I coached for 23 seasons at five Division I schools. I was a loyal member of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association all that time, and I've sat courtside at more club and high school games than I could ever begin to count. But somewhere along the line I missed the memo about the recent change. You know the one I'm talking about -- the one that says that coaching and screaming and ranting and childish behavior are now synonymous.
Having spent so much time in the gym through the years I thought I had seen pretty much any behavior that some Bobby Knight wannabes could possibly offer up. On that count, I was right. Where I was wrong was the extent of the "look at me" behavior that permeated the bench this past summer.
Town after town, tournament after tournament and game after game, coaches (and I hesitate to categorize them that way) stomped their feet, threw their hats, verbally abused officials and players, and acted as if the outcome of their games had a direct bearing on the welfare and future of our great nation.
Sorry folks, no game is that serious. And don't try for a second to rationalize it as "just being competitive." It's great to want to win, and it's why they keep score and hand out trophies on the last day.
However, NCAA-certified events are held in July so Division I college recruiters can observe and evaluate the talent and potential of players. That's why they're often referred to as exposure events. It's not your opportunity to flex your coaching muscle and scream at a 15-year-old who already knows that she turned the ball over. I'm guessing she's probably already aware of it, and your tantrum pointing it out may well be for your own benefit rather than her future performance.
This summer's sideline stand-up routines were nothing new, but the extent to which recruiters, parents and, yes, evaluators and media have had to endure them reached new heights. And, sadly, that 's secondary to the athletes looking for some direction and athletic development who ultimately get shortchanged.
The absurdity and pointlessness of this coaching "style" was highlighted in North Augusta, S.C., during the semifinals of the gold bracket of Nike Nationals. All four coaches taught, consoled, corrected and strategized. Yes, they raised their voices, offered animated facial expressions and counseled officials on their vision impairments, but in the end they put their teams first and didn't try to play the role of a coach, they actually coached. It's not a coincidence that they made it to the final four of the premier event of the summer.
Those four aren't the only ones doing it right. There are many impressive folks offering quality leadership, and there are a lot of outstanding coaching jobs being done with teams you don't find playing on the last days of any tournaments. Hopefully athletes and parents will look closely at their club-coaching situations while the summer is fresh in their minds and decide if it's what they want or need in the future.
Yes, you need someone to push you and help you evolve as a player, but that can be done in a constructive and positive manner and more -- with perspective. Getting loud has its place in coaching, especially when an athlete gets something right that she's struggled with all year. That kind of thing is worth hollering about.
Let's take coaching style a step further and apply it to the recruiting process. The college level has its share of animated and ultra-enthusiastic folks roaming the sidelines as well. But there's one caveat for players, and that's the fact that they chose whether or not they want to be a part of that program. Actual coaching style is something that never seems to quite get the attention in the process that other factors do as a recruit assesses a school and what it has to offer.
As I always do, I want to clarify that academics should be a top concern for any prospect. At the same time, the reason the recruiters are in the gym watching, calling, e-mailing, Twittering and whatever other recruiting tap dance they can do, is basketball. If they don't feel that you can contribute to their program on the floor, they won't recruit you just to boost the team GPA. Your college experience will revolve around basketball, and that experience will be greatly influenced by the individual that you call coach.
The recruiting process is like dating. Everyone puts on their best in all the recruiting efforts. They're great on the phone, they say the right things in letters and e-mails, and are incredible hosts on official and unofficial visits. The reality is that you still don't really know them.
You know what they presented to you. It's your responsibility to get to know what's real and what's marketing. For the good ones, there isn't a lot of difference, but there are a lot of salespeople in the recruiting process and the difference between what their pitch is and what you'll find on campus is night and day.
This may be a little late for this year's seniors, but younger athletes still have an opportunity see what a coach's demeanor and approach are on the practice floor and come game time. Find out firsthand by making the effort to see the coaches in action and decide for yourself that what you see is what you're looking for in a coach.
I've offered this advice before, but sneak into a practice sometime or go to a game and don't let them know that you'll be there. Talk with current players and find out what they think of the coach and his or her style. If you end up unhappy in the gym, it's going to be difficult to not let it influence other aspects of your life and college experience.
The last thing you want to do is end up with one of those Jekyll-and-Hyde types who walks between the lines and evolves into something from a Stephen King novel. You need a coach who won't ignore you when you come out of a game. You need a coach who knows you didn't miss shots or throw away passes on purpose and can help you solve the problem.
You need a coach who won't spend an entire timeout unloading on what just happened rather than dealing with what comes next. You need a coach who won't become obsessed with the officials and forget about the team. In short, you need a coach who won't just play the role of a coach, you need one who will actually coach. There are some good ones out there, and they're worth finding.