How to Keep Your Cool as a Coach (Sometimes Against All Odds)

The stereotypical red-faced angry coach Bobby Knight is a superstar among many coaches.

Knight’s story is a fantastic one - a rise to fame and fortune with a sharp and steep decline. He left in his wake more winning NCAA basketball games than any other at the time of his retirement. While a fairy tale story for some, there is a huge red flag warning here for most. The infamous coach is known for not just his winning, but his anger on and off the court which eventually led to his downfall. And while most of us will never hit the level of angry that Bobby Knight represents, we definitely need to be hyper-vigilant to make sure that (especially in youth sports) anger is not part of what defines the coach.

Anger and the Bobby Knight Syndrome

Indiana University (IU) is home to the iconic Hoosiers. This team has movies made about it. The team and its colorful, long-term coach Bobby Knight are literally the thing of legends. There are very few youth basketball players then, and now, that would not give almost anything to be part of that team.

Nicknamed The General, Knight won 902 NCAA Division I men's college basketball games, the most all-time at the time of his retirement and currently third all-time (behind his former player and assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, who are both still active). Knight is best known as the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers from 1971 to 2000. He also coached at Texas Tech (2001–2008) and at Army (1965–1971).

While at Indiana, Knight led his teams to three NCAA championships, one National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship, and 11 Big Ten Conference championships. His 1975–76 team went undefeated during the regular season and won the 1976 NCAA tournament. The 1976 Indiana squad is the last men's college basketball team to go undefeated for the entire season. Knight received National Coach of the Year honors four times and Big Ten Coach of the Year honors eight times. In 1984, he coached the USA men's Olympic team to a gold medal, becoming one of only three basketball coaches to win an NCAA title, NIT title, and an Olympic gold medal.

Knight was one of college basketball's most successful and innovative coaches, having popularized the motion offense. He has also been praised for running good programs (none of his teams were ever sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations), and most of his players graduated. However, Knight has sparked controversy with his behavior. He famously threw a chair across the court during a game and was once arrested for assaulting a police officer. Knight regularly displayed a volatile nature and was prone to violent outbursts with students and during encounters with members of the press. He was also recorded on videotape grabbing one of his players by the neck. Knight remains "the object of near fanatical devotion" from many of his former players and Indiana fans. Nevertheless, Knight's combative nature and unacceptable pattern of behavior reached a saturation point, and University President, Myles Brand, fired him in 2000.

In 2008, Knight joined ESPN as a men's college basketball studio analyst during Championship Week and for coverage of the NCAA Tournament. He continued covering college basketball for ESPN through the 2014–15 season. (Source).

Public displays of anger by sports coaches may have been totally cool in the 80s and 90s, but these days they are a non-starter in terms of keeping the gig. Not to mention they do not make for good role models.

Coaches as Role Models

The idea that coaches are more than just skill building disciplinarians or alternatively cheerleaders, is also a newer concept. The soft skills that present as a role model and teach the kids on the team to play hard, right, fair, and with empathy are certainly not what was celebrated a few years ago when winning was all that mattered. Don’t get us wrong - winning matters and you are in your role to teach the kids some serious ball game skills. However, the entire outlook on youth sports has shifted to being more holistic.

Even Psychology Today has addressed this:

Coaches can be one of the most influential figures in the life of an athlete. Their influence can continue long after the season (and career) ends. This implies that coaches have a moral responsibility to have a positive influence on their players. Coaches will impact their players, and it is up to them whether this impact is for good or ill.

We All Get Angry - So What Do We Do?

As much as we all know that mental toughness is an asset in sports, this really cannot be accomplished these days through yelling and anger. Rather, it can be accomplished through the game itself and the lessons that come from hard work and winning and losing. That said, we all find ourselves getting frustrated and angry from time to time. So what do you do so that anger doesn’t spill over and impact those around us. Well, for each of us the tips and tricks we use are going to be a little bit different - but things like counting to 10, breathing 3 deep breaths, or visualizing positive ways to say what we want to say are the things that are likely going to ingratiate us faster to the parents on the team, have their kids look up to us, and keep our coaching gigs.

For more tips on how to be a great youth sports coach keep following us at Hustle Training.