When I presented for Positive Coaching Alliance working with Ray Lokar, he often said that coaches work in the fish bowl; everyone watches the coach from the outside, often without knowledge of the environment, but the coach always is in front of an audience. This pressure from the fish bowl shapes many of the negative behaviors that we see from coaches: I once watched a coach who would yell loud enough for everyone in the audience to hear him, “Player, we practiced that yesterday for 20 minutes. How can you make that mistake?” There was no information; in essence, he was saying, “Look, I did everything that I could at practice and it is your child who is messing up, not me.” I was appalled, but I see this behavior to some degree fairly often.
As a less extreme level, there is pressure to perform as a coach. Not in terms of the team’s performance, but the coach performing the job of a coach. When a coach does not meet the expectations that the public has for what coaching looks like, the coach is criticized. I know coaches who were fired or not re-hired because their demeanor did not fit the preconceptions of coaching; i short, they did not stand and yell and remonstrate through the entire game like good coaches.
In a recent interview, Steve Nash suggested the opposite when referencing Mike D’Antoni:
I think that was a major part of Mike’s genius, knowing when to step out of the way. That’s hard for coaches because you have a lot of pressure on you and you have to justify your position and salary. And Mike was brilliant, and he helped me and our team a lot, but at times he was also like, “I don’t need to do s–t right now.” And sometimes that’s more brilliant than constantly stepping in, you know. So I have a lot of respect for Mike in a lot of ways, and that’s one of them.
In our current environment, every practice, game, or training session is marketing to validate one’s credentials for the next potential client, whether recruiting better players or finding the next paying customer. Unfortunately, the public’s perceptions of coaching differ from what is best for the athlete. Players do not need to be yelled at constantly. A coach yelling “Pass! Go here! Look there!”, which has been called playstation coaching, is not the best approach for the benefit of the players or the team, although the pressure of the fish bowl often leads the best of us down this path. As Nash said, brilliance is stepping back and allowing the players to play. As I have said previously, I want to step in as little as possible, but instruct as much is necessary.