Athletes split on effects of harsh coaching styles

“Terrible pass!”

“What are you doing?!”

“Get your head in the game!”

The familiar voice of a livid coach booms across the crowded gym. We have all been there: getting screamed at after making an inadvertent mistake or slacking off, be it on the soccer field, track or basketball court. Simply put, yelling is an undeniable aspect of athletics, and one especially prevalent throughout high school sports.

However, a question often overlooked is whether or not this loud and stern coaching style is effective.

According to senior Daavi Gazelle, who has played volleyball, wrestling, track and cross country, aggressive coaching often hinders players’ success. Gazelle said he has often struggled with blunt, harsh coaches and unforgiving coaching styles.

“I really appreciate coaches who consider the weight of their words,” Gazelle said. “It can be really overwhelming if everything you do is criticized.”

Freshman Maya Shaughnessy, who plays soccer, ice hockey, and lacrosse, said that unwarranted shouting is sometimes detrimental to her performance.

“When I get yelled at, I sometimes freak out and get nervous, and then on the field make dumb mistakes,” Shaughnessy said. “Constructive criticism is helpful, but screaming things like ‘clear the ball!’ really doesn’t help you.”

Sophomore Anna Koenig said she responds poorly to yelling, but for a very different reason. While athletes like Shaughnessy noted that yelling tends to induce fear, Koenig said that the prospect of a coach abusing his or her power angers her.

“I will be very rude back because I believe you get what you give,” Koenig said. “I realize that’s wrong, but when authoritative people try to show their rank by yelling, it is so wrong and ugly. I just very much dislike it.”

Girls cross country coach Mike DeYoung lectures his runners at a practice. DeYoung said he thinks that some coaches use yelling unnecessarily as a shortcut.
Girls cross country coach Mike DeYoung lectures his runners at a practice. DeYoung said he thinks that some coaches use yelling unnecessarily as a shortcut. PHOTO BY BERTINA XUE

Girls cross country coach Mike DeYoung, who said that he himself is not a yeller, explained fear can be an effective motivator, in the moment, to get people to do what you want them to do.

“Yelling is essentially fear based,” he said. “You’re afraid the coach is going to yell at you, so you do it. It can be effective in the sense that it achieves the goal very quickly.”

DeYoung said that there are definitely other options that impact the team a lot more positively and build a better environment. DeYoung said he would often advise his runners to run eight miles, and while they would “groan and moan” in response, they would do it anyway.

“If you create a good team culture, where you clearly explain the goals of the team and the values of the team, and they still chose to be there, then you don’t have to yell,” DeYoung said. “In the end, the team is going to be as good as what they’re willing to put into it. If they’re not willing to put much into it, then the person paying the price of not getting the experience of being on a good team is them, not me.”

Sophomore Peter Jones, junior Kaija Bariss, and senior Gabby Rizika felt that kind and laid back coaches were actually not as successful. Jones, a swimming, soccer and crew team member, said that strict coaching and yelling can be very necessary.

“The best coaches are the ones that the kids really respect,” Jones said. “In my experience, that’s been the loud coaches who get angry because the kids don’t mess with them. If yelling is not overdone and is done appropriately, it can be a great form of teaching.”

Jones also said that rowdy teenagers often need the loud and intense atmosphere to get their attention and focus. Rizika, who plays soccer, hockey and sailing, agreed with Jones that the occasional screaming is essential to a successful team.

“I actually respond well to yelling, because that communication between coaches and players is really important,” Rizika said. “When there isn’t that communication, you’re lost as a team and things go downhill.”

Both Bariss, who plays volleyball, does gymnastics and sails, and Shaughnessy said that while too much yelling is never a good thing, their experiences have taught them that sometimes the kind coaches are the worst ones. Shaughnessy said that her experience on a losing hockey team with a laid back coach reminded her to be grateful for the discipline she gets. Likewise, Bariss said that in the past she did not like that her gymnastic coaches have been more kind than helpful.

“The worst coaches are generally the coaches who are too nice, and I don’t improve at all or gain anything from them except a friend,” Bariss said. “That is not really what a coach is supposed to be.”

Gazelle said that it is not the actual yelling that is offensive, but its effect and the significance behind it.

“A good coach sees his players as more than just players and makes a compassionate effort to understand them as people,” Gazelle said. “It is very evident when there is a coach that just wants to win for himself and for the big ego he wants to protect.”

Varsity football coach Keith Thomas talks to his players during a recent practice. The high school's athletes are split on whether yelling is an effective coaching technique or an unnecessary aspect of high school coaching.
Varsity football coach Keith Thomas talks to his players during a recent practice. The high school’s athletes are split on whether yelling is an effective coaching technique or an unnecessary aspect of high school coaching. PHOTO BY BERTINA XUE

Varsity football coach Keith Thomas said that coaching is a lot more complicated than just yelling or not yelling, but about establishing a connection.

“The great coaches I’ve had did a great job relating to their players,” Thomas said. “The bad coaches I’ve had really didn’t know the players. Building a personal relationship is the most important thing. Once you have a relationship with kids, whatever you are telling them to do is for their benefit.”

Thomas also said that in the long run, high school sports are essentially about a lot more than winning. More important than coaching style and whether or not the coach is a yeller is the family-like bond that teammates will perpetually share.

“There could be fifty to sixty people on the football team that you try to bring together for one common goal,” Thomas said. “When that season is over, all of those people have a relationship with each other. Those are friends for a lifetime.”

Noa Dalzell can be contacted at [email protected]