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January 27, 2006

The Coach as Culture Hero: What's so great about the guy with the whistle around his neck? There is surely no American archetype more preposterously overpraised at this cultural moment than the Coach.

Slate's Timothy Noah invites readers to "debunk the gauzy idealization of The Coach as font of all wisdom", and debunk they do. Examples include the The Cold War Coach, The Absent-Minded Coach, The Beer-Drinking Coach, and the Scholar-Athlete Coach.

At my Tennessee high school in the mid-1970s, the head football coach taught "Earth Science," which was a kind of physics without math for the slower kids. One day, several students confirmed, he declared without irony (an alien concept to him) that light travels faster downhill.



posted by justgary to culture at 01:36 AM - 13 comments

Surprise surprise, the kids at Slate don't like fact that coaches are looked up to in society. Perhaps we should all pattern our lives after painters and philosophes. I am a teacher and a coach and really don't care what they say entirely. Going to Slate to read about coaching is a lot like reading Popular Mechanics to learn to cook. Although the odd coaches part was interesting. I had a coach call the team I was on inconsistient by calling us "Heykell and Jyde" and he also told us to put together a "list of agendas" of what we wanted to accomplish this season. Needless to say he was a gym teacher/coach.

posted by ormistoncoyote at 04:15 AM on January 27

I think these stories were made up. I can't believe there are any bad coaches out there. Unless only the very fringe of society reads and responds to Slate, I just don't think there could be this many incidents of coaches misbehaving in this way. I'm surprised this writer didn't open the scope wider and try to convince us that there are school teachers -- the true "fonts of all wisdom" -- who are inept as well. Why not really scare us and go after doctors, too? There's another story on that site that claims that the President of the United States doesn't directly answer questions and sometimes puts a particular spin on his responses. Ridiculous. What is this web site? "The Onion" wannabe, I think.

posted by BullpenPro at 07:56 AM on January 27

Relax. I don't think the "kids at Slate" were trying to make coaching illegal or anything, nor were they trying to force you to undertake some Heideggerian quest for the meaning of existence. They were just pointing out how absurd it is that being a coach transforms you into some kind of minor diety in the eyes of America. Which is true. That is absurd.

posted by fabulon7 at 08:00 AM on January 27

Relax ... They were just pointing out how absurd it is that being a coach transforms you into some kind of minor diety in the eyes of America. Which is true. That is absurd. If the mere fact that a person is a coach does in fact lead to "hero worship" or a transformation "into some kind of minor diety in the eyes of America" - then that IS absurd. But the absurdity lies only with the person who sets the coach on that pedastal. The fault doesn't lie with the coach or the institution of coaching. And Slate is making exactly that connection. Sure, there are coaches who shouldn't be coaching, let alone be set up as societal gods. But, like BullpenPro points out, there are people in every occupation or role of leadership that fall into that category. On the other hand, there are men and women who have been coaches that do deserve special mention in our society because of the positive influence they've had on those that have come into contact with them. So, what's truly absurd is that Slate finds it newsworthy or beneficial to promote this crap. Send me a note or write an article full of humorous stories about goofball coaches or goofballs in general - I'll laugh at the funny ones and remember the importance of making sure who is coaching my kids and how my kids perceive them. However, to publish this with the stated intent of debunking coaches as a whole is just wrong - and I promise they won't counter this article with stories of positive, meangingful encounters with coaches.

posted by littleLebowski at 08:52 AM on January 27

Bad Coaches in my high school: 1. I was on the Cross Country team, and our coach wasn't so much bad as half-assed. Dude was very doughy, clearly hadn't run a yard in ten years, and had generated zero respect from the team. Every practice was the same: he'd give us a route to run through town, and would then cruise around in his Camero to check and make sure we were actually running. The Camero always needed a brake job, so you could hear it a couple of miles away and start running whenever you heard it. We got smoked at every meet. 2. I didn't play football, but the football coach also taught several PE classes. He'd hang out in the locker room between periods and take a piss. For some reason, he felt that he couldn't piss in cloths, so he'd strip down to nothing but shoes (well, sometimes he'd keep a football jersey on, but pants/underwear were consistently gone) and parade over to the urinals; once there, he'd make a big production of getting things arranged. It was pretty horrifying. And this same routine went down every period break. He would also chide students who wrapped towels around themselves on the way to the shower: "Don't be ashamed of what God gave you!" He liked to do surprise inspections to make sure everyone was wearing a jock. He once gave a mouthy kid a really creepy lecture about how "I took you up to that weight room and taught you how to be a man... I'll give you teary eyes." Cooooooooooooool guy.

posted by cobra! at 09:19 AM on January 27

He once gave a mouthy kid a really creepy lecture about how "I took you up to that weight room and taught you how to be a man... I'll give you teary eyes." Are you sure that was high school or was it prison? What school did you go to?

posted by chris2sy at 09:54 AM on January 27

Blair High School, Blair NE, 1989-93. It wasn't prison, but at the time, it felt like it.

posted by cobra! at 09:57 AM on January 27

From the followup article... This is just gross: For a while he insisted on sitting in the coxswain's seat. It made the whole boat sag and, with a wind up, water came over the gunwale. I was the guy facing him. He'd say "stroke" and we would row, he'd nitpick, and warn us about "catching crabs." I figured out later why he sat there. It wasn't to give us his wisdom close up; it was to show us his balls. Every time I looked down at my feet, there was one of them staring back at me through a gap in his shorts, legs spread wide. They were shiny and sick-looking. Even when I tried not to look, there one was, lurking out, weird as Sputnik. I lost my timing, I was relegated to the back of the boat and thankfully I never saw them again. And this is just disturbing: He was my coach when I played on our city's summer all-star baseball team. That's when I realized that he not only enjoyed the company of teenagers but had the maturity of one as well. During a practice, I was playing second base when, without warning, he whipped a ball right at me. It struck me in the face and broke my nose. He came over and said, "Got to get your glove up." Recently, he was sentenced to prison for arranging over the Internet to meet a teenage boy to have sex. Either way, there are coaches who deserve praise but there are even more that don't, but because of those few the rest are touted as hero's. Not much we can do about that.

posted by ProSam at 11:05 AM on January 27

I think obviously there are good coaches and bad coaches. Some of my best mentors/role models growing up were coaches. But my experience in Junior High and High School was that a not insignificant number of the coaches and PE teachers were ex-jocks who picked on the weak and marginalized kids, which is just inexcusable coming from someone in a position of authority. Junior High and High School are hard enough for some kids without being picked on by those in positions of authority.

posted by holden at 11:18 AM on January 27

Professional Sports is viewed as being the best industry in the country - certainly highly worshipped. Therefore coaches are seen as the wise people with the keys to unlock these doors. Which is patently ridiculous considering that there are few regulatory bodies that govern who gets to coach in high school. So they are granted a place of esteem that they may not warrant. I don't think the article is making a stretch here, I think it highlights some of the fundamental strangeness inherent in our sporting culture. Besides, high school coaches are fucking weird people.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 11:38 AM on January 27

Professional Sports is viewed as being the best industry in the country - certainly highly worshipped. Therefore coaches are seen as the wise people with the keys to unlock these doors. My experience: I don't see that connection being made at all. Professional sports you read about in the paper -- it's a fantasy land. High school coaches are handling your children. I don't have any children myself, but I have friends from various parts of the country who do, and I can tell you that they look at their kids' coaches with the same skeptical eye they would a day-care worker. Nobody I know sees coaches as beyond reproach, even if they have a pretty long history of being successful and upstanding. And kids sure don't seem to view their coaches as heroes nearly as much as just another authoritarian figure telling them to do stuff they don't want to do. Again, that's just my experience, but it's not a regionalized one.

posted by BullpenPro at 11:56 AM on January 27

In the small town where I grew up the coaches were normally the father of someone on the team. The kind of guy that never made it and was trying to fulfill his dream through his son. Most of us felt sorry for the poor kid and vowed to never treat our kids that way. So maybe they did teach us a lesson.

posted by njsk8r20 at 01:02 PM on January 27

However, to publish this with the stated intent of debunking coaches as a whole is just wrong - and I promise they won't counter this article with stories of positive, meangingful encounters with coaches. Surely you don't expect slate to have an equal amount of postitive stories to counter balance the bad ones. The first article started out with serveral examples of books that praised coaching. I'd say that your angry response to a little coaching criticism pretty much proves their initial idea. From age 4 to 20, from baseball, basketball, and p.e. I've probably had 50 coaches. The majority were normal everyday people. About 10 were completely nuts. 1 would be in the category of a role model. So my experience is much more in line with slate. I don't have any children myself, but I have friends from various parts of the country who do, and I can tell you that they look at their kids' coaches with the same skeptical eye they would a day-care worker. I'd have to disagree for most people. Teachers have to have degrees. Your local boy scout leader has to pass a test. Your local soccer coach? Just sign up. Sure, times are changing. But the 'coach' name definitely still brings a certain respect with it, even if the only thing the coach really brings is the whistle around his neck.

posted by justgary at 10:24 PM on January 30

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