As coaches, we hope to create an atmosphere that is welcoming and open…where no one feels alone. In fact, I believe one of the major benefits of playing sports is the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than you, to share a common goal, and to have a set of ready-made friends. And in terms of coaching, I’d imagine the reason many of us got into the profession is that we enjoy being the “significant adult” in a young person’s life. So when I read about Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers student who took his life last year, I had to take a step back and ask myself: could this happen at our school, in our athletic department, or (Heaven forbid!) on my team? Let’s ask the tough questions and challenge ourselves to answer them honestly.
5 Tough Questions That Must Be Answered By Every Coach When Facing Calamity
1. Am I on good terms with the folks in our Residential Life office? I’d imagine roommate troubles are a daily occurrence on every campus in the country, but do you know who to call if someone on your team is having beyond-the-norm issues with their roommate?
2. Do my team members feel close with one another? Most Student Affairs folks know that the first few months of college are tough for most students. It’s one of the reasons I love that we’re a fall sport, it really helps my team gel and helps me keep an eye on the newbies. I can’t make the team be close, but I sure can make sure that they’re spending a lot of time together. My typical charge to my captains is that they hang out and become teamy…a good by-product of that is the newbies form deep relationships with each other and their older teammates.
3. Am I up on my privacy laws? I don’t know HIPPA and FERPA like the back of my hand, but I do know that I can’t call up my student-athlete’s mom or dad to discuss the problems that their daughter is having…even if it’s exactly what the kid needs. I suppose if you’re ever in doubt, ask before you start yapping about the personal lives of your athletes.
4. How well do I know my student-athletes? I’m nosy and my team knows it…I don’t even try to hide it! I know what classes they’re taking, what professors are driving them crazy, and how they’re balancing school and studying and that new boyfriend who is taking away all of their free time. I don’t know because they’ve filled out some form, it’s because I’m nosy…it works for me. And what I can’t pry out of them, I get from the training room staff. I tell you what, those folks know everything! The students get in there and start chatting and forget that the trainers are even there…the trainers hear it all.
5. Would a troubled student come to me first? This is the biggie for me. At this point in the season, have I and my staff created relationships with our newbies that would make them feel comfortable talking to us about a major personal crisis? Have we created a family-like team where the older folks would notice something is wrong and come to me with it? It certainly is our intention and I hope it is the case.
I pray that none of us ever has to deal with a situation like Tyler Clementi’s…and perhaps there was no preventing this outcome. But it’s our job to make sure we’ve done everything within our power to keep a tragedy like this from impacting our teams.
For more on Tyler Clementi’s story, click on this link.