We’ve all seen it. Either on TV or in-person, we’ve seen it.

Some coach gets upset at his team or a player on his team and is yelling wildly, gesticulating with arms flailing all over, trying to drive home the point that someone has just screwed up, and he will not have any of it. He needs to make sure that they know that what just happened is unacceptable.

Then we hear the different sides of the argument. “He’s out of control. He went way too far. He doesn’t need to do that. He needs to control himself. They’re just kids.”

“Are you kidding? That’s hard coaching right there. He’s doing exactly what he needs to do. Kids these days are too soft. In fact, sports, society, and ‘Merica have become way too soft. Toughen up, Buttercup.”

These people then bemoan the fact that “things just ain’t the way they used to be.” They long for the old days. Within the sports realm, we hear them saying that we need more old-school coaches and coaching.

I get it.

I really do.

I started teaching and coaching at a Catholic high school in the Chicago suburbs in 1982. For those of you keeping score, that’s 39 years ago.

I literally am old, and I started coaching at a school 39 years ago and have continued to do so for all but a couple of years between then and now.

So, I think I fall into the category of old-school coach.

But it’s not the age of the coach or whether or not the coach coached at a school that people are complaining about when they long for the days of old-school coaching.

They are talking about how coaches coach.

They feel that coaches nowadays are not hard enough on their players.

They feel that coaches need to instill more discipline.

They feel that kids are too soft now, so we (coaches) need to toughen ’em up by “coaching them hard.”

Once again, I get it.

I have seen changes in kids through the years, too. But the changes in kids have come because of changes in parents…

And changes in technology…

And changes in society.

Oh yeah… they’ve also come from changes in coaches and coaching.

So, a lot of people complain about the differences in these things nowadays compared to back then.

And when it comes to sports, they say, “We need coaches to get back to old-school coaching. We need to get back to the days when coaches coached ’em hard.

Defining “Hard Coaching”

The problem with these people’s words and ideas is that they have not defined what exactly they mean when they talk about hard coaching.

If they mean that hard coaching is setting standards for behavior in our programs, instilling, teaching, modeling, and reinforcing those standards, and then holding kids accountable for actions that do and don’t follow those standards, I’m all for it.

We need to teach kids the values and behaviors for being part of a team.

We need to teach them that having a strong work ethic is going to be a key to our success.

We need to teach them the discipline necessary to follow through on the actions needed to achieve their desired goals.

We need to teach them to have the mental toughness to persevere through the tough times and still maintain positive attitudes and great effort.

We need to teach them that success is not just what happens on a scoreboard, that the scoreboard is just one measure of success, not the be-all and end-all of success.

At the same time, though, we need to teach them how to compete hard and that the scoreboard is one of the measures of success, so we need to do all that we can within the rules and spirit of competition and sportsmanship to compete to the best of our abilities in an effort to win the contest.

Then, maybe most importantly, we need to follow-through on all of those concepts by emphasizing them, reinforcing them, and holding kids accountable for them.

If all of the above is what people mean when they are talking about old-school coaching or coaching ’em hard, sign me up!

Focused on the Wrong Things

Unfortunately, I have seen way too many people explain away their inappropriate behavior or the inappropriate behavior of others as hard coaching.

They use the term hard coaching  to try to excuse their own bad behavior when they handled a situation poorly and they went too far in how they treated their kids. They say that they’re just old school and that they were just coaching ’em hard.

Hard coaching is not belittling kids.

It’s not demeaning kids.

It’s not humiliating kids.

It’s not embarrassing kids.

It’s not yelling at kids.

Hard coaching is being demanding, but it comes from love and respect.

That’s right – Hard coaching comes from love and respect.

That may seem like an oxymoron to some people, especially those proponents of hard coaching who think the list above—belittling, demeaning, humiliating, embarrassing, and yelling at kids to prove a point and to toughen ’em up—is what hard coaching is.

But it is the great paradox of the concept of hard coaching.

We coach ’em hard because we love ’em.

We coach ’em hard because we want what’s best for them.

We coach ’em hard because we see so much more in them.

We coach ’em hard because we want to give them the greatest gift we can give them—our belief in them and their capacity to excel.

We coach ’em hard by respecting each of them individually and understanding that each of them brings unique gifts to the team. It’s our job to draw out the best of those unique gifts from them in the best way possible.

That starts with loving them and treating them with respect.

Then we push them to be their best by demanding they give all that they have to their teammates, so that we all have a great experience.

We ask them to use their unique gifts and blend them in with the rest of the team to help us all succeed and become our collective best.


When they don’t behave in those ways, we hold them accountable for their actions.

We may verbally reprimand them.

We may pull them aside and talk to them.

We may point out what they did in front of the entire team if we feel it is something the entire team can benefit from. But we don’t do that to embarrass them.

We may sit them out of practice or competitions.

Whatever the situation was that did not live up to our team standards, we address it and then we deliver a consequence of some sort for it.

We don’t berate them for it. Berating does not come from love and respect.

We don’t put them in the dog-house; that is not showing love and respect.

We don’t hold grudges for their behavior; we are the adults here, and we should be operating out of love and respect.

We don’t yell because we are out of control and in a rage. Yelling out of rage is not love and respect.

There is nothing wrong with yelling if it is done in the right way and for the right reason.

We yell, if necessary, because we are in an arena where we need to raise our voice to be heard as we are instructing or correcting, or we need to stop a potentially dangerous behavior, or we need to make sure our point is understood.

But when we do yell, we make our point and then we move on from whatever triggered that response and get back to whatever our focus is in that moment. But we also check in on whoever received the yelling and make sure that they know we still love them.

Also, so much of the way we handle these things will be affected by the age and level of the kids we coach. In many ways, we will not treat 2nd graders the way we treat varsity players.

And yet, in many other ways, we will treat them the same. We will demonstrate our love and respect for them while holding them accountable for their actions. It’s just that the actions we hold them accountable for and our reactions to their actions will be different.

Hard Coaching the Right Way is Good Coaching

I love the concept of hard coaching when it is taught, discussed, demonstrated, and handled in the right ways.

Coaching kids hard, pushing them to be their best, holding them accountable to the standards you have set for your team is a good thing.

But it must start with you building positive relationships with your kids.

They must know you have their best interests at heart and that you are there for them in whatever way they need from you.

They must know that you are demanding of them because you see so much more potential in them and that you believe in them.

They must know that you want them to succeed and to become the best they’re capable of becoming.

They must know that you care about them more than just for their athletic output and performance.

They must know that you love them.

If you can do these things as you coach ’em hard, have at it. Give ’em all you’ve got. They will improve, grow, and develop, and so will your team.

But if you still can’t wrap your head around the concepts of love and respect as the baseline for all you do…

If you still think that hard coaching is belittling, demeaning, humiliating, embarrassing, and berating kids for some mistake or some transgression of your standards…

It’s not your kids who need to change.

It’s you.

Figure it out right now. If you can’t get behind the concept, get out.

While you want the best that your kids can give you, your kids need your best from you.

Your best needs to come from the love and respect that you show them every day.

So give it to them, and coach ’em hard.

They will love you for it…

And you will love them for it, too!