Last Thursday, a clip of the Michigan State-Bradley NCAA Tournament men’s basketball game sparked a nationwide discussion about coaches yelling at their players.
During a stoppage of play, Spartans head coach Tom Izzo was shown on CBS yelling at freshman Aaron Henry, who Izzo believed showed a lack of effort on the previous possession.
Izzo was furious, pointing and getting in Henry’s face, even to the point that two Michigan State players held the veteran coach back.
The video quickly spread on social media, which sparked discussions online and on sports talk shows about whether Izzo went too far.
In interviews with several York-Adams League basketball coaches and players, the group gave a wide range of opinions on the topic. The one constant among everyone, however, was “getting after” players has a place in coaching, if the coach and athlete have a good relationship.
“You’ve got to care about your kids and develop relationships with them,” said Eastern York head boys’ basketball coach Justin Seitz. “When you show interest in them outside of basketball and treat them well, you can get on them a little bit and they’ll respond.”
Thoughts on Izzo video: Seitz said he had “zero problem” with Izzo’s actions in the video.
“It wasn’t about a kid missing a shot. It wasn’t about a kid turning the ball over. It was about a kid not hustling,” Seitz said. “He was trying to coach a team and have five guys on the floor competing, and that player wasn’t doing that.”
York High head boys’ basketball coach Clovis Gallon Sr. called the interaction “no big deal,” adding that what happened after the timeout validates Izzo’s strategy. Henry played better after Izzo yelled at him, and current and former Michigan State players backed Izzo in media appearances and social media following the game.
“In that instance with Izzo, I can only assume he knows the kid,” Gallon Sr. said. “I definitely think putting all the context in reaffirms my own suspicions that it was nothing more than tough coaching. It was a coach trying to get the most out of a player.”
Spring Grove head girls’ basketball coach Troy Sowers had a different takeaway than Seitz and Gallon Sr. Sowers, who has coached both boys’ and girls’ basketball for the last 20 years, believes Izzo crossed the line when he invaded the player’s “personal space.”
“It looked a little harsh to me,” Sowers said. “Anytime you put anything that close to a player’s face is wrong. You don’t want to put your finger in their face or your face in their face. I think there is some personal space a player should have that a coach should respect.”
Sowers did agree with Gallon Sr., though, about the response of Izzo’s current and former players.
“I didn’t really see the other players reacting negatively to how he did it, so that shows the players know (Izzo) loves them,” Sowers said. “There has to be a lot of positivity and love that comes from Tom Izzo to the players for them to be OK with what he did. Even though I wasn’t OK with what he did that day, the fact that everyone rallied around him leads me to believe he’s given a lot to those kids.”
Seitz said Izzo’s fiery coaching style isn’t the only way to coach, and he understands coaches, such as Sowers, who think Izzo went a little too far.
“I think each coach is different,” Seitz said. “Some are more laid back, and some are more in your face. It works for some people, and it doesn’t work for others. Anyone who has watched Izzo knows he’s a blue-collar, hard-working guy. That’s who he is, and he isn’t going to hide that.”
Players weigh in: Northeastern junior guard Nate Wilson said the video “didn’t bother me at all.”
Wilson said that’s the type of coaching he’s gotten for most of his life, and he believes that’s the best way to “keep players tough and disciplined.”
“I would say most of the time I respond well to being yelled at. If it’s something I disagree with, I won’t respond well, but 98 percent of the time, I do,” Wilson said. “It depends on the player. Some guys don’t respond well to it and just shut down. That’s when the coach has to know what type of players he has.”
Eastern York junior point guard Trevor Seitz said the video doesn’t show the context of the “family” that is a college basketball program. He said Izzo could have a great relationship with Henry, which would lead to Henry responding well to the tough treatment.
“For people who haven’t been around the program, they don’t understand he has relationships with those players,” said Trevor Seitz, who is Justin Seitz’s son. “For his players, this was probably normal. That’s Izzo’s style. Clearly his tactics aren’t hurting the players. Look at how good Michigan State has been with Izzo there.”
Personal philosophies: When it comes to yelling at players, Sowers, Seitz and Gallon Sr. all have no-swear policies for coaches and athletes. Sowers said he avoids getting in his players’ “personal space,” while Gallon Sr. said his personal policy is to not come in physical contact with his players.
“For me and my staff, it’s about establishing relationships,” Gallon Sr. said. “When the kids know you have their best interest and the team’s best interest at heart, you’re able to push the kids far. It can be intense sometimes, especially when you know you can get more out of a kid.”
Sowers said his goal is to keep his yelling at “90 percent positive and 10 percent negative.” With the success of Sowers’ programs at York High and this season at Spring Grove, he believes his players respond well to that philosophy.
“I’ve always had my players want to sell out for me and my staff,” Sowers said. “I think the positivity that we bring is probably the reason why. There is a time you need to up the volume to get your point across, but that has to be few and far between or you lose the effectiveness of the volume.”
Advice to future coaches: Sowers knows the players he’s coaching now will go on to coach themselves, and his advice to them about how to address yelling at athletes is about “love.”
“Love your players,” Sowers said. “If you don’t love your players, you won’t be successful. Kids know when they’re loved. If your players know you love them, they’ll sell out for whatever you’re selling. Only positivity can come when you have a coaching staff and players that work together and believe in each other and work in the same direction.”
For Gallon Sr., the goal of any coach should be for each player to reach his or her full potential.
“You can never allow a kid at that level to think they’re content or that they’ve arrived,” Gallon Sr. said. “If you do, then you’ve failed as a coach.”
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.