Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

As I was writing Emotional Intelligence 101: How to Carve a Duck, I saw a story on national news that warrants inclusion in our Leaders Forum.

A youth soccer referee got fed up with the behavior of parents. They were more than just yelling at the referees. They stormed the fields, violently attacking the refs, opposing parents, and even the kids. They were throwing punches, kicking each other, and shouting obscenities. It was absolutely horrible.

Many of the incidents were caught on video, so one ref went on a campaign to spread the videos on social media. Although he may have been partially motivated to embarrass them, his major intent was to let them see themselves in action and do a little examination of conscience. It began to work. As the parents observed the ridiculousness of their less than fourth-grade behavior, they began to change.

One mother wrote to the referee to let him know that she had gone four weeks without yelling at an official. This illustrates the power of the “carve a duck” process we’ve discussed in previous articles. When she saw herself engaged in behavior that she didn’t like, she carved it away and was left with a more civil and sportsmanlike approach to her child’s youth soccer experience.

Here’s a similar illustration. Television has been instrumental in changing coaches’ sideline demeanor, especially at the college and professional levels. In the old authoritarian days, coaches would lose their tempers and vehemently berate their players during the game. But television caught them up close and personal and let the whole world see them in action. It also provided a mirror for the coaches. I am guessing that their initial thought may have been that they didn’t want people to see them behaving like that, then they moved to the next level. They decided they didn’t want to see themselves behaving that way, so they disciplined themselves to change. Carving away the displays of anger left them with a calm and collected bench and sideline coaching style which probably led to more success and a more enjoyable experience for their players.

Citing a suggestion from Coaches Make the Difference, “when you catch yourself getting upset on the bench or sidelines, carve it away and keep yourself under control. When you observe a harsh tone of voice, get out of attack mode, settle down, and become calm and approachable. Keep this in perspective. As coaches, we need to push our athletes and drive them to be the best that they can be. We need to be tough, but we can be tough without being demeaning and we can skillfully correct behavior without attacking the person.”

You can apply this philosophy to your own leadership style as you “coach” your educational team. We tout the benefits of students’ involvement in extra-curricular activities like learning to handle adversity, teamwork, self-confidence, behaving with class in upsetting situations, etc. Emotional skills are transferable to all walks of life. They can be taught and learned and are just as relevant to your leadership team as they are to athletic activities.

Controlling behavior in upsetting situations involves three simple steps. Observe the way you think and act, decide what you want to change, then change it. Be reminded that change doesn’t happen by Tuesday afternoon. It takes time and persistence, so don’t expect perfection, just progress.

Self-mastery of attitudes, emotional intelligence, and people skills carries over into your family life, your career, your relationships, your community involvement, and all other phases of your life.

Let’s conclude with a philosophy that we can instill in our athletes, coaches, parents, and fans. “Some nights you’re going to be the kicker and some nights you’re going to be the kickee. If you can behave with class in those extremes and in all situations in between, all of the time and energy you put into your athletic career will be well worth the effort.” 

The best way to teach it is to model it.

Denny Smith is a former teacher and coach, a motivational speaker, and an author committed to making our schools and communities safe and welcoming for all people. Excerpts from his latest book, Coaches Make the Difference,” can be previewed at

Leave a Reply