by Matt Foreman
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It’s sad to say, but I’ve seen this more than once throughout the years. Most elite athletes are solid individuals with solid temperaments. That’s the norm. But occasionally, you’ll see ones who are like ticking time bombs of jackass behavior, always one step away from doing something embarrassing or, in some cases, illegal. Psychiatrists would call them “borderline personalities.” From what I’ve seen in weightlifting, elite athletes who are borderline personalities usually have an entourage of enablers around them. These enablers are the people who support the athlete’s conduct by trying to blame somebody else for what went wrong. The coaches and the parents are the biggest culprits, along with any other schmuck who wants to be seen standing next to the chalk box when this athlete hits big lifts on the competition platform.
According to Wikipedia (my favorite website in the world), “individuals who enable others have weak boundaries, low self-esteem, and have difficulty being assertive when they communicate with others.” Yeah, that sounds about right. And none of these are good qualities to have if you’re a coach (or parent).
These coaches always try to convince themselves that they’re laying down the law, talking tough around other people and making it sound like they’re serious hard asses. But their posturing is phony, because everybody else in the gym (or the sport) sees what’s really happening…an athlete is acting like a punk and the coach is letting it happen, making no effort to exert any discipline.
I’ve been on both sides of this. There was a time period when I was the top lifter in the program, and I was also very young and very stupid. I did a lot of dumb things, and my coach just let me get away with it. This went on for a long time. But then one day, an older veteran got sick of my attitude, and he just ripped my ass. This was a guy I had a lot of respect for. He gave me a verbal whipping that almost made me cry in front of everybody, but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I cleaned up my act pretty quickly after he finished wiping the floor with me.
I’ve also seen team situations where a highly-ranked athlete was basically killing the group’s mojo through selfishness and pissy behavior, and the coach was just letting it happen. Everybody else on the team could see what was going on, plain as day. It caused resentment and loss of faith. There’s nothing worse than being on a team with a lot of internal division.
If you’re a coach and you’re guilty of this, you’re not doing the athlete any favors. You’re teaching them a lesson every time you let them get away with their little stunts, but it’s the wrong lesson. They’re learning that they can do anything they want and get away with it, which is setting them up for failure in life. There’s a chance they might eventually transition into breaking the law and committing crimes because they’ve been trained to believe “nothing I do is wrong.” These situations are rare, but we’ve seen a few of them. It’s not really all that surprising when they blow a gasket because they’ve been raised to think consequences don’t apply to them.
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