A story came out this week with multiple players accusing Cal’s long time coach of bullying and intimidation, which some media has also tagged as abuse. As anyone that follows my twitter knows, since my Whitecaps/Canada Soccer blog came out last year, I have become a major advocate for player wellness and so I retweeted the story along with a few comments on my twitter.
140 characters doesn’t give you much of a platform to unwind complex thoughts, but I essentially quoted from the article talking about how much control NCAA coaches have over players lives and how that leaves space for serious misconduct. I also tried to expand further on a follow up tweet about how I know that coaches need to push players, but as players, we all know when a coach says something harsh with a caring intention of making us better and when they are just being an asshole on a power trip.
As I expected, with a few really good friends that are NCAA coaches, my phone lit up after my tweet for some further discussions. I love my friends and the back and forth we can have and how much I learn hearing and mulling over different perspectives to the same situation.
Some of my coach friends points were that there is always two sides to every story (agreed) and many players refuse to take a look at their responsibility or part in a situation.
They pointed to how stressful college coaching is, in trying to keep 30 players happy every year, and also how unstable coaching jobs are. They made the point that with this kind of stress they are human and won’t always be their best selves every day. They also talked about not only having to deal with players, but with parents (what!) that will call them, unhappy if their child isn’t playing.
The coaches I spoke with spoke about a feeling of vulnerability that is in stark contrast to the infinite power that players perceive their NCAA coaches to have.
We can go back and forth about players and coaches and like anything, neither side is perfect, but this is where I think the system is the problem far more than transgressions by individuals, either coaches or players.
Quite simply many athletic departments decide who their coaches are based off of who is winning games. The barometer in our system of who a good coach is, is based off of who has the best record, end of story.
If that takes running players out of the school because the coach perceives them taking up too big of a scholarship for their value, or breaking players down mentally in the name of getting them to perform, then so be it. Most will do what they need to, in order to survive. And most players after a shitty experience will quietly go into the night broken, and with no place to truly have their concerns heard. The system as it is just doesn’t allow for it.
While NCAA programs will say they value good GPA’s or community service at the end of the day, there’s really no reward for coaches if every athlete walks away from a coach’s program having grown through healthy experiences, who loves the game and with a deep respect and admiration of the coach.
A coach could have the happiest players in the world, but if their record is 0-15 their job will be up for grabs with not a lot of time to spare, and this is where the problem lies. What the historical parameters of what makes a good coach has been and that definition has not been made with input from players.
Because there is no carrot for coaches it understandably doesn’t give much motivation to put athlete health and well-being first when they need to feed their families. Especially when often the parameters for winning games and happy players are in direct competition with each other.
Because of this above outlined paradox, I would argue that universities that hire and fire off of records are a part of the problem of coach misconduct towards players.
That being said, hopefully with more athletes finding their voice in all levels of sport and stepping forward to outline negative experiences, schools will start to realize that negative publicity such as what Cal is experiencing far outweighs winning records. Hopefully universities will give coaches some breathing room and create rewards and subsequent motivations for programs that take care of their athletes well-being.
And it goes without saying that athletes also need to step up and realize that life isn’t always going to be fair or go the way they want. And for the love of god, once you’re in college unless it’s a life or death situation, your parents should not be involved.
And I say all this as a former NCAA bench player, grateful that I left the two NCAA programs I was a part of, still in love with the game. I will forever appreciate the coaches I had at Yale and UConn that allowed me that opportunity.
Where things stand now, both coaches and athletes are pawns that will suffer negative experiences in the midst of a broken system and I personally have sympathy for them both.
Wins mean nothing if they come at the cost of broken players that leave their university experience hating the game. The sooner universities realize that and put parameters in place that allow coaches and players to succeed in a healthy, supported manner, the less likely abuse of players will happen.
Anything less than that isn’t good enough.