You’ve probably heard about the coaching scandals at Rutgers University. First we heard about Mike Rice, the men’s basketball coach who abused his players. After that scandal came to light with video footage on the national news, athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned. Rutgers replaced him with Julie Herman, who was accused of being an abusive women’s volleyball coach in the 90s.
I realize that the stakes are high in college, but why can’t coaches motivate with positivity? A coach’s job is more than creating a winning team. It’s about teaching life lessons and molding good humans.
Good coaches are so important to set the tone for the team. They have the power to create a fun experience or a miserable one.
I’ve never been a fan of team sports, and I’ve never joined any sports teams myself. But Mr. HalfFull LOVES them. One of his favorite parts of teaching is coaching sports after school.
Coaching JV Softball
This spring, he coached junior varsity softball. After he met the girls, he would often brag that his team had the highest GPA of any athletic team in the school.
That’s Mr. HalfFull’s positivity kicking in! Yes, these girls were smart and did well academically, but they were not the most athletic group. In fact, some girls had never played softball with an umpire.
I attended the first scrimmage, which didn’t look a whole lot like softball. After two hours, they had only played two innings because neither team was able to field outs. Sometimes there were over 20 runs per inning, but not because the batters were hitting it out of the park. Rather, the pitchers were walking most batters.
At this point, I started to think that softball was volleyball appreciation season (because that’s Mr. HalfFull’s fall sport)! But somehow Mr. HalfFull was able to mold these academically successful girls into a winning athletic team.
By the end of the season, they were fielding double plays! It actually looked like softball.
Throughout the season, I watched Mr. HalfFull provide encouragement. With his positive reinforcement, the girls gained confidence and learned to recognize small achievements themselves. At the end of each home game, the whole team gathered on the bleachers for “one good thing,” where each girl would mention something positive about the game.
Mr. HalfFull emphasized competing well rather than playing to win. Of course, he always wanted to win, but he loves the thrill of a competitive game. He’s the type of sports fan who would prefer a close game that keeps him on the edge of his seat to a game where his team was assured a win.
Being a teenager is tough enough without the added requirement of joining a sports team for the first time. I think that being accepted, encouraged, and supported by Mr. HalfFull was a big part of the team’s success. His modeling as a coach helped the girls treat each other better and become a cohesive team who could appreciate each other’s successes.
Part of this attitude may be from the written expectations created by Mr. HalfFull and his assistant coach, Ms. Noodle, at the start of the season. The section on respect noted that “it’s important to support your teammates when we make errors [and] be able to learn from our own errors…”
It’s probably intimidating to be a 14-year-old girl playing softball on an organized team for the first time with classmates, parents, umpires, and the opposing team all staring at you. So Mr. HalfFull gave each girl a quick pep talk and tap on the helmet before her turn at bat. Teenage girls are so susceptible to self-talk that Mr. HalfFull made sure it was positive self-talk. She was free to do her best and know that her team and coach would still accept her if she didn’t get on base.
End-Of-Season JV Softball Party
The team celebrated the end of the season with a pizza party. Each coach gave a speech, but the girls wanted to speak too. One girl said she started the season with only two friends at school, but now she considers each person on the team her friend. That was a tear jerker!
Another girl said she had so much fun and would always remember the team…even when she’s in college…even when she’s really REALLY old…like 25. That got huge laughs from the coaches and parents.
Another girl, who is academically and artistically gifted, drew a portrait of each player and coach. What a personalized gift and dedication of time!
I know teams that get along well, they party together, but they’re not about the sharing and deep care that you have to have as a team. You have to protect each other… You have to move outside yourself and think about others.
I think Mr. HalfFull’s softball team did just that through their support of each other on the field and through their words and gifts at the end-of-season party.
These girls had a wonderful experience — in large part, thanks to an amazing coach. There are plenty of coaches who yell and berate players. I don’t know if it helps them win, but it can’t instill confidence. Of course, I realize that there are different levels of play and JV is certainly not the most competitive. But isn’t it possible to motivate with positivity at any level?
- What do you think of the situation at Rutgers?
- Do you enjoy team sports?
- Have you had or seen an inspiring coach?