- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Athletes know they have to perform under pressure. The pressure often comes from having to do their best when it matters most during an athletic event. Athletes are in control of their actual performance on the playing field.
Coaches have a very different role. They are in charge of the team. And yet they physically can’t do one thing on their field to impact the outcome of the game. They can’t throw a pitch, catch a pass or kick a ball. They have influence over the game by the way they prepare their players before the game and communicate with players during the game.
There is no doubt coaches are vital to the success of their teams. Coaches’ behavior also can have other impacts for their teams.
In October, two different events received significant attention concerning coaches’ behavior toward opposing coaches.
The most notorious event took place in the National Football League. After the San Francisco 49ers beat the previously unbeaten Detroit Lions, there was a bizarre encounter between Jim Schwartz, coach of the Lions, and Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers.
Normally after a game, coaches meet at mid-field, shake hands and exchange pleasantries as a sign of good sportsmanship. On this particular day, Schwartz took offense at the jubilation that his opposing coach demonstrated after winning. He felt that Harbaugh shook his hand too hard and was not gracious. This incensed Schwartz so much that he had to be separated from Harbaugh to prevent a physical fight with him.
That same weekend, a similar event took place after a college football game. The coaches from Vanderbilt and Georgia had to be separated after Vanderbilt suffered a difficult loss at the University of Georgia stadium.
These two events raise the question concerning the responsibility coaches have to perform under pressure and meet the expectations of behavior set by their professional organizations. Coaches have many roles to follow, including setting the standard for how they expect their players to act at all times when they are representing their university or professional sports organization.
When players violate team rules or expectations there usually are consequences — playing time is reduced or even demotions on the depth chart. Sometimes players are released from their playing opportunity. Players often are given the opportunity to learn specific mental skills so they are able to perform under pressure. Performing under pressure is not just throwing accurate passes or throwing a baseball fast. It often means thinking about the consequences of actions in the midst of the high-pressure actions.
Coaches need to take seriously their role and learn the skills of thinking under pressure. There is no excuse for behavior that is detrimental to one’s self or employer. Coaching is a very different skill and performance than is being a player.
Coaches still need to learn how to control emotions and act and speak appropriately in these situations.
Coaching is a performance. Coaching is a verbal game. Coaching means being able to say the right thing under pressure even when the situation is difficult.
There should not be a double standard. Players and coaches are expected to perform at their best when it matters most.
When coaches are the focus of the television coverage, it matters what they say and do. This episode between the coaches of the Lions and 49ers illustrates the importance of setting the standard for performing under pressure. This should have been a non-event warranting no further press coverage.
However, as anyone who has coached at any level will affirm, coaching is a pressure sport. It is not just knowing the game and the players, it is projecting the image and skill appropriate for a leader. When coaches learn the performance skills of leadership then coaching can be a lot more fun and functional.
Keith Wilson is a performance consultant in Hardin County and owner of The Wilson Center for Performance. He is performance anxiety consultant to the Hardin County Schools Performing Arts Center. He can be reached at TheWilsonCenter7@aol.com.