I’m not a “We’re all winners!” type of guy.
While watching a baseball game recently, I was asked a complex question regarding coaching. In my former life, I was a coach at every level up through high school. Little League, middle school, high school, you name it. I was a coaching nomad. Some of those years ended with success and others in failure. Other than soccer, I think I coached just about every sport, so I thought I had some credibility while answering the question.
I was asked how a coach should motivate a team with potential but lacking motivation. My response was simple and even a bit primitive. “Sometimes, you just have to scare the Hell out of them. Make them think you’re a little crazy. And, sometimes, depending on your audience, it works.”
Years ago, after an embarrassing loss while coaching a wrestling team with fantastic potential, I wasn’t as much upset about the defeat as I was about how our team responded to the loss. Witnessing one of our best wrestlers making out with his girlfriend in the stands shortly after he was pinned left me more than a little irritated. Shortly after shaking hands with the winning team, I encouraged our team to get into the locker room for a post match lesson.
Recognizing I was in a pretty serious disposition, the room was silent, and I was calm… for the moment. The fear in their eyes was clear, and because I was a bit unpredictable, well, that was precisely how I wanted them to feel. It was then, not saying a word, I, ominously, locked all three of the locker room doors, making sure no one was going to be in the room except them and me. (Crickets.) After a minute of awkward silence, I finally broke the silence, because I hate seeing anyone look as afraid as they did that evening.
“Hey, Matsuda.” He was another one of our best wrestlers delivering a less than adequate performance that afternoon. “Get out of the way.”
Matsuda looked at me with a “What, huh?”. I was probably fifteen feet away from him. “Get out of the way.” His back was to the lockers and he didn’t understand why he needed to get out of the way, so he asked, very politely, looking back and forth to his teammates, and with terror in his eyes, “Where do you want me to go, coach?”
“I’m going to throw this garbage can in your general direction, and since it is full of garbage, I don’t want it to hit you. Get out of the way.”
Matsuda managed to get out of the way, the can exploded against the lockers, spewing refuse everywhere, and before picking up the carnage by myself, I let them know how representative the garbage was in relation to how they performed that afternoon. I’m not necessarily proud of that moment, but we didn’t lose another match for the rest of the year.
The following day, figuring I’d be reprimanded by my administrative Gods or receive some parental concerns, it was quite the contrary. I received one phone call from a parent only praising me for my actions.
Years later, wrestlers entered my classroom recollecting that day and the story blossomed, or perhaps mushroomed, depending on their perspective. Many of those remembering that evening were not members of our team. That always made me laugh.