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Modern Parenthood

Mike Rice fired by Rutgers, Pernetti: Parents, tell kids what bad coaching is

Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice was fired by athletic director Tim Pernetti after Mr. Rice's practice behavior was exposed on a video released by ESPN. The video came from a former team aide, not a player, which begs the question: Do your kids, tweens, and teens know how far a coach can go? 

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Apparently we were not alone in our bully coach experiences, as Steve Horan, a girls’ basketball coach of 20 years and founder of The Sports Parent Network in Richmond, Va., told me in a phone interview this morning.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Mr. Horan had just seen the Rice video 45 minutes before my call and said that he was horrified but not surprised at all by the coach’s behavior.

“Coaches in our schools and at the college level get away with doing things to our kids inside the locker room and on the court that no teacher would ever be allowed to get away with,” Horan says. “It’s clearly a bullying relationship, physical and emotional abuse. A teacher would be fired. In the professional environment, you would be sued for behavior like that in the workplace.”

Horan ultimately believes in forgiving a coach's sins, but only when they come with something more than a hand slap like Rice's suspension. He agrees with Pernetti’s decision to fire Rice.

“We need a paradigm shift in coaching in our schools across the board need to re-examine how they choose and evaluate their coaching staffs,” Horan explains. “We need teaching and coaching programs for coaches. We have a lot of coaches who are just not emotionally equipped to handle their competition anger.”

Looking at Rice, I see someone who cannot distinguish between what it takes to lead a team versus the need to feel as if he is in control of the players.

Horan has a guideline for making that determination and it’s the TLC Rule. In Horan’s case TLC does not mean “Tender Loving Care” but “Teach, Lead, and Compete.”

“If we are teaching life lessons through sport, then as coaches we must stop and look at the bullying relationships we are creating with players and what lesson or message that is sending to everyone not only on the team but out in the stands,” Horan explains.\

Tell your young athlete this: A verbal push is fair game, but character assassination is a deal breaker. No coach or teacher has the right to verbally attack a player’s: character, sexuality, appearance, race, religion, nationality, or physical appearance (i.e. mocking unalterable features like a birthmark, not physical fitness level).

“Also, anything physical, hitting, kicking etc., is completely out of the question,” Horan says. “No way is a coach ever to lay hands on an athlete in either an abusive or sexual way. No way. Never.”

We didn’t stop being parents the day our kids turned 18, and anyone at a college or university sport program who tells us to shut up because our kids are now legally grown-ups is making a bad call. When our kids are out of college and in the “real world” we can stop calling plays, take that step off the field and just cheer them on.

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