After the Benches Clear

February 2, 2016

After an on-court fracas, one of the biggest challenges for a high school coach is getting players to keep their emotions in check. In the days that follow an incident, it can be equally difficult getting teenage brains to review their actions objectively, rationally, and learn from their mistakes. That was the hurdle Corey Bradt, Head Boys’ Coach at J.R. Tucker High School in Henrico, Va., encountered after his squad was involved in a bench-clearing fight during a game against Thomas Jefferson High School on Feb. 4.

Following hard contact on a play, emotions boiled over and words were exchanged. That led to pushing and shoving, and a punch was thrown. The benches then cleared before order was eventually restored.

The skirmish resulted in automatic suspension from the next game for all the Tucker players who left the bench, and the resulting roster shortage forced the team to forfeit that contest. With his players frustrated by the punishment, which they deemed unfair, Bradt knew quick action was needed. The day after the fight, he called the team to the gym, where they met with his staff, the athletic director, and principal.

“When I asked them to talk about what they were feeling, they expressed frustration at what they felt was an unfair punishment,” Bradt says. “To take them off the defensive, I took responsibility for not controlling the guys on the bench. I pointed out that if my assistants and I had done our jobs, the situation on the court wouldn’t have escalated. That showed the players we weren’t blaming only them for what happened, and created a more constructive dialogue.

“Then, we addressed that the suspensions being handed down to them were clearly defined in the rules,” he continues. “That made our players realize they weren’t being singled out. Once they heard that, they were able to discuss their role in the situation more calmly.”

With the players’ anger diffused, the conversation could shift to reviewing their actions. “After our athletic director told them the behavior wasn’t acceptable, we asked each player to talk about how they were feeling, and they expressed genuine remorse,” says Bradt. “By taking the edge off their emotions, we were able to get them to look inward at what caused their actions.”

Because the squad had to forfeit their next game, talk of the brawl continued to circulate the school and the team’s locker room. Bradt recognized that it was something that would probably follow his squad the rest of the season, and he had to prepare for potential ramifications. “During practice that week, if things got even remotely chippy, I reminded them, ‘You’re going to be under a microscope next game. The other team may provoke you, and the officials won’t cut you any slack,” he says. “So you need to stay under control.’”

To help his team handle their emotions, Bradt sought out a few players for one-on-consultations. “I identified a couple of players who were still upset and brought them in for individual conversations,” he says. “I let them express what they were feeling and then took them step-by-step through our thought process—why everyone was suspended, why we weren’t playing the next game, and why they needed to be aware of teams potentially trying to provoke them.”

The next step for Bradt was getting the team back in competitive action and monitoring their every move. “I kept a very close eye on how our players were reacting to situations,” he says. “There were a few times when a player got visibly upset at what he thought was a bad call, and I took him out of the game for a few minutes. I told him I wasn’t mad, I just wanted to give some time to calm down. After he calmed down, we put him back in.”

Although the team lost that game and the ensuing playoff game, Bradt was pleased with the way his team bounced back from an embarrassing and frustrating situation. “The guys played hard, but more importantly, they played smart and didn’t let things get out of control,” he says. “They kept each other calm on the court. And that taught the returning players a great lesson on how they can avoid a situation like this in the future.”


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