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Are any of you happy anymore? Has coaching stopped being fun?

by Tom Topping
Director, Nike Team Florida

The beatings will continue until morale improves!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my wife, Michelle, and I traveled West to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. While in LA, we took in a Laker game at the Staples Center, and we watched Kansas play University of Florida in Vegas. The UF/Kansas game was especially nice because it provided an opportunity for me to watch two of my former players go head to head (Sasha Kaun-KU and Walter Hodge-UF).

The games were great but one of my favorite parts of the trip was hanging out at the Huntington Beach Pier. If you've never been there, let me tell you, Orange County (The OC) is awesome. There's a reason so many people have migrated to Southern California. Everything about that area is beautiful.

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I should clarify this by saying, these days, I love watching surfing. I especially love watching when the water is freezing cold, like it usually is in the Pacific Ocean. I did not dare enter the frigid water, instead I observed from the pier as scores of surfers waited for the perfect wave to crest near their chosen spot.

The cool thing about surfing is this: You patiently wait for a good wave. Then, when you see one, you paddle furiously in hopes of catching that uprising. Only a few things are possible once you catch the wave. A) You can have a great ride; B) The swell can break up and give you a bad ride; or C) You can wipe out. Whatever the outcome, as soon as it's over, you paddle back out and do it all over again.

Surfers are most easily described as, habitual optimists. There's really no room for pessimism in surfing. For that matter, there's no room for it in the lives of surfers either. It flies in the face of everything a surfer believes. Please understand, I do not completely advocate everything that goes with living the surfer lifestyle. However, in moderation, we can learn a thing or two from our shredding friends.

Michelle and I watched for quite some time and took several pictures. I could have stayed out there all day or until the waves stopped coming in but my wife was ready to move on to the next adventure (a quick trip up the PCH to Long Beach.)

As we walked back along the pier, we noticed some flags bristling in the dampened breezes of the overcast morning. One, in particular, caught our eyes as we strolled by. It was a pirate flag adorned with skull and cross bones. At the bottom it read, "The beatings will continue until morale improves!" We both got a chuckle out of that and then I got to thinking…

Is anyone happy anymore? And I'm not talking about just anybody, I'm talking about coaches. Are any of you happy anymore? Has coaching stopped being fun?

I travel around the state and I see a great number of games. Okay, I see a ridiculous number of games. I love it! It's a lot of fun watching different teams play. There's always something unique about each game…the gym…the fans…the players…the environment.

There's also something that's becoming all too common as well, and I'm not talking about bad food in the concession stand. I'm referring to some of the coaches. It's alarming to me how many miserable coaches there seem to be out there on the sidelines.

I was at a game several weeks ago and saw an amazing display of this gloominess. I don't want to go into detail but it was clear that this particular coach was unhappy. I mean, REALLY unhappy.

Unfortunately, his team was not very talented. On a positive note, they seemed fairly well-coached. They appeared to be organized and they undoubtedly had a plan. However, they just couldn't score. And the reason they couldn't score, is because they weren't any good…NOT because they got away from their game plan or were undisciplined.

You see, they did all or most of the things they were supposed to do but they couldn't finish the deal. It didn't seem to be the players' fault. They were trying hard. It certainly wasn't the coach's fault. It was evident that his team was prepared. The team was simply not talented enough to win that particular game.

On the other hand, I also attend games at tradition rich schools with highly successful teams and coaches. You would think that they would provide a different feeling. Disturbingly, they seem to mirror each other. There are just as many miserable coaches at successful programs as there are at the "doormat schools." Clearly, winning and losing do not play a big part in happiness. That state of being is decidedly independent of the two.

Coaches appear agonized for the entirety of the event regardless of the score. Unless, of course, they are blowing the other team out, then they appear medicated…drifting in and out of pain as the medication wears off and is re-administered.

I thought it was money that could not buy happiness. Apparently, in a great many cases, winning can be just as worthless.

Obviously, I am exaggerating…but only a little bit.

My assistant coaches (Ed Hall and Mark Carter) and I have discussed this several times and we wonder if anyone's having any fun…kids, coaches, parents, anyone? We wondered if coaches even recognize the atmosphere that surrounds their team. In coaching circles, has being negative become "the way you're supposed to be"? Is it becoming part of the culture of coaching to be pessimistic?

By the way, I looked up the word pessimistic on thesaurus.com and here's what they gave me: bleak, cynical, dark, dejected, depressed, despairing, despondent, discouraged, distrustful, downhearted, fatalistic, foreboding, gloomy, glum, hopeless, melancholy, misanthropic, morbid, morose, resigned, sad, sullen, troubled, and worried.

I wonder how many coaches can associate one or more of the words above with their team. I also wonder what leads to this. Why is it that so many of us seem unhappy and negative about our team or the way things are going?

One summer, while home from college, I was working construction. My foreman (an ex-Marine) shared a story with me about the nicest compliment his drill instructor ever told him. With a laugh, he described how his grizzled DI said to him and his platoon, "Well, you idiots didn't completely screw that up!"

I would caution coaches to not fall into this type of negativity. I would encourage you to get positive with your troops. You are all coaching immature kids. Some of you are coaching incredibly talented immature kids. And those kids will respond to positive coaching far better than negative.

I know two ways to motivate kids that are foolproof and positive. One, encourage them positively. Two, bench them. Encourage them with great emotion. Bench them with little emotion.

If they won't run your offense or stay down on defense, bench them. If they do, encourage them to do it more.

Reward them with your praise. Don't allow your silence to be interpreted as praise. It's okay to praise them when they do what they're supposed to do. Nobody will think that you're excited because it's the first time they've ever done something right. We'll understand that you want them to play the right way and you are choosing to recognize that accomplishment.

In my next column, I'm going to provide a blueprint to becoming a happy coach. Until then, consider whether or not you have become the captain of a pirate ship and have unknowingly made the decree: "The beatings will continue until morale improves!" If you honestly feel like you have, paddle back out and look for a better wave.

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