School of sport: A COACH MUST COAX

Sir Alex Ferguson

MENTION the phrase 'hair-dryer treatment' and most sports followers will think immediately of one name — Sir Alex Ferguson, the widely-acclaimed and highly-successful manager of Manchester United for twenty-seven years.

Alongside the phrase ‘Fergie-time’ (time being added on at the end of a match to allow his team to score!), he is known as much for his hair-dryer as for his trophies!

Well might we wonder why such a term is associated with a soccer manager! Are male changing rooms the natural habitat of hair-dryers? Leaving aside such a thought, we may well reflect a moment though on what is meant by the ‘hair-dryer treatment’.

Perhaps it is to do with the fact that the coach is so incensed, so hot under the collar, that he breathes out his angry tirade, like the loud and heated exhalation of air from the hair-dryer.

Are we meant to believe that the angry coach’s hot breath could dry a player’s hair as the furious words come out inches away from the player’s face?

Of course, the phrase ‘hair-dryer treatment’ often is associated, perhaps bizarrely, with ‘flying boots’, as Ferguson was alleged to have kicked or thrown boots at his players when ranting off about their performance on the field, on one occasion famously hitting the superstar David Beckham on the eyebrow with a flying boot.

That provides a far more aggressive tone to the expression; the ‘hair-dryer treatment’ is loud and furious.

It is a given that, at any level, a key aspect of the coach’s job is to inspire and motivate his players to reach a certain acceptable standard, befitting their level, age, experience and ability.

If the players fall short of that, then the coach must endeavour to find a way to raise them up (not pull them down).

It is often a very difficult task to do that, as the members of the team all have different characters, interests, methods of motivation and sensitivities.

Some will argue that when a coach becomes so incensed with the performances of his players, there are times when it might be appropriate to consider the 'hairdryer treatment'; some players benefit more from such a direct, full-throttled, loud-mouthed approach - they need to be told firmly how unacceptable their performance or attitude is.

It perhaps is also intended to rouse the player so much into his own angry state that he will go out and play more aggressively (though it may also make them play wildly and out of control).

It needs to be stated, however, that such an approach must never be used on children.

In very simple terms, a coach must coax. There is no place for hair-dryers in children’s sport.

 For a start, the coach should never lose his cool so much that he shouts or breathes fire; how can he see things clearly if his head is full of red mist, anger or frustration?

Secondly, the coach should be far more mature, as the adult, to stay calm; losing his temper and shouting is not going to enable to see or work things out clearly.

In truth, shouting at children is far more likely to cause them to go even further into their shell in fear and trembling, or, if they become incensed, lose all their control.

We might well see a child scream and shout and holler because he does not get his way but that is on account of his immaturity; a coach should be mature enough to see that such an approach does not work with children.

The coach who cries out in desperation and anger, “I’m a good coach: why don’t you get this?” is immediately showing that in fact he is not a good coach (if he was, they would have got it) but in fact a bad coach (as they have not got it).

The coach’s job at school level is somehow to find a way to tease improvement out of the player. They are to coax, to gently, persistently, persuasively encourage and influence the children to greater effort, ability and achievement.

Ironically, the very image of a coach using the ‘hair-dryer treatment’ would have, for many years in many changing rooms, caused an even greater outburst of angry words from the coach as sports players would have been seen to be tough, macho, rugged, aggressive competitors who would never use a hair-dryer on their hair! It is time (Fergie-time even – never too late) that we woke up and understood this, to boot.

 Hair-dryer treatment at schools is a hoax; a coach must coax. Get it?


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