Why are there coaches on the sidelines during games?

If we take seriously the idea that the primary purpose of sports is moral training (I am not sure this should be the primary focus, but that is a subject for a another blog): to teach sportsmanship, leadership, sacrifice, resourcefulness, composure—in sum, to teach children how to be adults, then why should coaches play such a prominent supervisory role during games? Wouldn’t players learn a lot more if they had to make all the decisions among themselves?

If practice is like a class, then a game should be the equivalent of exam. No one would suggest that a history student should have the right to seek out his teacher because he is struggling with questions about the Civil War, so why should a coach be there to remind a player about the fundamentals required to successfully deploy a 2-3 zone? I suspect players would be a lot more motivated to practice and strategize if they knew that all the game-time decision were going to fall on them.

I have no doubt that games would be a lot more chaotic, at least at first. There would be huge momentum swings, arguments over substitutions, and sometimes teams would completely lose the plot. And games would probably be more ragged, since coaches have more perspective and are generally pretty good at imposing order.

But think about how much players would learn, how much more quickly they would mature. They would have to prepare better. They would have to figure what was working, and what wasn’t, and come up with adjustments during timeouts or halftime. They would have to acknowledge their own limitations and agree to be voluntarily substituted. They would have to keep an eye on their teammates, especially those who are hotheads, and really think about how to keep them in emotional check.

The game themselves might suffer—though I suspect they would make for fantastic theater—but the real benefit would come off the court. These players would be far better prepared to deal with all the temptations that life throws at them and to assume positions of leadership after their playing careers ended.

Too many athletes, especially those who compete in the revenue-generating sports, are taught to focus all their attention on the game, on the specialized role they will be playing in it. They have help making their class schedules, meals are prepared for them, and study halls are set up to compel them to do homework. They are sequestered in hotels the night before home games (at huge expense), lest they be tempted by other priorities.

In sum, they are not being adequately prepared to deal with the necessities of life outside the lines and they are constantly taught to follow orders when they are inside of them. Maybe I am missing something, but isn’t becoming autonomous a key component of adulthood? If that is correct, then why are we treating athletes like they are children? Let’s see how they would do without coaches lording over them.