Courtside Motivation or Abuse? Sprewell-Carlesimo Brouhaha Raises Question of Coaching Behavior

By Farrell, Charles S. | Black Issues in Higher Education, January 22, 1998 | Go to article overview

Courtside Motivation or Abuse? Sprewell-Carlesimo Brouhaha Raises Question of Coaching Behavior


Farrell, Charles S., Black Issues in Higher Education


The Latrell Sprewell-P.J. Carlesimo brouhaha that shook professional basketball and the sports world has reverberated to the collegiate level, where it has some wondering whether there should be guidelines governing the behavior of coaches.

While no one even remotely condones Sprewell's attack on Carlesimo, there is evidence that it was precipitated by the verbal berating of Sprewell by Carlesimo. Can coaches go too far? And if they do, what is the appropriate response from younger, less mature college athletes?

"Yes, you can go overboard," said Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). "I think that clearly there have been times and situations that make us question whether a coach has crossed the line.

"To think that the relationship between coaches and players is not an issue would be naive," he continued. "In a tragic situation like Sprewell's, no one wins. But those of us on the outside can use that as an opportunity to look at the misfortune of someone else and what we can learn from it and what we can apply, because obviously we don't want to see ourselves in the same situation."

Members of the NABC are expected to adhere to an association code of ethics that calls, in part, for coaches to "treat all persons with dignity and respect providing a model of fair play and sportsmanship."

Despite that, there have been several documented incidents in college sports over the years regarding coaches and their behavior towards players -- including a basketball coach fired for allegedly using demeaning and vulgar language toward his players.

Then there is the basketball coach who was fired for using the "N" word when referring to Black players. He tried to justify it as a motivational tool.

Still another came under scrutiny for passing out tampons to his players to question their manhood.

And there is Bobby Knight, the legendary basketball coach at Indiana University who is well known for tirades that have included lashing out in public at players.

But Knight should not be singled out, Haney said, adding, "There are people who are critical of Bob. There are also scores of players who are advocates of Knight. I think it is true that every coach is going to have those players that are very supportive, those who are in the middle, and those who are not enthralled with the coach. But when one evaluates the conduct of a coach, a little bit is in the eyes of the beholder. So much of relationships are interpersonal -- how we deal with each other."

Monitoring and Ethics

It is the nature of those relationships that needs to be continually addressed, according to Haney and others who agree that the competitive level of college sports has put more pressure on everyone -- coaches and players alike -- to win. That pressure creates stress, which in turn affects a coach's behavior.

However, according to Haney, there is a monitoring system in place.

"I have always felt in college, quite frankly, how coaches interact with players, how they treat players, is monitored in the recruiting practices," he said. "If a coach gets a reputation as player-friendly, it is going to help recruiting. If a coach gets a reputation that this is not the guy you want to play for, then the coach is going to have difficulty recruiting student athletes. And that ultimately will impact on the bottom line as it relates to wins and losses.

"Ultimately, a coach has the responsibility of creating a healthy atmosphere," Haney continued. "During the course of a season, there are going to be storm clouds, and a coach must maintain a healthy, positive environment so that his or her players and program can be successful. There is a very strong sense of responsibility on the part of coaches to create that environment, just like people who get married don't want to end up in divorce. …

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