A letter to college basketball coaches

A letter to college basketball coaches


Jim Haney is the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He sent this letter to all Division I college basketball coaches.

Dear Coach,

As a sports fan, I watch a lot of games on television. As a basketball fan, I see many basketball games, both NCAA and NBA. In recent weeks my thoughts about the game have turned from pure enjoyment of watching the competition to concern for the welfare of the game. Specifically, I find myself asking why our coaches are behaving as they are and what impact will that conduct have on other aspiring coaches, players, and fans who hold them up as leaders and coaches to emulate.

What is causing our college coaches to publicly criticize officials, run onto the court during play, and visibly display disgust over a player’s mistake? But college basketball coaches are not alone. College and professional football coaches have also run across the field to challenge officiating.

In looking for answers, I have been watching the conduct of NFL and NBA coaches. Surely, an NBA head coach has one and only one defining goal, to win. He is not required to promote education, attend alumni functions, or be a mentor to his players. As Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, once said, “Just win, baby!” Yet our NBA brethren are typically seated during the game with the exception of rising to speak to a player or official. When a player commits a bad play, the NBA coach shows no immediate negative reaction. It appears to me he waits for the appropriate time to verbally address the player within the confines of the bench area out of earshot of television and fans. When the officiating does not meet his pleasure, he voices his opinion emphatically but with his voice, not with flailing arms, stomping feet, or other physical gestures on the sideline. When he does, he receives a technical foul.

Those associated with the collegiate game consider the NBA entertainment and the college game pure and somehow better. Yet, I must say that the decorum of the NBA coaches exhibited during the games that I observe is more disciplined than that of college coaches. Clearly I am generalizing, focusing on the conduct of events during this season involving a relatively small number of collegiate coaches. But isolated incidents today can become common occurrences tomorrow.

A conclusion that I draw from my personal observations is that NBA officials administer the conduct of the bench area, including the decorum of the coach, as a priority. NBA coaches themselves have made a conscientious decision that they should not reveal their dissatisfaction with a player’s performance with an outward display of negative emotion, physical or verbal.

Intercollegiate basketball is competed under the banner of higher education. Despite the thirst for winning, our own passion, and those who support our teams, we have a responsibility to teach and coach our players not only about winning and success but about losing and disappointment regardless of whether the outcomes were influenced by our conduct or those of others. As important as winning is to job security, our respect for our players must influence our conduct toward them and our reactions to the unpredictability of the competitive environment in which we work. The student-athlete cannot become a means to an end for us, winning games and earning more money. We are expected to curb our disappointments with officiating and poor play of our players with a mindset that we are trying to teach and model appropriate conduct when situations and outcomes do not go the way we wish. If our message is to throw a tantrum, act in an undisciplined fashion, or lash out when we are displeased with officials or players, then we teach players that having physical and emotional tantrums and other forms of inappropriate behavior is acceptable conduct during times of adversity that they shall surely face as a husband, parent, and employee. It is not and we know better!

My conclusion is that as coaches we have lost our balance, the balance between being a coach and a teacher, the balance between winning and mentoring the young men we coach, the balance between immediate rewards of winning and developing the skills of those we coach to address the trials and tribulations they will face during their lifetime successfully. The environment of winning has nudged us as coaches in the direction of winning at all costs and winning for me, the coach.

I do not speak out on this topic as a critic but rather as one who thoroughly respects the weight of your job and the responsibilities it entails, who holds the profession of collegiate coaching and the positive influence coaches can have on the players they coach in the highest regard, and who is genuinely concerned that we need to address this issue now and not have university administrators and others take action for us.

I encourage you to take stock of yourself and your priorities. Where is the balance that separates you from a fanatic about winning, one willing to compromise your ethical values, personal relationships with your players, and leadership responsibilities of your university’s basketball program? I encourage you to “Pursue Victory with Honor.”

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