Chalk this one up to social media once again getting it wrong, or at least blowing it completely out of proportion. Long before the ability to record every waking moment for later playback, review and outrage, we lived much simpler and rational lives. Sometimes I wish it were still that way.
If you watched the NCAA Tournament a few weeks ago and saw Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo berate freshman Aaron Henry during an opening-round game against Bradley, you might have just thought it was part of the game. If you waited until social media got ahold of the video clip, you might have been calling for his job.
If you were offended at the clip, which shows an irate Izzo having to be calmed down by other players, including his senior leader Cassius Winston, stop reading now, I won’t make you feel better. You’ll actually be more offended by what I’m about to write and the editors prefer to keep my controversies to a minimum (my unofficial max is two per year, but I can’t confirm that).
Izzo lost his cool, but how many good coaches, how many great teachers of the game don’t? How many of us grew up in a culture where that was the norm? While we know society has changed its view on the coaches’ tirade thanks to social media activists, we know the truth: It’s part of the process and even the best coaches have to step it up a level to have their voices heard, literally. Players know the difference between a passionate and fiery coach and one who is just doing it for show and personal gain.
I’ve witnessed plenty of these as a former athlete and eventually someone who spent time with countless teams and coaches. The legitimate teachers, those who are in the business to make their kids better for the game and for life, use this tactic as a reality check. We all know the world is sometimes a harsh place that doesn’t take our feelings into account. I’ve been around some of the best who reminded me of that reality, and a few others who couldn’t quite figure it out.
The self-serving coach is more worried about “his” image when he sets out to “correct” a player, oftentimes using empty language or stiff punishments. Those coaches never gain the respect they seek.
I had a baseball coach at Tehachapi High School once make our team run 20 laps around the entire baseball field after losing a game by 20 runs. Was there a lesson? No, he told us he felt embarrassed because someone stopped him in the grocery store and said “wow, 20 runs huh?” His self-serving nature thankfully landed him outside of THS, where from all accounts he never changed.
Others who I knew personally were in the category like Izzo. They are the teachers we grow to respect, admire and emulate. We take their sometimes-harsh words as motivation. All the best coaches are the first to point out “the moment I stop yelling at you is when you should be concerned, because that means I no longer care.”
The most important coach and teacher of all time once said, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.”
I think Jesus as a basketball coach would have shown a little more restraint than Izzo, but I think in the end the message applies to those coaches who make a difference and sometimes have to elevate their message to do so. I’m a testament to that, as are countless men and women who were presented with an adult lesson during an adolescent time. It isn’t pretty, but in the end, we’re grateful for the results.
So, relax from the social media activism and let life be presented to players from time to time, even if it isn’t pretty. For those who are actually doing good work aren’t on social media telling others how to do theirs.
Now that’s a harsh reality.
Corey Costelloe has covered NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides in Tehachapi. He can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.