One of the most challenging aspects of coaching at any level is trying to work within the often very parochial mindsets of players and parents. Since players/parents only know what they’ve seen as reference, many think the “world” consists of the local youth, summer, JV or varsity leagues that they see on a regular basis. Even a number of ostensibly astute observers such as coaches, officials and sportswriters are given to over-evaluating talent.
One quick story to illustrate: I had a very good junior point guard on a very successful HS team one year. Of course, he would be returning the following year for his his senior season after starting for two years. (He eventually became a valuable backup on a very strong D2 team). His eventual successor had been the starter on the JV team and would have (I thought) back up the starter as a junior and be in a good position to start as a senior. Well, that Spring the backup approached me in the school hallway and said he was thinking of transferring. I made an appointment to meet with him and his parents to discuss the matter. In the course of the meeting, he and his parents claimed he was better than the starter and that not only shouldn’t he have been on the JV but that he also should be starting on the varsity. In cases like this, I always asked the player/parents to give me an idea of several colleges at which they thought the son could play. In this case, the player quickly blurted out “UCLA”- still then an annual national power. To which, a little less diplomatically than necessary, I answered, “I was thinking Albion”-at the time a very good D3 program in the state. Needless to say, he transferred and played fairly well in a decent HS program in a fair league and later played for a while at a local JUCO.
You probably have similar stories yourself but as much as I hate to to say it, we, as coaches are often guilty of the same affliction. The tongue-in-cheek clichéd “advice” to HS prospects of “Go one level lower than your coach thinks you should go and two levels lower than your parents think you should go” unfortunately sometimes has validity.
So, how do we temper ourselves, our athletes and our parents to be more realistic and yet, at the same time, keep motivating our players to strive for ideals and stay on the path of improvement? Some suggestions follow:
- Tone down the hyperbole yourself. Try to avoid to saying “great”, “greatest”, “best”, “phenomenal”, and the like. When one uses terms like that on a regular basis to describe players, it’s easier for parents and players to do the same. Rather, perhaps say things like, “great play”, “tremendous effort”, “phenomenal possession”. “great stop”. These statements compliment players but leave lots of room for growth. Using exaggerations with the press only magnifies the problem. Sure, you want to sell your players but a balance is attainable.
- Test your players at least annually on various basketball skills and athletic measuring sticks. Hubie Brown devised a number of simple tests that measured skills and physical assets which can be used at camps, tryouts or team use. These are merely starting points and coaches can add any tests they would like to measure other areas. For some, the more metrics one has, the better. These results can help players and parents know where they stand against all the players in a school or school system. (Just imagine if there were a national clearinghouse for such stats). One could plug in Johnny’s scores against everyone in his age bracket in the country. A relatively high score in your program might fall somewhere in the middle on a national scale. That way at least basketball players, like swimmers and track athletes, can know what their numbers mean on a state, regional or national scale. For instance, a winning 100 meter freestyle time locally might pale on a national scale.
- Expose your players and parents to the best of the best to the best one’s ability. Obviously, one is locked into certain conference scheduling obligations, but whenever possible in the non-conference schedule, try to pepper in some real tests. In the off-season, it’s much easier to be flexible in this regard. Back in my day, one could send players to Five-Star or the B.C. camp and it was much easier for a player to see where he stood on a regional or national scale. Today, you can find the same players on the summer circuit but not as many are at the same place and time as they were back in the day. Regardless, as much exposure to the very best can help destroy the narrow, parochial views that often accompany local success.
It’s a tricky business to motivate players on one hand but manage expectations at the same time. Coaches who have had long tenure at the same school generally have a leg up in this regard but even they had to start “educating” their constituents at some point. It certainly is a process but like anything else, consistency is the key.