Earlier this college baseball season, Cal State Fullerton head coach Rick Vanderhook was placed on administrative leave. Originally, the reason for his “suspension” was unclear, but yesterday, Deadspin released secret recordings of the coach running his team through the proverbial wringer with verbal lashings that would make most of us blush.
When I listened to the recordings, I cringed. I didn’t cringe because of the language or the offensive nature with which he spoke to his players. I cringed because I heard myself in those recordings. In my first season of coaching varsity high school baseball, we struggled mightily. After one particularly crushing and deflating defeat against a district opponent, we took the long bus ride back to school. Upon our return, instead of just letting the team leave, I called them into a locker room. For roughly 10 minutes, I called them everything under the sun. I questioned their manhood and character. I called them worthless. I told them they didn’t have a competitive bone in their body. I did this for a few reasons. First and foremost, I was frustrated. I was frustrated with the way we were playing. I was also frustrated with my inability to figure out how to right the ship. Second, I did it in a misguided attempt to motivate. Somehow, I felt that berating teenagers was an effective way of getting them to react positively. Lastly, I did it because I was selfish. I thought the loss reflected poorly on me and my abilities, so I took it out on them.
“They’re soft. They’re a soft group. And if they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re going to be the first team from Fullerton not to play in the postseason in 26 years. And I would hate to be them coming back to alumni game and have to look all the other guys in the face and say they were the team that didn’t make it.” – Rick Vanderhook
The quote above was pretty much the angle I took with my first group of guys. Replace the team name, and change the verbiage to something like, “I have never lost to…in my life.” But, what does his quote really speak to? Motivation? How? By knocking them down, telling them they’re worthless, and hoping that shaming them will somehow make them want to put forth extra effort? Does his quote sound like a coach that is committed to making his team better, or a coach that is embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid of the reaction to his failure? Speaking of his failure, count how many times he says “we” in that quote. The answer is zero. Now count the mentions of “they”, “they’re”, and “them”. The head coach is a member of the team, right? Apparently only when things are going well…
Our job, for those of us who coach, lead, and teach, is to leave the individual better than we found them, or at very least just as good. We’ve watched the hardcore coaches preceding us and emulated the style as though that’s the way a coach is supposed to act. Break that mold. It’s outdated and selfish. If your sole purpose in coaching, especially at the high school level and lower, is only to win, save yourself the time and energy; it will never be fulfilling for you. Instead, strive to make personal and lasting connections, demand attention to important virtues like effort and discipline, and set a tone of positivity that transcends the win/loss outcome.
Have an awesome Thursday,