The Error of using Rage and Revenge to motivate your players

I believe this subject will cause some controversy among coaches because it’s what they’ve done for years and let me say that I have too. I have only in the last 3 or 4 years learned the error of my ways and I want to save you from venturing down that path.

In what school subject or life lesson would you teach that you should take your anger, turn it into bitterness and rage to reach a solution to the problem at hand. This goes along with revenge as well. Revenge does not solve problems, it only creates an ever escalating feud. Yet we teach these 2 as solutions to football problems every day on the field. How many times have we as coaches said “I couldn’t get little Johnny to play hard until I pissed him off”. Again, what other arena is this a possible teaching scenario? I’d venture to guess no other arena is this a solution to the problem. I can just see you teaching your son or daughter to drive. That guy just passed you on a double yellow line. Now get mad and chase him down and hang on his bumper! I’m willing to bet that will get them a failing grade on their driving exam.

We say that we are teaching life lessons in football and we are so we do we want this boy to learn that rage and violence will fix other problems in his life too? I doubt any of us agree with that statement. I understand that football is a violent sport and I teach that it is. We just need the right motivation behind it and not the wrong motivation.

We know why we try to use this mechanism to increase intensity on the football field. Because it was done to us so we think it’s the right thing to do. We also get frustrated with little Johnny and start yelling because it is the natural outlet for our frustration. Let me explain why I believe it’s the wrong thing to do.

Romans 12:19, in quoting Deuteronomy 32:25 says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. It’s in there twice! Paul reiterates it quoting the Old Testament. But the world we live in tells us “Revenge is sweet.” Who is right? Why does God not want us to avenge ourselves? Is it because He wants to have all the fun himself? I’m going with no on this. God knows that revenge is more than our souls can handle and will do damage to our souls by leading us down an evil path to accomplish it. It will require us to devalue the other person and harbor bitterness towards them before we can get the revenge we desire. Our God, who loves both parties, knows what is best for both of us and in His mercy wants us to forgive because we can’t handle revenge without damaging both sides. I believe revenge is what Jesus was addressing when He told us to turn the other cheek. He never said not to protect or defend yourself or others from further harm. Only not to retaliate. An eye for eye, so to speak. Jesus never rebuked any soldiers for the job they do.

Paul also says in Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger, do not sin”. He’s not saying that anger is a sin. Anger is a useful emotion. It lets you know when something might be wrong. At this point, you have to decide whether to give in to letting the anger go to the next level and be wrong or to take heed of the warning and see what the correct response to that anger is.

Another more practical and less spiritual reason not to use rage and revenge to motivate your players is that this emotion is unsustainable for a 2 hour football game. It’s only good for maybe 2-3 minutes into the game and then the normal rhythm of the game takes over.

So…now do you still want to use rage and revenge to motivate your players? If you do, then at least you know the consequences. I also believe this is where a lot of team discontent and fighting originates from. It goes uncontrolled by the coaches mostly because they encouraged it in the first place and now they don’t know how stop what they started. Then the coaches yell at the kids to stop it and the cycle continues.

I’ve had many opportunities to use revenge as a motivator and years ago, I used the old “BOYS, THEY’RE COMING IN TO OUR HOUSE AND TRY TO TAKE SOMETHING AWAY THAT IS OURS!!!” or they got us in the regular season and now let’s go get them back for that loss!! How many times have you beaten a team and thought “I took what was theirs”? That thought has never crossed my mind and I doubt it has ever crossed yours. You both set out to play and win a football game and one of you won. That’s all there is to it.

A few years ago, we lost in the regular season to 2 teams that we were going to have to beat in the playoffs to win the championship. Not once did I mention revenge to our players. I just kept telling our kids that we had fought thru a tough season and we were getting better every game and I thought that we would be a better football team the next time we faced them. I was building confidence in us instead of bitterness and rage. I was putting bricks into the confidence wall. We also prepared with drills specific to the talents of those 2 teams. This also built even more confidence in my kids. No negativity. Only positives. By the time we got to the games, my boys had no fear of their opponents, only respect. We blew out the first of the 2 undefeated teams and got a 1 point win over the other in the championship. A team that beat us by 4 touchdowns in the regular season. I am sure that both teams had more talent than we had but we were having more fun playing football the way it should be played. Aggressive and with emotion, sustainable emotion. That emotion is love for your team mates, your coaches and the game itself.

I can hear it now. If I can’t use anger to motivate my players, how will I motivate them? I didn’t say not to use anger at all. Only in small doses and used wisely but do not let it elevate to the upper levels of bitterness and rage and cause damage to your players’ souls. I will show you how I accomplish this in later articles/posts.

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