BigO Tyres

   Winning should never be sole justification for any coaching style, or the lone measure of coaching success. Editor’s Note: This column is the...

   Winning should never be sole justification for any coaching style, or the lone measure of coaching success.

Editor’s Note: This column is the continuation of a two-part look at particular coaching styles. Coach Kallam will return to the Q/A format in our next issue. 

   In the book “There’s Only One Way to Win,” Dick DeVenzio — who wrote a lot about leadership and champions before his premature death in 2001— wrote about his father, Chuck DeVenzio, who coached for 40 years in Pennsylvania, and never had a losing season.

   Chuck DeVenzio was hardly the only old-time coach who acted this way, and in fact it wasn’t that long ago that they were everywhere, but the book (written in 1993) glorifies this style:

   “Like a Marine Corps’ drill sergeant, he screams incessantly at his players … When they mess up on the court, he calls them names – not always nice names. And during timeouts, good luck if you’re the kid who just missed a slam dunk. But DeVenzio wins …”

   The justification is winning — and in fact, throughout the book, Dick DeVenzio comes back to the 40 years without a losing record over and over again. But then, consider this quote …

   “I played on two of Coach DeVenzio’s most successful teams,” writes a former player, “and I was still never good enough to play intramurals in college. That’s because I was never allowed to do anything in high school. I’m 37 years old, I can’t dribble; thirty-seven, I can’t shoot. I was supposed to give it to someone else, stay out of the way.”

   Of course, by “most successful,” the player meant “winning.”

   I’ve coached for a long time, and I’ve been an assistant and a head coach. I’ve coached teams that by all accounts were successful because they won a lot of games. I’ve coached teams that weren’t nearly as successful by that measure, but I can tell you this: I’ve been around teams that won 20-plus games, and the girls finished the season unhappy and frustrated because it just wasn’t that rewarding. And I’ve coached teams that didn’t reach .500 that the players looked back on as something they’d like to do again.

   I’ve coached with and against old-school types like Chuck DeVenzio, and seen a lot of coaches who think that Bobby Knight style of embarrassing players into succeeding, and limiting their participation so that the stars can shine, is how it should be in high school as well. After all, DeVenzio won for 40 straight years, and Knight is a Hall of Fame coach.

   But you know, “There’s Only Way to Win” was written 20 years ago, and Knight’s career ended in mediocrity. And though you can always find players who look back and think positively about their experiences with such coaches, you can find many more who were unhappy during the process, and wish their brief shot at organized athletics had been rewarded with more than some wins in some record book somewhere.

   Or, to put it another way, ask a former high school athlete, 20 years down the road, what the won-lost record was in his or her junior year. I would be surprised if they know those numbers, and in fact I would be surprised if they could say precisely how far they advanced in postseason, if they got there.

   Yes, winning is important, but it’s far from the only reason to get involved in high school sports, and it’s the least of the lessons learned. Winning, after all, is dependent on so many things outside the control of the players or the coach — such things as available talent, the quality of competition, injuries and just plain luck have a huge impact on a won-loss record.

   But how to treat others, how to work with others, how to lead, these are lessons that transcend winning or losing, and are unaffected by outside forces. That, to me, is what coaching is about, and though winning is certainly better than losing, it’s not worth treating human beings like chess pieces in order to put a banner up in a gym.

   And if you agree that abusive coaching has no place in our society, then don’t fall for the line that winning is the only thing, and that the end justifies the means. Especially in high school and youth sports, winning is highly overrated, and never should be the sole measure of coaching success.

   Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email him at

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