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Mind Your Mouth, Coach

September 01, 2002

If the decibel levels and vocabulary unleashed by some high school sports coaches were transferred to the rest of the high school world, marching bands would be scattering, debate teams would be disbanding and lawsuits from angry parents would be flying.

So thanks are due to the Capistrano Unified School District for being host to etiquette classes for high school coaches, too many of whom have earned a reputation for turning scholastic sports into a field of screams.

The "Pursuing Victory With Honor" class would seem outlandish if we weren't talking about sports. It has a simple concept: Why do parents and high school administrators tolerate boorish behavior from coaches that would never be accepted from a teacher standing in an English class or a biology lab? Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis is credited with elevating the "just win, baby" philosophy to an art form. But high school coaches who follow in Davis' footsteps are building the foundation for a destructive winning-is-everything mind-set.

Capistrano has offered the program to coaches, both local and not, seven times since December. The three days of classes are taught by sports psychologists, athletic trainers and teachers. Aside from civility, The curriculum covers nutrition and basic coaching strategies. Many high school coaches are part-timers who coach volleyball, swimming, basketball or other sports because they love the game.

When the hours of watching game film, drafting strategy and monitoring athletes are tallied, it's clear that they're not in it for the money. But coaches also serve as classroom teachers who are there to teach, not bully.

No one expects coaches to attach a "please" and "thank you" to every barked command to hit the blocking sled or "drop and gimme 40." But ugly incidents, including abusive language by coaches, trash-talking by athletes and pushy behavior among parents, are sparking interest statewide among principals and athletic directors who recognize that this is high school, not boot camp.

The classes are wrapped in an attractive ribbon--coaches can use the course to meet continuing education requirements. Even so, some coaches and schools are balking. School districts and athletic leagues should pick up the ball and demand that coaches attend the class before picking up a whistle.

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