Thursday, April 7, 2016

Let the Coaches Coach and the Players Play.

We've seen this come up from time to time covering the area sports scene. Slightly over 20 years ago, when covering a basketball game between Worth County and LeBlond at the old Armory in Albany, LeBlond had just tied the game after Worth County had led much of the way. But then an overzealous fan threw a program on the floor, got a technical, and the two free throws permanently swung the momentum in Worth County's favor. Worth County won the game.

We all get excited when our favorite team hits the floor. We think our kids are the best team in the area and if they don't win the whole ball of wax, it's the coach's or official's fault. But sometimes, the kids need to be left alone.

Kids have a much bigger sense of ownership over their teams than we give them credit for. They can pick up in a heartbeat if you don't have a clue, whether you are a coach on the field or a heckler in the stands. If you're a coach who doesn't have a clue, they will pick up on that in a heartbeat. When North and West Nodaway formed their emergency football cooperative two years ago, the kids themselves picked the name and mascot and that was the end of it.

The best thing we can do is be supportive of the kids on the field and the coaches putting them in position to win every night. Like Little League, MSHSAA coaches don't receive a lot of pay for their work (they should, but that's a topic for another day). But they are expected to put up with irate parents, clueless officials (in their mind), administrators who like to micromanage, and kids who have a lot of other things on their minds (one kid we know was shooting free throws and they remembered they had a science test right in the middle of it). Previously, it was not the case, but now, coaches are expected to ensure and evaluate year-round commitment from the players -- lest they fall behind and get an early exit at the hands of Stanberry's boys or Jefferson's girls.

The worst thing we can do is challenge the coach's authority by telling the players something different than what the coach tells the players. If we must tell the players something, don't tell them anything different from what the coach is telling them. Better yet, we can look away from the field or the coach or the field -- so nobody will think that you are directing it at them. There is only so much we can do to prepare a kid for the big game -- once the umpire says, "Play ball," the best thing we can do is watch the results.

This has everything to do with politics, by the way. For those of you sick and tired of the juvenile antics of our politicians, the best thing we can do is look in the mirror. Maybe the politicians are a reflection of ourselves. Maybe they are throwing two-year old tantrums because we do it in our own lives and turn around and see them as someone we can relate to.

But when you do that, it takes the fun out of the game for the athlete just as much as bad coaching or bad officiating. Some kids need to be pushed, but other kids push themselves and thus don't need that kind of negative feedback. All the studies we have seen on pressure show that pushing an athlete succeeds up to a certain point. But when you push them beyond that certain point, their performance level plummets low enough to where the result is just as bad as not pushing them at all.

We all want our stars to succeed, but when we decide to adopt the win at all costs mentality that infects our politicians and certain wealthy multinational corporations, we are part of the problem and not the solution. It's OK to want to win and it's OK to want your star to play well, but when it comes at the expense of their well-being, then something has to change.

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