Blog Post: Winning with Integrity


The picture above was part of a celebratory article on a youth lacrosse coach upon retirement. One of his former athletes wrote fondly of this coach’s tendency to ‘break people down’ and how while he at first rejected this approach, he learned that ‘he needed it’. I disagree.

Somehow we have normalized violence in sport. We call violence ‘passion.’ We think violence is ‘natural’ to the human experience and must be ‘released’, a Freudian theoretical principle that anger released is anger spent. Anthropologists Desmond Morris and Richard Sipes counter this theory by arguing that anger released, inspires more violence, that anger released is learned and repeated, violence feeds violence. In my own research, I have found that anger is a response to a situation in which an individual lacks resources. We seek to control or resolve a threat (primary appraisal) and when we realize we have no resources to control it (secondary appraisal) we resort to anger and violence. It feels powerful, but of course anger usually only creates more problems. Violence is simply a lack of creativity. Time to evolve. And, as Steven Pinker has documented, the data indeed shows that violence is declining and humans are evolving beyond anger as a response to frustrating situations.

Sport just needs to evolve as well.

Ken Dryden, 1972 and 1976 national team goalie and 6 time Stanley Cup winner for the Montreal Canadiens, agrees writing in his thoughtful book The Game: violence in the NHL is “nothing more than original violence tolerated and accepted, in time turned into custom, into spectacle, into tactic, and finally into theory… fighting degrades, turning sport to dubious spectacle, bringing into question hockey’s very legitimacy, confining it forever to the fringes of sports respectability” (p. 190).

I was also encouraged to see an article from the CBC today exposing and discussing the issue of verbal and psychological abuse in sport. While there has been a deluge of sexual abuse cases reported in sport of late, I found it interesting that verbal and psychological abuse cases were few and far between and mostly focused on women coaches such as the recent stories on U Windsor and U Lethbridge hockey. Where are the cases of male coaches I wondered? Do we tend to tolerate violence and abuse from male coaches but not from female coaches? According to research on women in leadership, we do tend to perceive dominance differently between genders (bitchy vs confident).

However, I did find a few stories about male coaches fired for verbal and psychological abuse such as at U Washington rowing followed by a long blog rationalizing Ernst’s abusive behaviour and categorizing it as ‘passion’. I also found this story at U Washington track where it took four years and two investigations before action was taken. The pattern in most of these stories is that verbal abuse is not taken seriously (that somehow sport is different and respect is not as required), young women are not listened to or taken seriously, and it takes several years (at least four) and multiple violations for change to happen.

Violence is not passion.
Violence is intent to harm or hurt. Violence comes in many forms: verbal, psychological, emotional and physical.

Passion is encouragement, passion thrills at an athlete’s performance, passion builds self esteem. Passion is a coach who spends her evenings pouring over stats, his weekends attending courses, her free time thinking about how to inspire the athletes she coaches, his free time supporting and leading sport in all ways.

Time to take the lead on SafeSport!

Image result for passionate coach image


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