Coaching Young Athletes

Coaching Young Athletes

William C. Kashatus
Philadelphia Daily News
June 12, 2006

When T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., was desegregated in 1972, Bill Yoast, a highly successful football coach, was replaced by Herman Boone, an African-American.

Although Yoast’s pride was hurt, he accepted an assistant-coaching position. Together, he and Boone overcame their differences and taught their players – both black and white – to trust each other and play together as an integrated team.

In the process, the two coaches led their school to the state championship and unified a racially divided community. Walt Disney Productions chronicled their story in the 2000 hit film “Remember the Titans.”
Last month, when I met Yoast, I asked him how he had become so successful.

“Good decisions,” he replied.

“How do you make good decisions?” I asked.

“Experience,” he said.

Frustrated with his brief response, I asked, “How do you get experience?”

Yoast smiled and answered, “Bad decisions.”

Bill KashatusOur discussion reminded me of all the “bad decisions” I had made over the two decades I taught and coached soccer, basketball and baseball in some of Philadelphia’s most competitive independent schools.

Though I would never have admitted it at the time, “winning” was more important to me than the moral and athletic development of my student-athletes.

No, I wasn’t a “win-at-all-costs” coach. All of the schools were religiously-affiliated, which demanded fairly rigid standards of player and coach behavior.

But winning was still the priority. And many of those teams did win. They also turned out some Division I players and two young men who recently qualified for the 2006 U.S. World Cup team, Bobby Convey and Chris Albright.

My desire to win was probably the result of my own mediocrity as a high school and college athlete. I wanted to live vicariously through my own players. That motivation clouded my decision-making on more than a few occasions.

It wasn’t unusual for me to extend daily practices as punishment for a poorly played game. Nor was it uncommon for me to order some of my more physical players to seek retribution for a knockdown pitch or an opponent’s purposeful foul. And many times I blamed the referee or umpire for my own team’s poor performance.

It wasn’t that I ignored the intangibles of “teamwork,” “sportsmanship” and “life lessons,” but winning meant just a little bit more. My team’s performance was “about me,” not about the kids I coached. Nor was I alone in my misguided approach.

A recent survey conducted by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics reveals that not all coaches set good examples. Of the 4,200 high school athletes surveyed, 50 percent of the male athletes claimed that their coaches argued with an official to intimidate or influence future calls.

Thirty-eight percent claimed that their coaches resorted to swearing at an official to get thrown out of a game in order to rally their players. And 37 percent indicated that their coaches use profanity and insults to motivate them.

In 1998, I left teaching and coaching with little expectation of returning.My oldest son had no interest in sports and my youngest struggles with a severe learning disability and cannot participate.

But when my middle son expressed an interest in Little League baseball and asked that I coach, I became involved again.

It’s been quite an education. I am one of the “older” fathers in the league, and, for the last five years, I’ve assisted another wizened gentleman who’s already experienced every level of athletic development with two older sons. Our teams sometimes struggle to play .500 ball.

I’ve heard we’re considered “soft” by some of the other coaches because we concentrate on development instead of competition. On a quality effort, instead of winning. On character, instead of “gaining the edge.” On positive feedback, instead of humiliation.

Sure, I still like to win and sometimes that desire still gets the best of me. But I’ve also come to understand that winning isn’t everything it’s made out to be, especially when it compromises your sense of “right and wrong” and the example you’ve been entrusted to set for a group of youngsters.

My son and his teammates have taught me that youth sports isn’t “about me” anymore. It never really was. It’s about kids and their moral and athletic development.

I only hope that in the future, my good decisions will outweigh the bad ones I’ve made in the past.