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Don't Take It Out On The Coach

The following is a recent entry to Dan Spainhour's substack, Game Changing: Changing The Way You Look at Things So The Things You Look at Will Change

I can’t even remember where I first heard it, but it is something that stuck to me like glue and has been with me ever since. “Don’t take it out on the coach!” So simple yet so profound. This simple saying has been my motto for life since my early days of coaching. You see, at the end of the day you will exit this world the same way you came in it—by yourself.

Therefore, it is so important to take care of yourself and not allow others to live inside your head. When I first started coaching, I wanted to control everyone and everything. Along about my third year as a head coach, one of my players was arrested for stealing a car. I was immediately placed in a no-win situation. The player was a promising college prospect. These were the days before so much emphasis was placed on summer travel teams and how a prospect performed during their high school season still mattered.

The circumstances surrounding the car theft were confusing. It happened over the summer. The player was at a party—not drinking—and said he decided to take the homeowner’s car out for a drive and was going to come back. He was going to his girlfriend’s house. The homeowner, seeing that his car was gone, called the police and neither the police nor the homeowner believed he was simply borrowing the car.

There were a lot of factors involved. For one, the player was black, and the homeowner and police officers were white. And this was long before the Black Lives Matter movement. Two, the player’s parents persisted that even though he should have asked to borrow the car he was innocent of stealing and begged me to allow him to play. I decided I would punish him by extra running and conditioning as well as making a public apology, but I would allow him to play at least until his case came to court.

Well, come to court it did. I was in court on my player’s behalf as a character witness when the judge openly belittled me for allowing him to be on the team. What happened to innocent until proven guilty I thought to myself. It was even picked up in the papers that the Judge questioned why he was still allowed to play.

Next, the homeowner sent a letter to my principal demanding that I be fired for not kicking this player off the team. Fortunately, my principal believed in me! Everyone was convinced the only reason I allowed him to stay on the team was because I was only concerned about winning. Which as much as I have always wanted to win—that had no bearing in my decision to wait until his case came to court to remove him from the team. Well, as it turns out, I had no choice—the judge as part of his sentencing stipulated that he could no longer play high school basketball—something that still makes no sense to me even to this day.

The point of me telling this lengthy story is that no matter what I decided I wasn’t going to win. It was at this point in my young career I made a commitment to myself. Regardless of what was going on around me I would never take it out on me. I would choose to feel good, and I would do what I had to do to replace those stressful situations with ones that felt better.

For example, if you think really hard right now about something that makes you incredibly angry then your face will become red, your blood pressure will rise, and your digestion will start up. All things that will eventually take their toll on you. Not to mention what it does to your peace of mind, which I believe is the most damaging aspect.

I also learned long ago that players let things such as losses go much easier than coaches do. Coaches tend to hold onto them for a long time. I saw this on one of my earlier out of town trips with my team. We had just lost to a highly ranked team in a game that no doubt we should have won. I was devastated, frustrated and just plain mad. When I went to do bed checks all the guys were in their room either fast asleep or were playing video games. The loss was long gone for them.

I urge you to take steps to take care of yourself. Leadership and coaching can take its toll on you if you allow it. When you adopt the attitude that you will always put your health and mindset first, you not only will thrive, but you have a much better chance of surviving for a long time.

Not taking anything out on the coach is Game Changing. In the long run you will be extremely glad you didn’t!


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