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Curbing Violence: Coaches Need to Set Early and Enforce Them

February 19, 1986|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

It has been 50 years since Bruce Oglivie, sports psychologist, played football at San Francisco's Mission High School, but time has not obscured the memories of his high school coach, "Piggy" Elder.

"He was an obese man who had a stare that would freeze you in your tracks," said Oglivie, 66, who recently retired after 26 years as a professor at San Jose State University. "He'd look at you and your heart would stop beating.

"I played quarterback and in three years, I never received a compliment from him. I didn't expect one. I was just grateful he didn't step on my face."

Coach Elder was big on discipline. Oglivie and his teammates wouldn't even think of talking back to Elder or misbehaving in practice or a game. They knew they'd be off the team in an instant.

Oglivie may have feared his coach in 1936, but he respected him, too. And, although he may have considered some of Elder's tactics extreme at the time, he wishes more coaches would adopt his style.

"Kids don't fear coaches today," Oglivie said.

Oglivie, who for 32 years has been a psychological consultant to various professional sports teams, sees this as an underlying reason for the violent behavior occurring on high school playing fields and courts.

Coaches aren't stressing discipline enough, Oglivie says, and kids have taken advantage of this. Incidents, such as fights or players arguing excessively with officials, often go unpunished by coaches.

"One of the primary goals of sports is to teach emotional control, but that's not being reinforced by as many as it should," Oglivie said.

He says a lack of discipline on the part of coaches and an increased emphasis on winning provides part of the social base for many of the violent acts committed in high school sports. Most recently, Orange County has experienced an inordinate number of incidents at basketball games this season.

"Kids have their antennae up and they see what's going on in the real world," said Thomas Tutko, also a sports psychologist at San Jose State. "We do not live in a loving, affectionate society--we live in a dog-eat-dog, gotta be No. 1 society, and if you're not on top, you don't count."

Tutko says there is a lot at stake today in high school sports. Athletes are competing for college scholarships worth thousands of dollars. Sports has moved out of the realm of skill, excellence, competitiveness and development and into an area that is do-or-die, win-at-all-costs.

"The emphasis on winning and the embarrassment of losing has progressively gotten more intense," Tutko said.

High school athletes are also influenced by role models, Oglivie and Tutko say. Whether a coach is highly emotional or relatively calm, his players often will model after his behavior. Usually, it's the emotional coaches who stand out.

"There seems to be a changing style with regard to what's acceptable in terms of coaching," Oglivie said. "One wonders if they're beginning to model after Bobby Knight and if they're seeing some NBA coaches go insane Sunday on television. You rarely have an acting-out athlete (one who rebels) without either covert or overt permissiveness on the part of the coach."

Tutko believes that, because violent acts are occurring with regularity in sports, among players and fans, such behavior has virtually become the norm.

"Teen-agers want attention and they're kind of exhibitionistic," he said. "Once it (an incident) happens, you have an ice-breaker, and then it's all right to do it. Kids will say that someone else did it down the street, so we're gonna do it. Models are very critical."

A common excuse of many high school coaches trying to justify the violent acts of their players is that "they're only 16- and 17-year-olds," or that "it's expected because this is an intense league or rivalry"

Oglivie calls this rationale nonsense.

"I grew up in the roughest neighborhood of San Francisco, and we were tough kids," he said. "But talking back to the coach or acting out on the field or court was still unheard of. As mean as my teammates were, that would have been a scary breach. We probably would have gotten knocked on our rears."

Oglivie recommends that coaches, on the first day of practice, discuss with their teams the importance of emotional control. They should stress to their players that certain behavior or actions, such as fights, will not be acceptable. They should have players sign contracts, stating that if they break the rules, they will be off the team.

"It starts when they're in Little League and junior high school," Oglivie said. "When a kid throws his bat, the first comment by his coach should be: 'I don't want to see you for a week.' If you care about the development of a child, you set standards of conduct. If the family can't do it, at least you (the coach) can."

After Santa Ana High School was involved in fights during three consecutive games this season, Saint Coach Greg Coombs told his players that anyone involved in another altercation would be off the team.

The ultimatum was issued after the three incidents. That's too late, Oglivie said.

"The first time a guy stomps his feet or throws a ball against the wall in practice, you should tell him to hit the shower," he said. "You don't tolerate that behavior. You begin to reinforce rational control. That's one of the most basic rewards that should come out of the athletic experience, and that's the responsibility of the teacher.

"No youngster should be given permission to act out violence or inappropriate behavior. The best coaches I see let the athlete know that they will not accept that behavior."

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