During the opening round of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament last week, many people watched Michigan State head coach, Tom Izzo, in a heated shouting match with one of his players. That player was freshman, Aaron Henry. His teammates had to hold back Izzo, as the head coach aggressively yelled, with clenched fist, at Henry during a timeout of a closely contested game.
As I watched this live on TV, I knew instantly that the interaction would be debated online over the next few days. Was he wrong to verbally berate one of his players with what some described as out-of-control rage and disgust?
Twitter erupted with both sides taking shots.
“I’ll be happy when this type of coaching finally goes extinct as this generation of coaches retire and fade away. There are better methods of communication.” stated @bballbreakdown.
“Anybody upset by that has never played an organized competitive sport. Coaches yell. Get over it,” responded @JoshSkillman.
Those who voiced their disdain for Izzo’s approach were labeled as “soft” or “whiney” by others who support the head coach.
ESPN personality, Scott Van Pelt, shared his support of Coach Izzo during his “1 Big Thing” segment. It’s now been viewed more than three million times.
“We’re so concerned with if anyone has had their feelings hurt, that we lose sight of this fact: life has a scoreboard. The world will be difficult. And we do nobody any favors when we coddle them to the point that they never hear criticism, or hear a harsh word, or have to face any adversity,” Van Pelt lectured.
As someone who played competitive sports all through high school, I can say I faced similar situations as a player. One of my coaches repeatedly screamed in my face. I recall one memory with my back against a wall, and my coach’s nose touching my nose as he yelled at me during a summer league game. I mean veins-popping-out-of-his-neck kind of yelling.
It scared the hell out of me. But here’s the thing: I learned a lot about accountability. I learned that mistakes have consequences. I learned that it’s important to stay focused and strive to reach the highest expectations.
Someone once told me that if the coach yells at you, it means he likes you. Think about it, how would you feel if you made a mistake on the court or in the office, and your coach/boss didn’t say ANYTHING? What if he ignored you completely? What would scare you more? Being yelled at or being ignored by someone you respect?
The fact is, I DID respect that coach who yelled at me, because he was also extremely encouraging. He celebrated my successes as much as he challenged me during my failures. He saw something special in me, and his actions reflected his expectations. As a result, my desire to succeed increased. Not just for myself, but for my coach who unquestionably wanted the best for me and my teammates.
I’m now grown up with kids of my own and I’ve coached them in athletics. My coaching philosophy is slightly different; I could never see myself screaming at a player in that way because that’s not quite my personality. But you know what? There was a practice when a few of the young girls (my daughter included) weren’t paying attention. After one warning, my voice got louder and they had to take a few laps. By the looks on their faces—and the rest of the team—I could tell they were all a bit shocked. It was an uncomfortable moment for 4th grade girls basketball. I asked my daughter about it after practice, curious to know her thoughts on the matter. Her response: “I get it, Dad. We weren’t listening. That was the only way to get our attention.”
No hurt feelings. No lingering distress. Just respect between a player and a coach who had the same goal in mind.
It’s is the same takeaway Aaron Henry had in the locker room following last week’s game. “That’s his job, he’s just coaching me,” he told reporters. “I’m all for it.”
Ultimately, a coach has to find what methods work best for him and each of his players. I stand with Coach Tom Izzo and all other coaches who find ways to challenge their players to be better, even when it’s uncomfortable. Because to be truly successful, you have to leave your comfort zone.