IN THIS ISSUE:
“MARCH MADNESS, 12 MONTHS OF THE YEAR.” For the past month I, like most sports junkies have dropped everything, stopped eating, forgot that my body had a need for adequate sleep, starved my dog (maybe that’s why I don’t have a dog anymore) and generally neglected all of my responsibilities, as I do every year when I come down with a seasonal case of NCAA basketball “March Madness.” Of course this year I had a much more serious case than ever before because my beloved Connecticut Huskies went all the way and set NCAA history by simultaneously winning both the men’s and women’s basketball championships. Out of a haze that is a fine blend of basketball post-partum depression, (“Whatever am I going to do with my life now that the basketball season is over?”), and sleep deprivation, I’m inspired to talk about another form of madness in sports that is not so innocent, is far from entertaining and goes on twelve months of the year. The madness that I speak of fuels recruiting violations and cheating in sports. It’s the madness that encourages our universities and institutions of higher learning to value a defensive coordinator on the football coaching staff more than it does an English, biology or math professor. It’s the craziness that causes supposedly well balanced adults to abandon their integrity, lower their moral standards and look the other way while student-athletes are disgustingly pampered, allowed to get away with the equivalent of academic robbery and consistently break school and team rules. It’s a mental set that poisons the minds and attitudes of our young athletic hopefuls.
What fuels this 12-month craziness? Simple! The quest to be the best! Winning! At the level of college and sometimes even high school sports, winning is literally BIG money! Schools that consistently win, inspire alumni pride, bring regional and national attention, attract larger numbers of new students, draw the best student-athlete prospects, (not to mention the best ATHLETE-student prospects), and ultimately attract more alumni donations. As always, money is the bottom line.
This madness, which has been going on virtually unabated for years in this country, has recently gotten more media attention with the sex and football recruiting scandal that has reared it’s ugly little head at the University of Colorado. While incidents first came to light in 1986 at Colorado, (at least two dozen players were arrested between 1986 and 1989), they reached a crescendo during the four years that coach Rick Neuheisal was “in charge” when the Buffaloes’ program racked up a stunning 50 NCAA violations.
When Gary Barnett took over after Neuheisal, college officials were optimistic that things would change. While some things did, multiple allegations of rape (4 to be exact), sexual harassment claims and recruiting parties featuring paid strippers have surfaced to plague the school and reinforce the fact that the really important things have not changed one bit. Through all of this coach Barnett claims he “didn’t know.” He implies that he wasn’t responsible. Furthermore he stands behind his players and denies much of their wrongdoing, including charges of intense sexual harassment (by a number of players) and a rape of his only female player, Katie Hnida by a male teammate. I do not know Gary Barnett and I won’t stand in judgment of him. However, the mounting evidence against the Buffaloes’ program under Barnett’s stewardship indicates not so much that he didn’t know what was going as much as that he didn’t want to know.
To be fair to Barnett, he is not alone. Unfortunately, he is not the exception to the rule. Barnett appears to be just a symptom of the larger problem that we face in this country, a problem and an attitude that is dangerously filtering down from professional and D-I sports into almost every level of our games.
There is a culture in big time Division I sports that begins to indoctrinate athletes when they are as young as middle or even elementary school, a culture that is celebrated in the pros. This is a culture that elevates athletic talent and ability to the level of the ultimate heroic virtue. If you can catch a football on a dead run, throw a baseball in the high nineties or consistently nail a three-point shot, then this becomes far more important than those lowly, insignificant concepts of personal responsibility, ethics, intelligence, fair play, integrity, honesty, good morals and human decency. Winning and the endless search for upcoming talent has produced a culture of complicity in the United States where these old-fashioned human virtues are at best compromised and at worst, completely ignored.
In their place, our young athletes are taught that they are special simply because of their athletic ability and that this in itself is the only thing that really matters in life. How are they taught this lesson in extreme shallowness? Adults around them suddenly treat them with far more respect that they deserve, the media seems to hang on every word they utter, clothing and equipment companies jockey for position to see who can get then to hawk their products, college scouts show up at their games and take copious notes, and so-called sports agents come out of the woodwork with their offers of “help” for the potential superstar.
At the very heart of this “education,” our young, up-and-coming stars learn that because of their “specialness,” they are above the rules and regulations that apply to everyone else. Why not? Everyone seems to treat them in this way. They learn that when it comes to the better athletes, a double standard exists. The rules either don’t apply to them or can be “adjusted” in various ways to conveniently meet their needs. In fact, from a very young age we are directly and indirectly teaching these young athletes to feel entitled to this special treatment. We are contributing to their dangerously inflated sense of self-importance. Some teachers cave into the pressure from powerful coaches and administrators and “adjust” their demands, deadlines and grading for the student-athlete, coaches help the athlete “make a smooth adjustment” and get whatever they need, their peer group looks on admiringly and tries to associate themselves with their “special” classmate while young women attempt to link up with these very popular individuals.
For example, in a police report filed regarding a 2001 recruiting party where several Colorado football players were accused of sexual assault, a player, when confronted by one of the women filing charges told her, “We’re big 12 Champs…Why would we need to rape somebody?” The implication here is sickeningly obvious. “We are so important that we can get whatever we want, whenever we want it.” The level of entitlement and self-importance is downright unsettling. The disconnect from any sense of right and wrong is scary. Where is the sense of moral, ethical and personal responsibility in this statement? Don’t bother looking too hard. It’s not there!
In this latest edition of The Mental Toughness Newsletter we will examine the issue of responsibility as it relates to athletics and today’s athlete. Who’s really to blame for athletes growing up with the expectation that because of their physical talents, they deserve preferential treatment? Whose fault is it that these athletes are corrupted ethically and emotionally? Who shall we point the finger at? Big time, D-I coaches? Are college administrators to blame? How about the promise or illusion of a lucrative professional career? And let’s certainly not forget the corrupting influence of large shoe and sporting goods manufacturers. Can we blame parents for not teaching better morals? Whoever is to blame, our pampering and spoiling of the big time high school and college athlete is unknowingly crippling them socially, emotionally, ethically and morally.
Whether he knows it or not, the spoiled and pampered athlete is ultimately being used and abused. The coaches he plays for, the schools he represents and everyone else who wants some piece of him are all using him directly or indirectly. What happens to him after his four years of college eligibility are over if he’s not good enough to make it to the pros? Will he have earned a decent education to fall back on? Has he set himself up for a career off the court or field? The low graduation rates for high level D-I football, basketball and baseball programs suggest otherwise. Will this star athlete suddenly stop acting entitled and drop his expectations that people regularly bend the rules for him?
This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to the rule. There are a number of coaches out there who truly care about their athletes’ emotional, academic and personal development. These coaches don’t operate on a winning at all costs mentality and are able to keep the bigger picture of the student-athlete’s future in mind. Because these kinds of coaches resist the intense pressure to make winning the number one priority they are able to commit themselves to “growing” better people, not just better athletes. Sadly however, coaches like these are rare individuals.
IN THIS ISSUE:
Athlete’s locker – “How do YOU spell responsibility?”
Parents’ corner – “Responsibility and the difficulty of parenting”
Coaches’ office – “The buck should stop here”
Dr. G’s Teaching Tales – “Give Calhoun the Ball- A lesson in responsibility”
How do YOU spell responsibility?”
When I talk with teams and groups, one of the concepts that I regularly “sell” is the idea of “IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME.” My friend and colleague, Dr. Rob Gilbert calls those words, the ten most important 2-letter words in the English language. These ten words spell, RESPONSIBILITY. They mean quite simply that if you have a dream or goal for yourself, if you have something in your life that you truly want to achieve, then your success in turning that dream into a reality rests squarely upon your shoulders. Simply put, regardless of the promises to the contrary, no one is going to do what needs to be done FOR you. It is entirely up to you. While coaches, teammates, parents, teachers and others in your life may provide valuable support and help, YOU and only YOU have total responsibility for your ultimate success. That’s because sports and life are both do-it-yourself games, i.e. you put in the effort, good or bad, and you reap the results, positive or negative.
In my book, winners do the responsibility thing very well. They take responsibility for their training. They don’t cut corners or cheat on their commitment and effort, regardless of what those around them may be doing or whether the coaches are watching or not. They know that looking for the easy way out is a losing game that will never take you to the winner’s circle or your dreams.
Winners take responsibility for their mistakes and failures. When a winner fails, she doesn’t look around the field for someone else to blame, even when others may be partially responsible. The refs may have indeed been biased and blind, the opponents may have repeatedly crossed the line and the playing conditions could have been a joke. Regardless, a winner is only interested in what she could have been better at or done differently. She owns up to her mistakes and shortcomings. She doesn’t deny, defend against or try to cover them over. She’s not afraid to take a good honest look at herself in the mirror.
A winner also takes responsibility for how she treats her teammates and those that she comes in contact with on a daily basis. She treats these individuals with respect and honesty, in much the same way that she would expect to be treated. A winner knows that without her teammates, she is all alone.
In all the important ways a winner takes responsibility for his behavior.
What does this really mean? A real winner would never put himself in a situation where he would allow himself to just go along with teammates or others when those individuals were acting inappropriately or dishonestly. A real winner would summon up the courage to speak up and disagree, even if it meant offending the powerful and popular on the team. He would carry himself with dignity and integrity. He would be direct and honest. He wouldn’t allow himself to be led like a mindless lemming over the cliff into bad behavior and irresponsibility. That’s because a true winner has a clearly defined code of conduct in his head. He knows the difference between right and wrong, caring and uncaring, sensitive and insensitive and acts accordingly. He doesn’t compromise his values or ethics just to fit in, be accepted or to win.
One aspect of personal responsibility I’d like to emphasize in this section is the impact that a true winner has on his teammates and those around him. A true winner takes it upon himself to make those around him better, personally and athletically. He is not selfish. He is not caught up in the myth that he is THE MAN, that he is God’s gift to creation. He is not a walking EGO! Regardless of the attention that the media and coaches may pay him, he keeps his feet firmly planted on the ground and his head out of the clouds. He is NOT blindly impressed with himself. He knows that being a good athlete carries with it tremendous responsibility, not the least of which is to make those around him better, and NOT just in the athletic arena!
Athletes who think that because of their athletic prowess and skills, they are superior, more valuable human beings than teammates or non-athletes, live in a twisted fantasy world. This is the world of the spoiled, immature child who desperately needs to grow up. Their sense of entitlement is not too different than that of the obnoxious 5-year old who’s selfishly full of himself. Unfortunately, far too many talented athletes inhabit this world of the spoiled brat. Apparently these “children” never emotionally graduated from kindergarten.
The truly great athlete is a mature, continually evolving individual who has a “black belt” mentality. In traditional karate training, (not the Americanized, ego-fed, macho “b.s.” version that is found in a lot of karate do jo’s in this country) your personal responsibility always increases with your skill level. The better you get, the more responsibility you have to bring all those students that are below you up to your level. There is no room for individual ego in this training model. There is no room for you thinking that you are “too cool.” In fact, it is not about YOU or your strength and skill level. It is, instead about the group’s strength and skill level.
Like all black belts in my school, it was always my duty to warm up with the white belts before class, and, if time permitted, to help them out after class. My Sensei had little tolerance for black belts hanging out together on deck to the exclusion of the lower ranking students. He believed this cliquish behavior would weaken the overall strength of the group and undermine the character and warrior spirit of the individual black belts. He saw the inflated ego as a sign of character weakness. I would strongly agree with him.
What would happen to you if you adopted this “black belt” mentality? What would happen to your team? How much better would you perform if you and your mates invested your time and energy into lifting each other up instead of trying to knock each other down? What would happen if everyone decided to check their egos at the locker room door?
Understand that it is simply NOT cool to act conceited as an athlete or person. It is NOT cool to think that you are somehow better, more valuable, more deserving than your teammates. It is a HUGE turn-off to others. While it may be perfectly fine for you to feel supremely confidence inside, it is flat out tacky for you to broadcast this belief that you’re the “doggie’s woof” to all those within earshot. Athletes who do so, unknowingly embarrass themselves and broadcast to the world how they REALLY feel inside. The entitled, conceited athlete who goes out of his way to put others down while he lifts himself up is indirectly revealing deep-seated feelings of inadequacy. Why else would he do this if he really felt ok about himself?
Keep in mind that just because you are a great athlete and unbelievably valuable to your team, this doesn’t automatically make you a great person. Being a great person is something that you have to earn, something that you have to live, every day, day in, and day out. In fact, being great has very little to do with your athletic ability. The truly great athlete commands respect, not because of his athletic prowess, but because of who he is as a person.
If you pick on or put down those weaker than you, if you demean women and treat them as sexual objects, if you think that team and school rules apply to everyone else but you, if you expect that your teachers and professors should “adjust” their standards for you, if you’re morally corrupt as a person, then you are nothing more than an immature weakling. Despite the fact that you may be a legend in your own mind, you are really just kidding yourself and sooner or later the jig will be up. Sooner or later WHO you REALLY are as a person will catch up to you and bring you down.
Remember, in time, all of your great athletic feats and exploits will gradually fade from the eyes and minds of your adoring fans. When this happens, all that you will be left with is YOU. Think about the all-time Major League hits leader, Pete Rose. Banned from his sport for life for betting against his own team when he was a manager of the Cincinnati Reds, a cardinal “no-no” in baseball, Rose’s less than savory behaviors as a person seem to have eclipsed his potential Hall of Fame career. It isn’t even Rose’s illegal gambling that stands out as much as his public denials (bald-faced lying) of his wrongdoings and refusal to honestly take responsibility for his mistakes. Unfortunately our last president left us feeling much the same way when he lied to his wife, the government and the nation about his adultery. I can’t think about President Clinton without getting stuck on his dishonesty. I feel the same way about former Boston Celtic’s star center Robert Parish whose wife-battering charges surfaced towards the end of his playing career. When I see Parish’s image my mind immediately moves away from all those championship teams that he was a part of and locks on his violence-against-women behavior.
Do you have the strength to be a true winner? Do you have the courage to take responsibility for your behavior, speak out against what’s wrong and be a champion for what’s right? Keep in mind that you can never separate athletic performance from who you are as a person. Be a winner. Make a difference on your team. Be a leader and role model. Make those around you better. Build your teammates up. Take responsibility for yourself. In this way you have absolutely NOTHING TO LOSE and EVERYTHING TO GAIN. In this way you will become a real champion!
If you have a performance difficulty or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!
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“Responsibility and the difficulty of parenting”
How much of a brilliant understatement is it for me to tell you that raising your children is probably the most difficult, albeit important thing that you’ll ever have to do in your life? What kind of intense reflection from long years of monastic study on some isolated mountaintop did I have to engage in before I was enlightened by this tidbit of parental wisdom? What can I say? And to think that my detractors have actually accused me of not being troubled by deep waves of thought!
So what are the reasons for the extreme challenge that parenthood presents to even the most well-adjusted of adults? Where to begin? First of all, most parents today didn’t have the best of teachers. Who really taught you how to parent? For better or worse, good or bad, your parents did of course! While they may have done their very best with the limited tools they had available, sometimes what they actually did couldn’t really be characterized as “parenting.” Perhaps words and phrases like neglect, clueless, bull-in-the-china-shop, “hello, is there anybody home?”, comedy of errors, or the blind-leading-the-blind might better capture your earliest child rearing experiences.
When I think of my mother and father as parents, with all my due love and respect for them, they didn’t exactly have too many tools in their parenting toolbox. Perhaps only a hammer and screwdriver, if you get my drift. Maybe that’s why my emotions always seemed to get pounded down or screwed up whenever I was around them. As a matter of fact, the word “oxymoron” quickly pops into my head when I think of their parenting. You know, oxymoron like, “jumbo shrimp,” “military intelligence” and other wonderful pairings that are nonsensically opposite. Somehow parenting and my mom and dad didn’t quite go together in a way that made a whole lot of sense.
But hey, this isn’t a bitch session. I’ve already spent countless hours and thousands of dollars boring a near comatose therapist into further unconsciousness complaining about what I never got when I was younger. I’ve since evolved to a higher plane of consciousness. Instead, let’s put the blame squarely where it belongs: On our grandparents! That’s right! If you’re unhappy today, it’s got to be their fault. After all, they were your parents’ primary teachers. And while we’re at it, let’s not stop with them. To be really fair, we need to blame their parents for doing such a miserably, crumby job. And since we’re journeying down that road, let’s not forget to dump some blame on their parents and then their parents’ parents. Heck, let’s really do this right. Let’s go all the way back and blame those puritanical, uptight Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in the 1600’s. They were so bloody rigid that they probably didn’t even let their kids watch the sunset after all their chores were done! They’ve got to be ultimately responsible for all your parenting struggles today. But, wait a minute, let’s not forget….
So what am I really saying here? That, like it or not, some of our parenting techniques are a tad primordial and go as far back as the first time that silly fish hopped out of the water and decided it was tired of using its fins to swim and instead tried to use them to walk on the mud! No doubt that there are many times when we interact with our kids and especially our adolescents that we feel as ineffective and out-of-it as that fish out of water for the first time. For some reason, adolescents throughout the centuries have had an unmistakably magic power of making their parents feel ancient, outdated and totally clueless.
Another reason that successful parenting is no cakewalk is because there’s no definitive manual for the right way to raise kids. Reading a “how to” book and then actually interacting with a hormone-surfing adolescent on the crest of a tidal wave of emotions are two, very radically different experiences. Even if you had a “how to” manual, most of the time the information it contained would be flat out wrong or inappropriate to you and your situation. Why? How you interact with your child on a daily basis, what you say or don’t say to him in certain situations, the limits that you set and enforce all depend on so many different variables, not the least of these being the particularly unique personality and individual temperament of your child. Add to this the critical nature of the timing of your intervention and you have enough variables to completely drive yourself bonkers!
So am I saying that effectively raising children is a near impossible task? Of course not! I’m not that much of a pessimist! What I am saying is that you can raise happy, emotionally healthy, good human beings in a loving and caring way. One key to doing this is to teach your children the many facets of the “R” word, RESPONSIBILITY. When I think of the recruiting scandal at Colorado it makes me wonder what Coach Barnett and some of his players really learned about responsibility when they were little boys. Then again, the way some of them have been acting you’d think that they were still little boys.
Speaking of responsibility, you as a parent have a “reverse responsibility” job to do with your offspring. That’s because effective parenting is a long process of slowly doing yourself out of a job? It’s the oftentimes quite painful and downright scary process of gradually relinquishing more and more responsibility and control to our kids as they get progressively older and hopefully wiser. As you do this you want to hope that they have already begun to learn the basics of personal responsibility, honesty and integrity.
When your children are younger it is your job to take almost total responsibility for and control of their emotional and physical well-being by providing safe, clear limits, discipline and security. It’s during this time that you have an opportunity to teach your kids what personal responsibility is truly all about. Be careful how you are and act as you do this because your children will learn their lessons by carefully watching you. As you interact with your partner or spouse, with your child’s teachers, your friends and your son or daughter’s siblings, he/she is learning. Good or bad, they will learn the “right way” to be in the world by carefully observing you at work and at play. In essence, like it or not, and for better or worse, you’re constantly modeling for your kids your ethics, morals, values, attitudes towards the opposite sex and what’s acceptable interpersonal behavior. Are you teaching them how to be good adults?
So as your children develop, you have to bite the bullet and slowly loosen the reins on them. In a sense, you have to allow them to not need you as much or in the same old ways. You have to begin the very difficult process of letting them go. This entails the agonizing experience of having to sit back and watch them walk into walls, trip over themselves and “fall down.” The often hard part about this is that you can see them messing up long before they can.
If only you could save them from all this pain, heartache and aggravation! If only you could show them the “right” way. Stop yourself! Don’t even think about it! Over-involved and overprotective parents have a really difficult time with this one. They sometimes forget that their job is to gradually transfer responsibility and so instead they turn on the sirens and flashing lights and rush in to the rescue. Some helpful advice: Don’t try to save or protect your kids from the inevitable painful experiences that are sure to befall them as they grow and mature. Pain and heartache are an important part of growing up. Within these not so pleasant experiences are valuable life lessons and the seeds of strength. If we try to protect our kids from this, we inadvertently rob them of feelings of mastery and competence. While you may have succeeded in “protecting” them in the short run by being controlling and overprotective, in the long run your “help” will turn out to be debilitating and crippling. The only way your children can actually learn to comfortably stand on their own two feet is if you allow them ample enough time to “practice!”
Quick example: For four years (the last two years of high school and the first two years of college) my daughter was involved in a relationship with a young man that my wife and I viewed as unhealthy. Despite our honest efforts to be accepting of him, the boy that she was involved with continually provided us with concrete evidence why we shouldn’t. He was irresponsible, manipulative, dishonest, emotionally abusive, and, to warm my heart, was a motivational flat-liner. His modus operandi was a crippling, “avoid discomfort and hard work, and only seek pleasure and the easy way out.”
My daughter knew exactly how we felt about him because she had asked us on numerous occasions over the previous four years. However, as painful as it was for us to watch, she had to figure out for herself why she was in a relationship like this and how she was going to get out of it. Because we respected her feelings and allowed her to come to her own conclusions, she came to us for help when she was finally ready to extricate herself. I’m sure that had we imposed our will on her and forbid the relationship to continue, our well-meaning efforts would have backfired. Because we chose to let her decide how and when, she learned what she needed to from the relationship.
As you let go of more and more responsibility and allow your children to monitor themselves, hopefully your role will shift to that of “consultant.” As they head into late adolescence and young adulthood, you can no longer directly control them without causing a whole host of other more serious problems. At this point your son or daughter now has a will and mind of his/her own. You can, however, still have a significant impact on them by providing them with consistent and appropriate feedback about their behavior. For example, you may not like how your son conducted himself in a certain situation and, as a result, you have rather strong feelings about it. Letting him know exactly where you stand is important. Whether he uses your advice or feedback is an entirely different story. In fact, your job as a parent never really stops through their life. It just slowly modifies to allow them to learn to trust and depend upon themselves.
Did you know that the vast majority of performance problems (fears, slumps, the yips, blocks) have some kind of previous physical or emotional negative experience that is unconsciously fueling the performance difficulty. Learn how to process these negative experiences out to free up performance.
“The buck should stop here”
One of the team’s tri-captains is a total screw-up. She has about as much leadership ability as you could fit on the head of a pin. She is a poster child for IRRESPONSIBILITY. She models it in every aspect of her life, on and off the field. She shows up late for team meetings, she consistently fails to follow through on her responsibilities as tri-captain leaving the other two leaders having to pick up the slack. She dogs it in practice, setting a terrible example for the underclassman. When the coach complains about her lack of effort, she sulks and makes faces. She hangs out with a group of players on the team who consistently break the team’s rules. One night she even agreed to be the “designated driver’ for this group so that they could ignore the team’s code of no drinking 48 hours before a game! She thought it was OK for her to do this because she didn’t drink! That’s rich! When things go wrong in practice or games, she quickly responds by getting defensive and pointing the finger of blame at others. She never follows through on what she says she’ll do. She has missed the team bus to games. She has even been outrageous enough to come late for captains’ meeting with the entire coaching staff! Because of her behaviors, this senior, that’s right she’s actually a SENIOR, has earned the respect of not one single player on the team!
Do you know what’s wrong with this picture? Plenty! First of all, this athlete didn’t just suddenly start acting irresponsibly. She’s been this way her entire four years in the program. So can you give me one good reason why the head coach knowingly allowed her appointment as one of the tri-captains to stand? Can you tell me why the coach turns the other way or says nothing when this athlete continues to act irresponsibly in her role as captain? Can you tell me why this coach hasn’t benched this athlete’s butt for being consistently late for team and captain’s meetings, or why she has ignored the incessant complaints from the other tri-captains about her failures to follow-through on her jobs? Well if you can’t answer those questions, then how about helping me understand why the coach consistently starts this athlete over harder working, more deserving players who follow all the rules, show up on time and have better attitudes?
Doesn’t make too much sense, does it? Not one lick! I suppose one obvious reason for the head coach making such bad decisions regarding this player is that the athlete is extremely talented (when she decides to show up and play), and the coach doesn’t want her out of the line-up. I guess she feels that her team’s chances of winning would be lessened with her on the bench. Personally, I think this is a really bad call and one that hurts the team far more than if this athlete weren’t on the field. This kind of an athlete is a cancer on the team and it’s extremely short-sighted of the coach to not only keep playing her, but to allow her irresponsible behavior to continue.
The part that’s really frustrating for the other two captains and many of the other players is that it appears that the coach is completely unaware of this athlete’s problematic behaviors. From the outside looking in you’d think that the coach would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice, especially since many of the young woman’s transgressions occur right in the coach’s face. What’s worse for the other captains, (and therefore indirectly for the rest of the team), is that when they appropriately complain to the coach about this athlete’s behaviors, the coach gets angry at them explaining that as this teammates co-captains, it’s actually their responsibility for changing their teammate’s problematic behavior. The really wonderful part of the magic trick in this convoluted reasoning is that when these other two captains have tried to set limits and apply consequences for their problematic teammate, the head coach has not supported them!
What kind of legacy do you want to leave as a coach for your players? How do you want to be remembered by them? What lessons do you want your student-athletes to learn from you? How much are you willing to teach them about life? Are you aware of what you’re teaching them now?
The fact of the matter is that as a coach, you can’t NOT teach. Whether you sit back passively and do nothing or obsessively micromanage, you are always teaching. Everything that you say or don’t say and do is a lesson. The more important question here is, “what exactly are you teaching?” Allowing athletes to break basic team rules, manifest a lazy, negative attitude, defensively or petulantly respond to your coaching and shirk responsibility sets a destructive precedent on your team. Not only are you failing to do an important part of your job, but you’re also inadvertently teaching your players that team rules, a proper work ethic, positive attitude and discipline are not really important to you. You are giving your entire team the message that you flat out don’t care. As a result, you are letting them know that they can be as irresponsible as they’d like and they still won’t have to “pay” for their bad behaviors.
As a coach YOU have to be a model of responsibility because the buck always stops with YOU. It’s your job to teach responsibility 24-7, 365! As long as those athletes are connected to you, this is your job. If you don’t set and enforce rules, if you tolerate inappropriate behaviors, if you “reward” the better athletes who break rules with more playing time and preferential treatment while ignoring their less talented yet harder working, rule-following teammates, then YOU are NOT doing YOUR job! Instead, YOU are being grossly irresponsible, and soon many on your players will be following your lead. If you make it your business NOT to know what’s going on with your athletes off the field, then you’re asking for trouble. If you know and you look the other way, dismiss problematic behavior as simply “boys being boys,” or fail to adequately punish the rule breakers, then you’re setting yourself and your players up for a rather large and embarrassing fall. As long as those athletes are on your team, their behaviors and actions on and off the field should be your business. It’s just not a good enough excuse for you to say, “I didn’t know what was going on! I had no idea!”
Again, I don’t want to pick on Coach Barnett from Colorado. However, I’d like to know how a coach of a team that size doesn’t know what’s really going on. With all those athletes in the program and a huge coaching staff, the rumor mill is always working overtime. Athletes will talk amongst themselves, they’ll talk to their position coaches or they’ll talk to the trainers and equipment handlers. It doesn’t seem like it’s even remotely possible that a coach wouldn’t hear something! My guess is the coaches knew full well what was going on with these recruiting visits and they chose (that’s an ACTIVE verb) to look in the other direction! In English this means that they didn’t want to know. This is unacceptable. As a coach, you can’t afford to be dumb in this way.
Now I’m not naïve. I realize that what I’m saying here is not profound or even minimally insightful. The material that I’m discussing is straight out of Intro Psych and Coaching Basics 101. However, if this is all so basic, then how come I continue to hear these horror stories from athletes at almost every level? The opening vignette that I’m described about the women’s team does not refer to a first year coach from some East Armpit Podunk Community College. It’s not about a novice high school coach either. It concerns a coach with over 25 years experience, many of those at a higher D-I level where she now works!
Teach your players well. Don’t be afraid to set and enforce limits. Don’t allow yourself to be indirectly blackmailed by a talented, rule-breaking athlete with a lousy attitude. He/she will do far more for your team sitting on the bench because of your discipline than playing on the field because you were too afraid of not getting the “w.” Make your athletes’ business your business. Care about what they are doing and how they are conducting themselves. They don’t just represent their school when they put that uniform on. They represent your team and YOU as an individual. In fact, how they conduct themselves on and off the field is a direct reflection on you as a coach and a person. Despite the fact that you can’t directly control everything that they do, you can be a powerful deterrent to inappropriate behavior. The bottom line is that YOU control something that they desperately want: PLAYING TIME. So keep in mind, the buck always stops with you.
Dr. G’s Teaching Tales
Giving Calhoun the Ball (A lesson in responsibility)
by: Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R.,
The Sower’s Seeds
There once was this important football game between two teams. One team was much larger than the other. The larger team was dominating the game and beating the smaller team. The coach for the smaller team saw that his team was not able to contain or block the larger team. So his only hope was to call the plays that went to Calhoun, the fastest back in the area who could easily outrun the larger players once he broke free.
The coach talked with his quarterback about giving the ball to Calhoun and letting him run with it. The first play the coach was excited, but Calhoun did not get the ball. The second play was again signaled for Calhoun, but once again Calhoun did not get the ball. Now the game was in the final seconds with the smaller team’s only hope being for Calhoun to take the ball, break free and score the winning touchdown. The third play ran and once again Calhoun did not get the ball. The coach was getting more and more upset so he sent in the same play yet again for the fourth and final play of the game. The ball was snapped and this time the quarterback got sacked, ending the game. The coach was beside himself with fury as he confronted the quarterback: “I told you four times to give the ball to Calhoun and not once did you listen to me and follow my instructions! It’s your fault that we lost this game!”
The quarterback stood tall and told the coach, “With all due respect sir, I did listen to you and I tried to follow your instructions. Four times I called the play to give the ball to Calhoun. The problem was that Calhoun did not want the ball.”
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