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The Call for a Higher Standard Than Winning

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A player runs across the NCAA logo during practice in Pittsburgh before an NCAA tournament basketball game in 2012. Photo: Keith Srakocic / Associated Press

By Marty Durden, Ed. D. |

In recent years, many schools have sullied their reputations by allowing unscrupulous coaches to lay aside their ethics in the pursuit of winning athletic contests on the backs of young athletes. The irony of this is that many of these wrongdoers, after being dismissed, have been rehired by other institutions.  We have witnessed the damage done by NCAA basketball coaches offering bribes, college trainers who prey on female athletes, FIFA officials who solicit kickbacks and professional athletes who use performance enhancing drugs. Ethical leaders are dismayed at the negative impact this brings to our profession. 

I propose a remedy to this ethical crisis.  Let us hire coaches who pursue a Higher Standard than Winning.  We need sport leaders, athletic directors, college presidents and school administrators to seek servant-leaders as coaches in their schools.  To counterbalance these scandals, the world of sport needs coaches who operate by a higher standard than winning alone provides.  Servant-leader coaches seek to make a positive difference in lives that serves to honor their calling as leaders.

Servant-leader coaches operate on the foundation of trust that originates in their competency as coaches, their affection for their players, the worth they bestow in the lives of their players and the sense of fairness that governs their decisions.  While the servant-leader coach develops teams to win games, they pursue more consequential results than wins or losses.  The servant-leader coach lives in the process and values this more than outcomes.  Winning games becomes the byproduct of their mission rather than the sole aim.  Coaching from the inside-out develops young people who are prepared for the challenges of life twenty years down the road.  The Higher Standard Coach avoids coercion and prefers to motivate their players as constructive mentors.  Young people today are averse to authoritarian leadership principles and prefer coaches who seek to develop them as both people and athletes.  My research has shown that servant-leadership coaching elicits a higher level of sustained effort. Young people who view their coach through the lens of trust tend to face the crucible of athletics with a higher degree of determination. (Durden, 2016)

My proposition is that we have reached the critical point in our sport culture where we need to issue the call for coaches who pursue a Higher Standard than Winning. The Higher Standard is the antidote to the insipient uptick of unethical incidents in our beloved profession.  

Dr. Marty Durden is the Athletic Director of Presbyterian School in Houston, Texas. He has been a coach/athletic director for five decades.  He has researched the motivational effects of servant-leadership coaching on high school and college athletes. This research has revealed a causal effect between servant-leadership coaching behaviors and increased levels of player motivation.

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