Common sense, in today's world, is not really that common. —Joe Cravens
Like most people who watched the video of Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice pushing, kicking and berating players, Joe Cravens felt the coach's behavior was clearly unacceptable.
But he also understood, in a way that few do, how a coach can cross the line between appropriate and inappropriate, between motivation and abuse without ever intending to do so.
"I think he went over the line," said Cravens, who coached men's college basketball for 30 years and has coached St. Joseph's girls basketball team to two straight 1A titles. "I think there was a time when, if you'd have had a camera on me, and maybe a lot of other coaches, that could happen. The physical conduct is always going to be (wrong). But the verbal part of it, boy it would be hard not to walk into a lot of college gyms and hear some of that. I mean, would a guy like Rick Majerus even survive in this day and age?"
College coaches are under unique kinds of pressures that have just become more intense in the last 10 years.
"The stress, the demands of Division I coaching, at that level, you can't describe it to anyone," said Cravens, who recounts his own regrettable situation in which he kicked a player (in the rear end) during an especially intense practice. "You have to live it. It's like trying to describe to someone what having children is like. You can baby-sit your nieces and nephews all you want, but until you have your own, you don't understand."
What may be even more difficult for many to understand is how, just as pressure for college coaches has become much more complicated, high school coaches now deal with similar issues for a fraction of the money.
"Our responsibilities have gone way up, our workload has increased majorly, and it's a full-time, year-round job and you're getting paid peanuts," said Morgan football coach Kovi Christiansen, who has spent 15 years on the sideline.
Sports, for better or worse, are no longer just a hobby in this country.
The opportunities for athletes, which include scholarship opportunities and professional ambitions, have never been more abundant. But increased opportunities have transformed the games, at all levels, into big business.
"In the past, a school would give a coach a couple thousand dollars and say, 'OK, run a team,' " said Lone Peak men's basketball coach Quincy Lewis, who has also coached college basketball and was the 2013 Naismith High School Coach of the Year. "Now fundraising is a huge part of the job. There is a lot of money coming through the till."
High school coaches are often teaching tough academic classes while trying to raise thousands of dollars for their programs. If they don't do it all, student athletes will simply attend a competing school.
Prep sports is a universe made more complicated by the success of club and private leagues. High school coaches, most of whom are schoolteachers, are required to coach, and help with or recommend club programs where their athletes can compete and train year-round. While some parents demand this year-round commitment, others complain about it, and both coaches and parents agree the costs have become a significant burden for most families.
Davis High boys basketball coach and athletic director Jay Welk has coached for 31 years and he's doing things he's never done, including coaching a traveling team, just so his players can compete with other high school programs during the season.
"There is not a lot of financial compensation, so you have to be doing it for other reasons," he said, rattling off his duties this summer. "I don't get paid for that. … I'm just doing it to try and help the program get better."
Add to the equation constant scrutiny and near celebrity status in their communities, and even the best coaches talk about burnout and seeing the point of diminishing returns fast approaching.
"I've already lost four or five good guys in the last five years," said Christiansen. "They've either quit the profession of teaching or just gotten out of coaching because it's not worth it."
East football coach Brandon Matich said his brother left coaching because the demands outstripped the rewards.
"All aspects of this game have changed," said Matich, who has coached football since 1997. "Maybe more so in the last couple of years. The environment we coach in, the microscope, the blogs, wins and losses, the anonymous people in the paper, it can influence parents and sometimes things are untrue, but no doubt the pressures are higher. Everything has trickled down (from college sports), including concussions. Contact has gone from full body to the neckline to the waistline. … The hats we wear are insane. I enjoy the hats, but I've never had to wear so many hats."
Coaches have always been strategists, academic advisers and psychologists, but now they need medical and financial training. So why would anyone want to coach? And how, exactly, does one learn the art of teaching, motivating and understanding teenage athletes?
Matich didn't plan on coaching, despite his grandfather's assurances that it was a fulfilling life.
"I tried to avoid it," he said laughing. "I was told to avoid it. … But I get more out of coaching than I ever did playing. I know it sounds cliché, but it's true."
Lori Salvo has coached basketball, volleyball, track and most recently golf. As one of the first women to earn an athletic scholarship to the University of Utah, teaching and coaching seemed the perfect path.
"I so enjoyed playing, and I so appreciated having good coaches that I thought it would be something I could do to give back," said Salvo.
Lewis and Christiansen both had fathers who coached, and Welk said the influence of his high school coach (Roger Reid) persuaded him to try and help young men in that same way.
"In my senior year, I found out my dad had cancer," Welk said. "He died the next year, and (coach Reid) was a big support to me."
In addition to hoping to make a difference in the lives of young people, Christiansen said sports still provide the best classroom for some of life's most valuable lessons.
"One of the best things about sports is that you can learn things about life that you can't learn anyplace else," he said.
Just like the influence of those men and women persuaded them to choose coaching, it was the methods of those mentors that many employ once they are in charge.
When Lewis saw the video of Rice physically and verbally assaulting players, he thought that had to be behavior he'd learned from other coaches.
"Somewhere along the line, he's seen that done before and it was acceptable," said Lewis, who points to his father, Tim, as the mentor who shaped his methodology. "Fortunately for me, his method was real positive. He had a breaking point, but his method was really positive."
Many coaches can recount stories of being "man-handled" and cursed at, but they insist most coaches know that kind of behavior is unacceptable in today's society — especially at the high school level.
"Things have definitely changed," said Christiansen. "What's looked down upon now used to be normal."
Most coaches can tell you stories about high school coaches who used both physical and verbal pressure to motivate them.
"I think that line has become more blurry as society has changed and with the growth of social media," Cravens said. "The guy who was the most influential person in my life, along with my parents, was my high school coach. He would have been buried UNDER the jail in this day and age. He just pushed you and pushed you and pushed you."
Matich feels fortunate that he learned to play and coach under one of the state's legends — Roger Dupaix.
"That's greatly different than the way a lot of kids are brought up," he said referring to Dupaix's reputation as unflappable and positive. "I still use those tactics today."
Jim Fuller coached everything from softball to boys basketball and football for 38 years, and said he simply coached the way he wanted to be coached. He said working as an assistant for good coaches is the best training young coaches can gain.
The best coaches are capable of adapting, and in fact, it's the innovations of coaches that have propelled athletics from a hobby to a billion-dollar business. Christiansen said he used to "be more of a yeller, but now I don't do that anymore." When asked why he changed his ways, he said, "Probably because I wanted to be a better person."
Cravens had to adjust his style, even before he was fired from Weber State. He said he never used the same tactics on all of his players.
"You have to be savvy enough to know what kind of (person) you're dealing with," he said. "You have to understand that one size does not fit all."
Coaches have to be able to adapt, to change and to learn new ways of dealing with players as parents and schools demand more of them.
While coaches are split on whether or not occasional swearing is acceptable, all of the coaches interviewed for this story said it should never be directed at a student athlete, nor should students ever be called names.
"I can be a yeller," Matich said. "I'm a pretty loud coach. But I pride myself on not belittling kids. … I've had to let coaches go who've done that."
Copper Hills softball coach Jentry Johnson acknowledges her "passion" could be misunderstood.
"I build a rapport with my girls first," said Johnson, who has an open-door policy for her players and parents. "I let them know I'm very passionate about what I do, but it's never to (be) hard, it's to build, to make us a better team."
She encourages them to come talk to her if her energy overwhelms or intimidates them.
"My girls aren't afraid of me," she said.
Some of the shift comes from a change in the way parents approach their own roles, which in turn, affects what they want from teachers and coaches.
"When I was doing something wrong, my dad would say in a loud voice, 'Hey, knock that off!' and you didn't dare do it again until you were in your early 30s," Cravens said. "I used to do that to my daughters, and it had no effect."
The bottom line is that great coaches are great communicators.
"It's hard to be a successful coach if you're not good with people in general," he said. "You don't treat everybody the same way. … A big part of leadership is communicating and dealing with people."
Salvo said communication is so important to her she talks directly to every girl who tries out for one of her teams, whether she makes it or not. But in addition to being a great communicator, she said coaches need to remember the games are supposed to be enjoyable.
"Kids still want to work hard, but you have to help them have fun," she said. "If it's not fun, they won't do it. When I played, I didn't screw around, but I always had fun. Coaching is seeing how much you get out of kids by being positive and having fun."
For most, the bottom line is that those who are not coaches need to understand that coaches are human, that sports are emotional and that mistakes will happen. Young coaches need guidance and all coaches need training, and everyone needs to be clear about what the expectations for behavior are.
While the behavior should never be tolerated, many hope we don't just continue to fire coaches who struggle or make mistakes.
"Common sense, in today's world, is not really that common," Cravens said. "If players come in and say, 'This coach is abusive,' and someone calls them in and says, 'You've got to (change),' and he says, 'OK,' and it continues to happen, then that's very easy. … How do we deal with it? Common sense has to come into play. Society has changed, how kids are raised has changed, coaching has changed."
Welk believes there are more resources for coaches when it comes to training, including the program offered by the Utah High School Activities Association.13 comments on this story
"I think the right things are happening," Welk said. "Sportsmanship aspect, the training with UHSAA and Utah State Office of Education, districts are more aware, there is more training for principals, for coaches, I think things are going in the right direction."
Salvo won't wait for anyone to help her navigate the changes in sports or the less visible aspects of coaching. She seeks training for herself constantly and believes all coaches should.
"I just want to try and be ahead of the game," she said. "I think it's really important that coaches go out and try and get better. If you don't go out and try to get better, then how do you expect your players to do that?"
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