When coaches attack: Sports coaches who care about others’ opinions more likely to explode in anger
Dr. John Schinnerer
I was recently approached by a major TV network to do a reality show involving coaches with severe anger problems. While this seems to be good for ratings, it does not bode well for the well-being of the coaches involved in the two week project. First, little change in long-term emotional behavior will occur in two weeks. Second, close proximity to other angry people will typically serve to reinforce outbursts of ire. Simply dropping an anger management expert into the mix is unlikely to have any real effect on anyone’s behavior. Perhaps the show can be reworked so the coaches can benefit along with the network.
Being involved in anger management, sports psychology and misbehavior coaches, it was with great interest that I came across this recent research showing that the more a coach pays attention to the opinions of others, the more likely he or she is to react with anger….
A minor league baseball coach punches his assistant coach in the face for being questioning his on-field call. A basketball coach horse collars his own player as runs by in the middle of the game. A hockey coach screams insults at his goalie for letting in the game clinching goal.
Coaches who focus more on internal values, their own high standards tend to be less captivated by the opinions of others and are significantly better at controlling feelings of rage and frustration, compared to coaches who focus intently on others’ opinions of their performance.
This means that the anger of coaches, and to an extent all of us, can be partially explained by being overly concerned with what others think, how others perceive us, according to new research the University of Leeds and Northumbria University.
The study found coaches who stay focused on their own internal values and standards are less interested in the opinions of others and are significantly better at managing anger than those who are acutely aware of others’ opinions (think the sports pundits on ESPN).
Dr Andrew Hill, lecturer in sports and exercise science in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, who led the study, stated, “Outbursts of anger from coaches are a familiar feature of many sports at many different levels — from Alan Pardew’s headbutt to a recent attack by a coach on a linesman in an Under-14 rugby match. This isn’t good for anybody. You want a calm and analytic mind on the sidelines, but we found that some features of personality may make this more difficult.”
The researchers questioned 238 coaches across a wide range of sports including football, rugby, hockey, baseball, swimming and basketball. Most of the coaches were involved in amateur sport and their average age was 24.
The results show that coaches with “high personal standards”, meaning that they set their own high standards and focused less on other people’s evaluations of their performance, were better at managing their emotions. They showed more ability to reinterpret negative feelings and see situations in a more positive, prosocial manner.
On the other hand, coaches who placed more weight on perceived criticism from others were driven by a fear of making mistakes. They had less ability to manage their emotions and were more at risk of exploding in anger (and possibly uncontrollable rage).
Dr. Hill reported, “Those who believe others expect them to be perfect appear to have more difficulty controlling their emotions. As a consequence, they will be more prone to emotional outbursts.”
Co-author Dr. Paul Davis, Senior Lecturer in Sport at Northumbria University, said: “The pursuit of perfect performance drives some coaches, but the dynamic nature of sport sets them up to experience intense emotions when their standards are not met. Moreover, emotions are contagious; a coach who is unable to regulate their own anger may actually undermine an athlete’s performance. In a worst case scenario, a coach who has limited capacity to regulate their emotions is putting themselves in a position where they may end up doing the one thing they really want to avoid.”
As we gain more awareness of what good coaching entails, it is my fervent hope that coaches will begin to take responsibility for their own emotional states and work diligently to manage their emotions in a constructive manner whereby the needs of the players, the needs of the team and the pursuit of winning are balanced with awareness and intention.
Let’s keep trying. We can do better.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com
Anger management blog:
- Andrew P. Hill, Paul A. Davis. Perfectionism and emotion regulation in coaches: A test of the 2 × 2 model of dispositional perfectionism. Motivation and Emotion, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s11031-014-9404-7