Last night, I spoke to a high school coach who was lamenting the academic difficulties of one of his players. The player fell too far behind early in high school, and despite interest from colleges, would need junior college to meet college admission standards. Naturally, the coach echoed an all too common refrain: tough family life, no parental support, no guidance, single mother, poverty, etc.
At once, I thought about a team I assisted when the girls were twelve years old, as they are just completing their first year of college. The team was very talented, among the best teams in the nation at their age group. From this group, the players played Division I athletics this year: two played basketball and one played soccer.
Of the others, one girl quit playing basketball altogether before her senior year of high school and another played sporadically, as she was injured for parts of all four years of high school. Another dropped out of school and echoes the familiar "family problems" refrain. I have no idea whatever happened to the other two players once they entered high school.
Two things stick out about this group. The three players who play Division I now had played multiple sports during high school. One played softball for at least two seasons and one ran track for 2-3 years, while the soccer player played basketball in her off-season. None of the others played other sports to my knowledge.
Secondly, these three had the strongest parental support. Their parents were around, but not overly intrusive. They attended games, but did not berate officials or the coaches. They supported their daughters, but did not make excuses for their mistakes. The others either lacked the support, had family problems or had overbearing parents who made everyone's business their business.
It's interesting to look back after 6 years and see the difference balance, perspective and parental support made in their lives and their successful pursuit of a college education and athletic scholarship. Maybe the three who earned scholarships were the most naturally gifted. Maybe they were just lucky to have parents who cared and a stable home environment. Maybe they were mentally the toughest or the most determined.
With the myriad of reasons which comprise success and failure, it is impossible to pinpoint just one factor. However, I suspect the stable home environment and the parental support created an enviornment which led to success, and I do not believe the influence of parents, positively or negatively, can be overstated.
(A great essay on the role of basketball coaches by guest blogger Coach Brian McCormick)
While reading If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!, I came across this passage:
"The teaching mission of the guru is an attempt to free his followers from him."
The teaching mission of a coach is similar. Unfortunately, coaches coach in a manner that makes players need the coach more, not less. A teacher prepares his students for a test and trusts his efforts result in an understanding of the curriculum and a passing grade.
A coach, however, prepares players for a game, yet fails to free his players, choosing instead to dictate the game through his use of set plays, timeouts, changing defenses, etc. The players lose imagination and creativity because they must play within the rules defined by the coach or the coach may choose to bench the insubordinate player.
True teachers teach the game and the skills necessary to succeed while playing basketball and allow the players opportunities to make decisions that directly influence the outcome of the game. While the teaching is sometimes lost because we do not see the coach actively directing the action during the game, the well-coached team plays as though a coach is superfluous.
In the NBA, the Suns Mike D'Antoni allows his players this freedom. In college basketball, Coach K likely comes closest, as he appears to run fewer set plays and allow his playmakers to make plays and find the open man.
Coaches are nervous when relinquishing power and control to the players. They fear what may happen. If the players fail, the coach is often blamed for his lackadaisical approach or his lack of discipline. If the players succeed, they believe the coach is unnecessary, and he may lose some of his authority, or an outsider may imagine how much greater the team would be with more control and direction.
In our society, we de-value the coach who empowers his athletes fully, and thus our athletes are unable to fully realize the life benefits of playing sports. Coaches do not coach in an attempt to free the players of their constant commands, but to heighten the need for the coach's omnipotence.