“Toughen Him Up . . . ” Really?

As I write this (11/12/2013) the Jonathan-Martin/Richie-Incognito/Miami-Dolphins saga is still very much unfolding.

I just read a post from Seth Godin and it got me to thinking.

If it is indeed true that the Dolphins’ coaching staff encouraged, or requested that, one of their players “toughen up” another then, as a “coach,” I find that a bit sad.

To me, coaching, whether it’s the personal coaching I do, or the sports coaching that football coaches do, should be about bringing out the best in people – in a healthy, sustainable way.

Not by setting a known violent, seemingly boorish malcontent on them, but instead by helping them get in touch with what they really want, identifying what’s in their way and supporting them in creating strategies for change and improvement that work.

We don’t know yet if the Dolphins’s coaching staff was complicit in what Incognito did with/to Jonathan Martin, or if they were ignorant of what was going on with two of their players.

Either is equally troubling.

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There are many NFL locker rooms where this sort of thing would never happen. Locker rooms where the head coach leads and sets standards for conduct. Where it is clear to everyone what is acceptable and what is not.

Yes, an NFL locker room is a sub-culture unto itself, with norms and practices that – taken out of context – seem vulgar, immature and sometimes cruel. But most of those locker rooms are filled with players who know where to draw the line. Players that know that everyone there is necessary for the team’s success and maintain – even within the context of that special sub-culture – a minimum level of respect for teammates and their dignity.

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A few things are clear:

Richie Incognito is not aware of the coach approach.

Jonathan Martin should have never participated in the toxic back-and-forth with Incognito (like it appears he did) if it was going to affect him the way it so clearly did.

The Dolphins coaching staff should have known what was going on in their locker room and set higher, clear, standards for team behavior way before any of this got out-of-hand. As the accountable leaders of the team, especially the Head Coach, they should have set the tone and standard at the outset.

More importantly, we can all learn from this that the best way to develop someone is to know them and work with them in a personalized way to bring out their best. Encouraging them, supporting them and holding them accountable in a dignified and respectful manner.

That’s what the kind of coaching that I do is all about.

I hope that the Dolphins coaching staff, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin see this sad episode as an opportunity to learn, grow and get better as both football players and coaches and human beings.

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