Psycho Coaches and Little Monsters

A client of mine remarked that coaches have to be careful because, if they push too hard, the result can be monsters rather than good team players.

I was teaching a class on managerial coaching and we were talking about our own life experiences of coaches and coaching. The client’s comment about creating monsters sparked the entire group into a lively conversation about the impact that coaches can have on children, and perhaps on adults as well.

He told us the story of his son who is a champion swimmer in high school. When this swimmer was much younger, there was a certain swim team that he competed against, a team that was so driven to win by its coaches that they were the meanest and most feared club in the league. When they won, they triumphed. When they lost, you did not want to be there. At one such match, the silver medal went to one of this team’s swimmers. The child angrily threw his medal to the ground and stormed off to the parking lot, cussing as he went, his hapless parents running after him.

What happens to these little monsters later in life? What career paths do they pursue? What do some of them become?

Most of the coaches I had when I was a kid were great: kind, caring, positive. But I do remember a few scary ones that coached me in Pop Warner football. Coaches that taught us that our aim was not just to beat the other team, but to “kill” them.

Years later, when my kids were little, I recall encountering a few psycho coaches, ones who thought they were in the major leagues, who thought it was all about winning, and who screamed at, and threatened, the kids. One out-of-control screamer was especially disturbing because his own little son was on the team. As soon as we got wind of what these coaches were about, my wife and I steered our boys away.

Business guru and blogger Bob “Work Matters” Sutton has been studying “asshole” managers and other jerks in the workplace, for years now. He says: “…being a workplace asshole is often a malady that you catch from other people.” In other words, jerks learn to be jerks. And they learn it from other jerks. Including asshole coaches when we were kids.

One of the other managers in the coaching class said, “This is good stuff you’re teaching us. But when we go back to the plant, it’s dog-eat-dog.” He went on to describe some of the managers that he works for, managers that seem only concerned about results, about hitting the numbers, and unconcerned about any human issues that might arise.

What happened to those little monsters? They are now running many of our organizations.

Posted on Saturday December 11, 2010 by Terrence Seamon. For more ideas on positive and effective coaching, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your managers.

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