Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why Do Coaches Lie?

“Own it!”
“No excuses!”
“Take responsibility for yourself?”
“You can only control one thing, yourself!”

Coaches scream the words and as they stalk the sidelines and tower over practices. They engrave them in the minds of their players. These words define the credo of every good coach who works with young athletes.

With their visibility, celebrity and stature coaches are elevated into role models and moral arbiters beyond the field of play. They even author books like Sean Payton of the New Orleans’ Saints with Home Team. Jim Tressel at Ohio State authored a passel of motivational and leadership books such as The Winners Manuel: For the Game of Life. Coaches become spokesman for values and leadership.

For good coaches it begins with coaching a person to accept responsibility for him or herself. A strong coach builds the foundation of honest self-assessment and growth. If a person does not take responsibility for actions, she or he will never acknowledge problems or failures, a player will never see the need to change and learn. Players who do not take responsibility for themselves never grow.

Honesty grounds responsibility. A person has to be honest with him or herself to have a chance to acknowledge mistakes, learn what they are doing wrong and practice getting it right.

A good coach knows this and inculcates it in their style. Respect for a sport, respect for a person and the passion to help a player get better and a team to succeed require transparent honesty—sometimes hard even harsh honesty to get through to an athlete who needs to get over their ego and start developing as a person and player.

Honest responsibility drives a coach to x-rays the player’s performance to identify strengths and weaknesses and then help an individual get better. As important, a good coach self-critiques. A good coach is brutally honest with themselves and takes responsibility for their mistakes—my bad—as team slang might say.

This honest self-criticism and taking responsibility leads coaches to spend hours on tape and break down their own past performance as well as that of players and opponents.

Good coaches model the responsibility they so passionately preach.
So why do they lie when they get into trouble?

This year bursts with examples. Jim Tressel, the successful and devout football coach at Ohio State, lied to his boss and then the NCAA to “protect” his all star players and protect a bowl season. When he found out his own players had violated NCAA regulations on a regular basis, he should have accepted responsibility and demanded they accept responsibility. Instead he hid the corruption, then he lied about to everyone.

Sean Payton tacitly and probably not so tacitly condoned creating a culture that encouraged and rewarded his defensive team to deliberately set out to maim, injure and damage the brain functioning of opposing players. Payton clearly benefits from a culture of immoral and illegal actions that violate the moral core of the sport. He ignores it with culpable negligence and rewards the coaches who lead it. When it comes out or when he knew, he should have stopped it immediately. He should have changed the behavior of his coaches and acted to inform and protect his bosses. Instead when it leaks, Sean Peyton misrepresents it to his bosses initially and then directly lies to the Commissioner of the NFL.

Now Bobby Petrino the coach of Arkansas, a bluff motorcycle riding good old coach, has an fairly serious accident riding his hog, sorry about the bad pun for all you razorback fans. Blood splatters with broken bones and fractured vertebrae in his neck, he snuck away from the accident and got his body guard to get him to the hospital. He told a bystander not to call 911 and cooperated with the police. He told everyone that he was riding alone after a day with his wife. Twice he made it clear in public environments. Turns out he had a passenger, a 25 year old stunning blond ex-volleyball player whom he had hired the week before. Oops. Turns out he was having an “inappropriate relationships” with her—read betraying his wife and family and having an affair.

Did Petrino accept responsibility for the accident, yes, sort of, but he did his best to cover-up with lies the unfortunate fact that he was joyriding with a girlfriend half his age. He lied to the press, his boss and his team and his wife.
These are just three examples this year. What befuddles me is how these men who so passionately preach and demand accountability and responsibility from their players abandon all these principles when it comes to them.

Tressel lied to protect his team, his record and himself. Payton lied to protect his team but also cover his own negligence and to spite a type of control over safety that he despised as weak. Petrino lies to protect his reputation protect his job and in theory protect his family from the embarrassment.

All three coaches live and die by honest demanding responsibility. All three fail when it comes to demanding it of themselves.

In this they join politicians, business leaders, clergy and many folks in power who default to lies and denial rather than taking responsibility. Unfortunately we have heard the story before and will hear it again.

What matters here is not that the coaches screwed up, we all do. What matters is that they lied and tried to shirk responsibility violating their own basic moral code.

We make coaches bigger than life in the press and in our own worship of them. We turn them into moral and leadership guides for players and fans and even buy their books. I even taught a chapter from Tressel. The media, ownership, colleges and we all collaborate in this collective conceit.
Turns out they are not heroes nor necessarily heroic. Turns out they work better on the field than in real life. Folks who get used to power and adulation begin to believe they are immune to the rules. They get so protected, even with their own body guards, and they are so successful in one area of life, that they begin to feel entitled in other areas of life. They take risks but most importantly they never believe they will be caught. At worse, they are so used to being right, they do not notice they are dong wrong. They are so used to being protected that they assume either their own power or their own network will protect them even against the truth.

I could cite hundreds examples of failed liars, but none of them seem to learn from each other. Payton did not learn from Tressel and Petrino did not learn from either.

Turns out they lie to protect themselves. They lie to evade or hide responsibility for their own moral failings—the very stance they condemn in their players

Turns out they are mortals after all, a fact they often forget in their celebrity.

Coaches should remember that for good or bad, we and their athletes take what they say seriously, too bad they don't.

These three will be back because they can win games, but if I simply cannot take them or their words seriously, how can their players?





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