The local volleyball coach refuses to speak to you after a loss. The football coach talks excitedly after a victory, but offers monosyllabic responses following a defeat. The basketball coach stares directly at you following a loss, daring you to ask a question.
Maybe the coach slams his headset to the ground, stomps his feet, or utters obscenities at the opposing team – or maybe even at you. Hopefully, you won’t have to watch one coach bite the ear off another, as this coach did after a sixth-grade boys basketball title game.
Some people, like this writer, believe all coaches should be sore losers. But that’s simply not true.
Regardless one’s opinion, sports writers must interact with coaches after games no matter the final result, which, at times, can be a challenge. But we can defuse tense situations in several ways.
1. Develop a relationship with the coach. Take time to speak with coaches off the record, whether that’s a quick chat before the season, a midweek conversation at practice, or a phone call to get some background on a player or on a scheduled event. Of course, some coaches might still refuse to speak after a loss, offering a “no comment” or saying either, “I’m not talking about that” or “I don’t know.” If that’s the case, you might want to. ….
2. Schedule an appointment with the coach to address post-game interviews. It would be easy to stop covering this team, but that would be unfair to players and their families. Instead, go talk to this coach at the school during a teaching break or before a practice. Tell this coach that you understand losing can be hard for some. But explain that you also have a job to do, which is to cover the team despite the final outcome. If this coach refuses to talk after losses, you cannot effectively cover her team. You do not need to point out that her players, administrators, and families will eventually realize how the coach reacts, especially if you stop covering the team. But do make clear that you will not interview this coach at all, if she speaks only after wins. If this coach continues to refrain from offering post-game interviews, you should. ….
3. Interview more players and opposing coaches after games. You should be doing this any way. But if the coach fails to comply, rely even more on players from both teams. Ultimately, you’ll probably get fresher perspectives.
4. Ask specific questions about the game. First, address a play that worked well for the losing team. That way, the coach can focus on something positive. For example: “The running gained more than 100 yards on 17 carries in the second half. What did you all do differently?” Or: “The girls made numerous saves. Can you describe what they did, especially on the ball saved at 17-all?” By focusing on specific plays, you are asking for analysis, not a response to a loss. Afterward, you can ask questions about other key plays or trends where the team fared poorly.
5. Don’t offer commentary. Don’t tell the coach how the team played as you phrase questions. For example: “The team struggled to run the ball in the first half. Can you explain the reason?” This question might prompt a defensive response: “We ran the ball just fine in the first half.” In fact, you might have missed the strategic reason for the continued push to run the football. Let coaches offer commentary.
Coaches spend far more time preparing for games than anybody, so they will take losses harder. That does not excuse them from treating people poorly. They need model behavior for their players, eve more so the younger the age group. But coaches certainly won’t be happy they’ve lost either. That means it’s our job to defuse these tense situations, to increase communication, and to ask more detailed questions after games. By doing so, you’ll improve coverage for your media followers.