Flags, Football, and the Folly of Judging Others

Jun 22, 2022 5 Min Read
judgment of sports coach
Source:Illustration by storyset on storyset.com
Purposefully Reframe Your Bad Judgment

Every season that my three boys play flag football, we cross our fingers and hope each of them will get a “good” coach. For us, that’s defined as a coach who stays calm and positive and who’s there to prioritize fun and learning over winning. In our minds, that’s the simple truth of what a good coach is.

A bad coach on the other hand, is a much more colorful type of sporting guide. We’ve seen grown men throw their hats down at earnest errors made by children, shame and blame their own kids, and flagrantly play the exceptional players at every opportunity while the other team members walk the sidelines. These coaches often can’t control their tempers, their disappointments, or their mouths. If my boys did not love the sport so much, the risk of such treatment wouldn’t be worth it.

This article is not about football. It’s about what happens to my husband and I at the moment we observe one of these bad coaches in action.

Last month the Texans, a team with some fabulous female players, beat the Saints (all the flag teams have NFL team names). The Saints coach, lost in anger, screamed at and berated his team. He then capped his tirade with this misogynist punchline: “And,” he shouted, “there are GIRLS on that team!”

Women are Risk-Takers Too: Busting Gender Myths in the Star

The moms of those dedicated female players almost flayed him alive, but our quiet wrath was just as bad. Judgment filled my husband and me. And like judgment tends to do, it served us. How better and smarter we must be, our distorted thinking whispered to us, than this poor man to so clearly see the error of his ways. These are the secret lifts that judgment gives us, and it’s a diabolical lure.

Ironically, that same week we had been speaking to our kids about the concept of judgment. We were trying to discern the difference between judgment and evaluation, between our consideration of others or their actions (which protects and informs us) and the thoughts we have that create separation and bolster our egos.

We decided that “good judgment” gives you information, but you feel curious and neutral while gathering it. And “bad judgment” (being judgy and righteous) is a mental attack on the person, not the action, making them lower in your eyes and elevating yourself by comparison. We found we all had weaknesses for the second kind, and those tendencies blossomed during football practice.

Back at the field, our attempts to clamp down our judginess and amp up our neutral curiosity proved effective and simple. Each time we watched a coach let his inner child run the show, we would take ourselves through a mental stack of notecards with different prompts challenging and softening our viewpoint.

Some of the frames we tried included the following:

  • I am blaming him for something he was never taught.
  • When we are perfect, we get to evaluate him.
  • His coach and his coach’s coach likely modeled this same behavior.
  • He’s a volunteer, and there’s a lot of pressure during games.
  • I need to consider what I’m getting out of judging him.

Illustration by storyset

This approach helped us slow down our reactions and broaden our perspectives, and we found it’s useful in the realm of work, marriage, and friendships too. Like so many applications of taking a simple minute to think, these moments slowed us down enough to coax awaken our better selves and led to clear thinking.

You may have this same tendency to rush to judgment. At work, judgment is an easy gear to slip into. Whether it’s the caustic boss, the apathetic young person, or the cubicle neighbor who guiltlessly brings a tuna sandwich for all to smell, most of us have felt the urge to judge. The harder life has become over the past two years, the more that urge to judge may have grown. Too many of us have fallen into the habit of judging everyone around us—for their mask-wearing (or not), their vaccinations (or not), and their sneezing properly into their elbow Dracula-style (or not). We’ve judged the lockdowns and the lack of lockdowns and the politicians and protestors until we ended up consummately right and consummately alone.

In any circumstance, we can either lean into judgment (which separates us from others) or lean into purposeful reframing, making our minds gentler and more open each time we try.

Related: Positive Thinking and How to Practice it

They say people teach the things they need to learn, and this is clearly the case for me. But I know I have lots of company. What I also know is that if we talk about these subtle slips of integrity and kindness, we can catch them one moment at a time and strive for a better outlook together.

This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn

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Juliet Funt is the founder and CEO at JFG (Juliet Funt Group), which is a consulting and training firm built upon the popular teaching of CEO Juliet Funt, author of A Minute to Think.

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