John Krull: The Olympics teach an important lesson | Columns


A few years ago when my then young son’s team was playing a game in a church basketball league, the referee stopped the game for a while.

The referee was also the athletic director of the church.

He asked the opposing team’s coach to “take some of the anger out” of his voice as he shouted instructions to his players.

This coach was not shouting obscenities or even insults. He was frustrated that his young proteges didn’t seem to listen to him. Because of this, a sharp edge crept into his voice.

One that shouldn’t have been there.

The referee/sporting director — a completely honest man — stopped the match for two reasons.

First, he wanted to remind the coach that the players involved were just kids, kids still learning the game. They were going to make mistakes along the way. This is part of the growth/learning process.

The second thing was equally important. It was important for the coach to act like an adult – to model how responsible adults should behave, even when things don’t go their way.

The coach got the message.

He softened his voice and became more encouraging. His instructions, even when delivered at a high decibel level, were warmer.

A curious thing happened.

His players started to listen to him. They started to play better. They became more focused because they were having more fun.

Before, the only thing they heard when he shouted was the anger in his voice. When it was gone, they could hear what he was trying to tell them.

I thought back to that moment at a church basketball game as I watched and read coverage of the near-collapses of very young Russian female skaters at the Olympics. Their coaches and the assembled mass of Olympic and sports administrators put so much pressure on these girls that they took much of the joy of competition from the experience.

Many critics said it was a case of the adults failing the children in their care.

These critics are right.

For at least two reasons, I’ve never understood why yelling and scolding young athletes is such a big part of the sports world.

The first reason is that the conduct would often be unacceptable in any other context. If we were walking through a mall and saw an adult bullying a teenager or a child, most of us would stop and eventually intervene – especially if it was a much older man who was bullying a young lady. We might even call the police or child protective services.

But if it’s a coach who bellows, that renders conduct that we wouldn’t tolerate in other circumstances, somehow, OK.

Too often we seem to say that adults in the world of sport often have a dispensation to commit what amounts to child abuse.

It is not fair.

The second reason I don’t understand is that it’s just not efficient.

I work with young people all the time. Because of the way we have structured our journalism program at the school where I teach, we often place students in very stressful, stressful, and competitive situations.

I have never found it helpful to tell an 18-year-old who is about to interview the Governor or a US Senator — often in front of an audience of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people — that I will be upset if she a mistake. She’s already pretty nervous about the challenge ahead. Adding to his anxiety will not help his performance.

My job – as a teacher, as a coach – is to tell her that she has the power and the skills within her to do the job.

And to remind her that if she falls, she also has within her the will and the will to get up and carry on.

More importantly, it’s my job – it’s any adult’s job – to show how mature adults deal with disappointment. In such situations, true adults control their anger. They don’t let her control them.

As this church basketball league coach learned long ago, when you vent your anger, anger is what young people hear.

Not what the adult is trying to say.

Or teach.

John Krull is director of the Pulliam School of Journalism at Franklin College and editor of TheStatehouseFile.coma news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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