Old School vs. New School Coaching

As sport, playstyle, and athletes evolve, so too do the coaches. In a new age of sports, coaches are changing. While successful “old school” coaches remain, the unsuccessful are slowly falling out of view, and “new school” coaches are emerging.

Any seasoned athlete will be able to tell you that with every coach they’ve worked with, each has had a different style, a different demeanor, or a different way they go about their business. Athletes respond differently to the unique personalities, abilities, and experiences which their coaches bring to the locker room.

However there is a push in today’s society for the flourishing “new school” coach to be at the helm.

Although there are many different variations of coaching styles, there are two widely accepted styles that coaches most commonly identify with: “The old school” coach, and “the new school” coach.

Style alone does not determine success or failure for a coach and in order to understand why the “new school” coach is highly sought after, it is important to understand what each style means.

To start off, age does not directly affect the style. An older coach can use the “new school” style, and the same goes for a younger coach using “old school” style.

“I think a coach can have an ‘old school’ approach with a true ‘new school’ heart,” says Jim Thibault, a science teacher and two-sport coach at Oyster River High School. “The older you are, the more likely you are to be ‘old school’ because it’s more likely that was what was modeled for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change and be different,” he adds.

Secondly, no coach is bound to one categorization or another. Coaches can change styles over time, or coach using a mix of styles. “A good coach adapts as they go along,” says ORHS Athletic Director, Andy Lathrop.


The “Old School” Coaching Style

The most effective means of communication for many “old school” coaches is through a wistful affection for yelling.

“[When I was growing up] there was that mentality, if you’re not yelling you’re not coaching,” says Nicole Casimiro, the girls varsity basketball coach at ORHS.

There is the feeling that the coach is a much higher figure than the player. It makes the players feel as though they are merely there to take orders and execute them rather than having a personal drive to accomplish a goal given out by the coach.

“Old school coaches will scream at you, [because] they think that motivates you. They’ll try to piss you off, [because] they think that motivates you,” says Wyatt Carlson (‘19), a two-sport athlete at ORHS.

“Old school” coaches are portrayed as big stoic people. They have different tactics for getting their players to work hard, but there is a general consensus of the “old school” coach that it is through intimidation and authority that results are accomplished.

“The old school coach is getting on your case, and hounding you. Some would just look at you, and you’d know. Then some would holler,” says Lathrop.

A downside to this style according to many athletes and coaches, such as Casimiro, is that the coach was unwilling or didn’t show any signs of varying from their roots, values, or opinions.

“Old school coaches had the way they wanted to run their program regardless of the players that they had,” says Casimiro. “They had the ‘my way or the highway’ mentality.”

The “old school” coach, is a coach running the team, their way. Suggestions to differentiation in approach can be made by assistants, or other members of the coaching world in the upper tier. But suggestions by players to an “old school” coach would be considered an insult, and feel to that individual that it was a direct challenge to how they ran things. Which in turn would only add to the yelling resume of a coach looking to do things their way.

“It’s their way. They are the authoritarian,” says Thibault. “[The coaches] are more concerned with conformity than conversation.”

For some athletes, such as Myles Carrico (‘20), the “old school” style suppresses swagger and emotion. Carrico explained how “old school” coaches can become angry with their players for showing passion and excitement for the game. “They’ll comment on how [their team is] disrespecting the other team, but really it’s just emotion of the game.”

Swagger for the game, according to Carrico isn’t being cocky or showing up the opposing team. Rather, it is being able to play loose and with a sort of flare. Being able to convey a feeling of confidence in the way you play.

The “old school” style however, certainly isn’t all bad. There’s a common consensus that the “old school” style demands a certain type of work ethic and discipline.

“There’s definitely more discipline with the old school coaching,” says Carlson.

Playing for an “old school” coach forces an athlete to play as hard in practice as they would in game to earn the respect and trust of the coach. Their showing in practice may produce opportunities for them in game when the time comes. Playing for this style coach, you build up your reputation. If your reputation with the coach is bad, chances are you’re not going to play much. A good reputation, or being on the coaches good side, then you’ll be given chances in the game. The player will have more of a freedom to play without worry of getting pulled from the game after a mistake.

“When you did something good, they’d let you know. If they got in your face and got after you, then they’d put their arm around you and tell you good job once you did what they were asking,” says Lathrop.


The “New School” Coaching Style

“New school” coaches take on a cooperative coaching role. Rather than having set in stone methods of improving players and a team, they are more comfortable with open conversations with the athletes to find the best solutions.

For Carrico, the biggest difference he sees between playing for a “new school” style rather than “old school” is the freedom to play. “New school is more about enjoying the game itself. You’re able to loosen up and have some fun. New school allows you to play with your own style and if you make a mistake, you’re not necessarily scared of getting yelled at.”

Athletes feel more comfortable playing for this style. There is a weight lifted off the shoulders of the players. Although there isn’t a lack of coaching, it feels as if there is an ushering by the coach to, “just go out and play.”

“New style coaches will try and make suggestions and be helpful rather than forcing things on you. They’ll talk to guys, talk things out, make helpful suggestions, but can still get everyone’s attention if they need to,” says Carlson.

Along with that idea, Casimiro adds, “new school is very much get to know the players and I will cater my coaching style to their needs.”

Coaches and players alike demand respect from one another. For coaches, they can earn their players respect through authority, or through leading by both example, and mentality. Leading through example and mentality means conveying attitudes, manners, approaches, and actions that are beneficial to the way the team will both think and act.

“Today’s coach is more of a player’s coach,” says Lathrop. The term “player’s coach” refers to the coach being someone that the players look forward to playing for day in and day out. “The new style coach, to be effective, has to have respect from the players. If they don’t, I think the players will walk all over that person,”says Lathrop.

Problems do arise for “new school” coaches, especially of younger ages. A young coach, say at the high school level, is only a few years age difference away from their players. This dynamic, although much to the liking of the players, who are able to relate better to their coach, can sometimes form too much of a buddy-buddy relationship. Athletes with young coaches sometimes view their coach more as a teammate. Finding the line between a friendly bond with the player, and having the respect and authority to lead a team are crucial for any young coach.


The Push For “New School”

Players want to play with the freedom to make mistakes. The “new school” coach supports that play style.

In an age where many kids are off-put by authority, the “new school” style allows the athlete freedom to play, supporting the love of the game to flow freely.

The current society is one of sheltering and protection of youth. One that supports an easy-going coaching style, that seems less of an authoritative figure, and more of a role model. The “new school” coach is someone who today’s players want to follow.

“When people first start coaching, they come out and try to emulate the coaches they’ve had before, until they figure out their own style,” says Lathrop, who related this to his own experiences with coaching.

Now, young coaches are emulating the experienced coaches that they are familiar with, who also fall under the “new school” coaching category. As a result, coaches are bringing their own twist on “new school” coaching to their players.

As society changes, so do the coaches. Young athletes need to be engaged constantly, requiring a shift in focuses from their coaches, and new energy in mentoring. The “new school” coaching style has been brought to the forefront of an ever changing society.

Coaches are beginning to understand their true purpose as mentors. “The reason for coaching is to grow and develop and mold kids into better functioning adults, because most kids we deal with aren’t going to become professional athletes,” says Thibault.

“New school” coaches are becoming the sought after coach, because they understand what coaching is all about.

To mold kids into better functioning adults through sport is the true goal of coaching. Coaching is teaching a love of the game, exploring life lessons through success and failure, and trying to influence the athletes to become better people in life. To coach empathy, integrity, excitement, hard work, passion, and perseverance. Skills that will go far beyond the sport.