When I entered the gymnasium, I heard this loud, echoing voice booming across the entire room. It was saying things like, “Michelle you can serve better than that!” and “My high school girls' team spikes better than you Tony!”
When I finally clapped eyes on the owner of this bellowing voice, he immediately reminded me of one those rabid military Sargent Major's I had seen in army movies who scare the wits out of new recruits. He even had a crew-cut, and huge muscles bulging out of his skintight shirt which was far too small. However, when my eyes looked down at the rest of his body, I noticed it was totally out-of-proportion with the top part. Despite the huge shoulders, and biceps he also had a beer belly and very tiny legs. His name was Buzz and he was our coach. Buzz looked and acted extremely intimidating. As I was to find out his weapon of choice was anger.
Despite the negative vibe he was giving off I approached him with a smile, put my hand out to shake his and said, “Hi, I’m Ca...”
“I don’t care who you are,” he rudely interrupted. “Start doing laps to warm up.”
Without another word, he strutted off in the opposite direction leaving my hand gesture empty. That about said it all.
Even though it was a relaxed, co-ed, recreational volleyball league he acted as if we were training for war. He was on a total power trip and relished putting others down in order to build himself up. In my life, I have encountered many people like him, and I usually try to avoid these types of characters. I turned up to the first training session of volleyball eager to learn new skills, make new friends and get a good workout. As an adult in a new country, it is always a little intimating to walk into an unfamiliar environment and learn a game that you haven’t played in 15 years. I knew that I might be a bit rusty but hoped the coach would be encouraging and refresh my old skills by teaching me new tips. I was wrong. I felt like I was an awkward teenager again showing up late to a PE class with the bully teacher that no one liked.
He conducted the whole two-hour training session without acknowledging me, the new member and without praising any of the other player’s achievements. He ran great drills, but we made mistakes because we were made to feel inferior. It was nerve-racking waiting for my turn when I had already witnessed three people before me run the drill and get dressed down in front of the whole group. Some players did very well, and he refused to give any encouraging comments. Instead, he would wait for the next player to make a mistake, so he could criticize. I guess that strategy works for some people because they might get so angry that they play better, but for me, it is totally counterproductive. I have been on many teams and had many different teachers in my life and I know the bully tactic does not bring out my best. I also know, as a teacher that by making a student feel uncomfortable or scared you may prohibit them from doing well. He let the whole session pass by without spending one-on-one time with any of the players. He chose to stand at the front, like a wannabe Captain Bligh ordering his crew around like they were lackeys on the deck of the Bounty. I left the session feeling totally deflated. I didn't gain one new skill or tactic like I had hoped I would.
I have been teaching for years and I am the kind of teacher, who tries to find the positive characteristics of each of my students and highlight them. I try to make them feel good about themselves and proud of their accomplishments because I have learned through experience that a relaxed, positive environment creates happy students who produce better work. Sure, one must point out weaknesses, but it is far more constructive to offer a solution than to tear someone down without offering hope.
When the next Wednesday rolled around and I was dreading going to practice having to endure the power-hungry Buzz getting off on putting me down. Despite my anxiety, I laced up my trainers, tied my hair up and decided I would go in with a positive attitude. I was determined not to let Buzz make me feel bad about my abilities or take his negative comments to heart. However, when I turned up this time it was different than the week before. I opened the gym door and heard animated voices and laughing. Then I saw the players smiling and warming up together. Where was the military man? I asked myself. Then a tall, slightly nerdy-looking guy walked directly towards me and introduced himself.
“Hi, I'm Mike,” he said holding out his hand with a warm smile.
“Hi, I'm Carly,” I replied holding out mine and shaking his firmly.
He thanked me for coming to practice and introduced me to the group in a friendly manner. He too had great drills and was a very good volleyball player himself. However, his coaching methods were completely the opposite of Buzz’s approach. He spent time with every player, working on skills and giving them helpful tips. He was full of encouraging words for everyone. We all felt comfortable and relaxed, and in turn, we played better. Tony’s spikes were perfect, Michelle’s serves were spot on and I was learning so much more than the week before. Every time Mike would say, “Well done Carly!”, I would do even better the next time. I was seeing the world from the student’s perspective, not the teachers. It was a real buzz and the irony was that he wasn't even there.