Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Tough coaching style is out

Kids, parents, administrators won't tolerate it

By Sara J. Bennett
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bobby Knight isn't history yet, but his coaching style is, coaches and players around the Tristate say.

        While Mr. Knight hasn't changed much over his three decades at Indiana University, other coaches have modified their styles. They say today's youths, parents and administrators demand a less-intimidating brand of motivation.

        “The controlling, temper tantrum type of thing just isn't as effective with kids today,” said Bob Nocton, head boys' basketball coach for Middletown High School. “The young coaches that work for us, that's what we talk to them about a lot. We tell them they should have five positive comments for every negative thing they say.”

        In years past, drill sergeant behavior by coaches was widely tolerated, said Mike Mueller, Lakota West High School's head boy's basketball coach

        “When I first started coaching in 1971, both physical and verbal abuse was more acceptable and even considered part of coach ing,” he said. “I was never comfortable with that as a player, so I tried to pattern myself after (other coaches) and be more analytical and kinder.”

        Changes in student attitudes also have made a difference. Today's kids are more likely to question authority and won't put up with public embarrassment, Mr. Nocton said.

        Even if kids look the other way when coaches act up, parents and administrators increasingly won't.

        Xavier men's basketball coach Skip Prosser said that to some degree, coaches used to be able to assume parents were on the side of the coach. But not so much anymore.

        “The landscape is incredibly different. The first time I heard this was from Coach Knight, where he said that kids haven't changed, but parents have changed. I believe there's a lot of truth to that.”

        Archdiocese of Cincinnati officials decided not to renew the contract of McNicholas High School's Jerry Doerger, Cincinnati's winningest basketball coach, saying he protested too vehemently about a referee's calls after McNick's March 9 loss in the Division II district championship game.

        That action prompted protest from some students, parents and alums who defended Mr. Doerger as an emotional coach who loved his athletes.

        “Like any other coach, he was vocally kind of tough, not like harassing us or anything, but he's kind of a vocal guy,” said junior Nat Dyment, 17, of Anderson Township. “That's what sports are all about — being emotional and entertaining.”

        Mr. Doerger, who meets with archdiocese officials today about his job, said he wouldn't lump himself in the same category as Mr. Knight.

        “I am loud and people do hear me and sometimes that gets me in trouble,” he said. “We all need motivation ... I may kick them in the butt, but I also pat them on the back.”

        Lakota West senior Andy Dunn said he once had a summer basketball coach like Mr. Knight. While the coach knew basketball, Andy said he would not play for him again, and neither would he play for Mr. Knight.

        “He needs to be intense and get on players but he goes too far,” said Andy, 18, of Coach Knight. “There are other ways to get across (your point) besides his ranting and raving.”

        An effective coach really cares for his players, says 17-year-old Craig Breetz, a junior who plays football and basketball at Stephen T. Badin High School in Hamilton. “My coach is very tough — not physical. He demands a lot from you and expects 110 percent all the time,” Craig said. He said he has never had a coach who belittles players or tears them down.

        But while coaching is improving at the high school and college levels, experts say more needs to be done to improve the behavior of volunteer coaches working with young children.

        Fred Engh, president of the National Alliance for Youth Sports and author of the book Why Johnny Hates Sports, said it's crucial for coaches and parents to make sure children have positive early sports experiences so they'll continue to be physically active as they mature.

        His West Palm Beach, Fla.-based organization has created programs that train coaches and parents to behave better.

        “It is people like Bobby Knight, and probably him in particular, that have become this awful role model for children's coaches,” Mr. Engh said. “Is there any wonder we look across this country and see rampant abuse in children's sports programs?”

        Sue Kiesewetter and Michael Perry contributed to this report.


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