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Control Your Emotions, Coach

James Leath is a contributor to the iSport360 newsletter.  He is a performance coach and former Head of Leadership Development for IMG Academy. His company Unleash the Athlete ( offers workshops and online courses that help athletes become leaders in and out of their sport. Twitter @jamesleath Instagram: @unleashtheathlete

Do you remember that commercial from the late eighties (yeah, really dating myself now!) where the dad finds a box of drugs and asks his son about it?

“Who taught you how to do this stuff?” The father asks.

The kid then replies, “I learned it from watching you!”  

I once lost my temper early in my coaching career during a youth football game. I was given a warning, and my team was handed a 15-yard penalty.

The next week, one of my athletes earned a 15-yard penalty for losing his temper at the refs.

“You have to sit out the rest of the quarter. I won’t tolerate that kind of behavior.” I told the young athlete.

He fired back with “So, it’s okay for you to lose your temper, but not me?”

Ouch. He was right, and I caught the absurdity of my behavior in that moment.

“You are right,” I said.

I still remember the look on that kid’s face after he said that to me, knowing it was rude to talk to his coach like that and expecting a negative reaction.

“I was out of line last week, and I am sorry. You aren’t going back in the rest of the quarter, but you are 100% right. We will pick this discussion up soon, I promise.”

He was visibly upset, and rightfully so. It was unfair that there was no consequence for my actions, but there was for his. In the locker room during halftime, I confessed that my behavior the previous week was wrong and asked for what my punishment should be.

“50 push-ups, coach!” shouted one of the linemen.

“Do you all agree?” I asked. They agreed.

I dropped and did 50 push-ups.

Young athletes are not adults and do not have the life experience to be held to the expectation of being able to control their emotions. Sports gives a student a controlled environment to learn how to manage feelings and emotions, and the coach is the teacher. That teaching is one of the biggest lessons a coach can teach an athlete under their supervision.

It starts with you, Coach. Your athletes are always watching. Lead by example on the sideline, at your job, and in your relationships. Admit when you are wrong, and make amends…even if it means your chest will be sore for the next few days.

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June 20, 2019

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