years ago, when a parent disagreed with a decision you made, like the playing time for their son, you may have never heard about it. The parents might have kept their opinion to themselves or stayed at the naysayer level.
Three years ago, if parents had a concern about playing time, your athletic director was probably contacted, and you and he had a “discussion.”
Today, the president of your college, superintendent of your school district, or local congressman, may be contacted demanding they do something about the travesty you have caused. You should be fired. You should/will be sued. You are a horrible terrible person.
I am NOT joking. Some of you know this all too well.
I call this being nuked, where the complainer flies into the president’s office on a stealth bomber and drops a tactical nuclear weapon on you and your career. Let me share something about this as someone who has been nuked — it sucks. More and more of these attacks happen each day, and are happening to some exceptional people.
Defense: What can you do? A few simple, but crucial, things:
- The new reality of coaching in today’s Wild World of Coaching Sport is you have to document everything. Every difficult conversation, every selection process, every stressful event needs to be recorded and filed. And it needs to be done in such a manner that anyone could read it and understand it. Factual and specific.
- Realize that every conversation you have with an athlete/parent/supporter can come back to haunt you. Both positive and negative ones.
- Form extraordinary relationships with your direct supervisor and an even more extraordinary relationship with his/her supervisor.
- Do not take these attack personally (even though they are personal attacks) Instead realize they are part of coaching and take them on professionally.
- Be prepared to present information professionally to defend yourself
What it is: I’ve written about these before. A lawsuit is defined as a claim or dispute brought to a court of law in which a party who claims to have incurred a loss is seeking remedy. Regardless of how you define it, and regardless if the suit is based on fact or fiction, a lawsuit can lay waste to a career; the mental, physical health of a coach; and drain the financial resource of a coach and organization.
Lawsuits are becoming increasingly frequent as people who feel strongly, after going through an organization’s or institution’s appeal process, that they were not heard, or the actions granted them were not proper, are looking for recourse. Often coaches are named as a defendant along with the organization and other entities.
Defense: At this part of the conversation I need to back out, because if there is any mention of lawsuit at all, at any level, you need legal counsel. Seriously. If you think there is even a minisucial chance of being sued, then seek counsel ASAP.
I will recommend one thing here, and that is to make sure that you have liability insurance, at least one million dollars worth of coverage. I will be writing about that more, in detail, during this series.
Scary stuff. Sorry. But it goes with our territory.
What it is: Simple enough, a physical assaults is an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact. Too often this happens to coaches with devastating results.
Coaches have been maimed and even killed by physical attacks. My first ever exposure to this was in the movie According to Garp, when T.S. Garp the wrestling coach was shot as he coached. Granted that was fictional, but it happens more than we hear about. I’ve been shot at twice. Once by an idiot with a high-powered rifle that shot at everyone at our practice, the other by a drunken hunter who was annoyed by us having practice. Luckily, both of them were poor shots.
Physical assaults against coaches are on the rise. Dont’ believe me? Set up a Google Alerts account for “coach assaulted” and watch the daily results roll in. Bummer.
Defense: Here you go:
- Be aware of your surroundings, listen to your spidey-sense, and don’t put yourself in harms way.
- If step one fails, and an attack does occur, protect the athletes, family members, bystanders.
- Protect yourself.
- Inform the authorities immediately and press charges to the fullest extent the the law will allow.
Don’t waffle on that last one. I have pressed charges twice. Each one was difficult but the right thing to do.
What’s The Next Action?
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but odds are you will be attacked (I’m crossing my fingers that I’m wrong on that, but I honestly believe I’m correct). Here are a few actions you should seriously consider taking if you are attacked:
Before an attack
It seems like lack of information, or a misunderstanding of information, “such as policies” is at the center of so many attacks. So one of the solutions I suggest to coaches is to be very proactive. For example, at the beginning of the season make sure all interested parties have a copy of the selection procedures for the team. Possibly this should include how positions will be selected. A simple document that details critical proceedures and expectations could also be helpful and reduce naysaying and degnigration attacks.
During an attack
If you find yourself being verbally attacked, say at a contest, I suggest you always take the high road. As my father used to say, “There’s only room for one bozo on the stage at a time and you don’t want to be the one next in line.” Something to keep in mind.
Aggressive parents, shouting competitors, obnoxious fans should not be addressed during an attack. I’m not suggesting necessarily turning the other cheek, but what I am suggesting is to not inflame the situation. Often when people are yelling or screaming they are in no mood to listen to reason. Later, when things turn cooler, and saner heads prevail (or sobreity kicks in) that may be the time to either counter arguments or to present facts that support you. And if it is razzing, then get through it as best you can and report it to your supervisor when the time is right.
Regardless of how much you may want to get into the fray I strongly suggest you resist. (Make sure someone’s taking notes because usually an attack should be a forewarning that future hassles will be coming.)
After an attack
If you find yourself in the unenviable position of having been attacked then you have an obligation as a professional, and it doesn’t matter whether you are paid or volunteer, head coach or assistant, to report what happened to your direct supervisor. And, if any threats have been made you need to contact the local law officials.
Here are a few other steps to consider:
- Form that great relationship with your immediate and next supervisor asap.
- Prepare yourself mentally for attacks. You could be attacked at any level at any time.
- Prepare yourself professionally for attacks. Keep documentation, as we discussed, and file it safe and sound.
- React to any attack professionally.
- Do not put yourself in any compromising (such as meeting with an athlete alone) or dangerous situations and listen to your spidey sense about your surroundings
I know so often coaches think they just need to take the abuse. I think that is misguided thinking along the lines that an artist can’t be a good artist unless she starves.
No one deserves to be attacked. But if you are the right steps can help you.
So, what do you think? Have a story about being attacked to share? Comments are on — chime in.
(And I would be most grateful if you would share this with some of your peers, either by clicking the share button below or sending the link along.) It might just help someone have a better day. Thanks.)