This generation blah blah blah

by on December 2, 2016
in Coaching Behaviors

Jeff Walz lost a basketball game and condemned a generation:

He starts by complaining about a team finishing last and a player coming home with a trophy.

“What’s that teach a kid?” he asked rhetorically.

Jeff Walz is five years older than me. When I was young, we received a participation trophy for youth soccer and Little League. On the other hand, I have never coached a team where players received a trophy, and I have coached everything from u9 basketball to elementary school CYO to every level of high school and beyond. I also have coached youth, CYO, and high school volleyball. I have never seen a participation trophy. I have never seen a team or player awarded a trophy for finishing in last place. I have 20+ seasons of coaching experience. I have never seen it outside Special Olympics.

In Special Olympics, which I coached for 6 years, at the Area Games, every athlete received a ribbon or medal after his or her race. Of course, our athletes gave their medals to the female coaches because (1) they were flirtatious like that and (2) they didn’t want a medal if it wasn’t first.

Now, again, when I was young I collected ribbons by the dozens from school play day competitions and a local summer camp. Everyone got a ribbon from 1st to 8th place. I remember. It was not just blue, red and white for first, second, and third. There were green ribbons, purple ribbons, and pink ribbons. Everyone got a ribbon.

That’s Walz’ big opening complaint, and that’s exactly what happened to me as a child who is nearly the same age as Walz, although I have never seen it happen with this generation about which he is complaining.

He answers his rhetorical question by saying “it’s okay to lose.” Isn’t it? What do you want players to learn? That they should quit when they lose?

More to the point, do they really learn that it’s okay to lose through these nonexistent trophies or by playing video games? As I wrote:

This, of course, is the aspect of games that parents, teachers and coaches blame: video-game makers are experts in psychology, and they have created a system that encourages continued participation. If our goal is to create the same type of adherence and dedication to sports teams, academics and/or physical activity, we need to learn from these psychological tricks.

Gamers play and die and play a new game. They learn from their previous game and attempt to advance further and further. The levels grow increasingly harder. This is basic psychology: The challenge should be just-right. Video games capitalize on our basic psychology. The appeal of AAU Tournaments has some of the same appeal: Each game should move closer and closer to the just-right challenge, theoretically, whether you win or lose. When you win, your second game should be against a tougher opponent; when you lose, your second game should be against a weaker opponent, one more aligned with your level. Regardless, you play and move to the next level (win) to continue playing, or you die (lose) and try again starting at a lower level and trying to work back to play better competition (consolation championship).

Just below the tweet of Walz rant, I saw this tweet:

Is that more of the attitude that we should attempt to foster, or is Dean Smith just not competitive enough?

Walz continued for a while and then mentioned that his team lost and there is no trophy for him. He understands how it works! He also said that a team that finished 5th is a loser, which means his teams have been losers for all but one season in his career, when they lost in the 2013 NCAA Championship game (he was not clear whether a 2nd place finish means that they were losers too). With all that losing, maybe he shouldn’t have a job, or a good job, as he mentioned.

Then he goes into the real word. He’s not sure about “your all’s jobs” but in his real world – the real world of 5-year guaranteed contracts with rollovers and $750,000 salaries – he could lose his job if his team does not win. That is entirely possible. However, in the real world, when you are fired, you do not get paid for the remainder of your contract. If Walz was fired today, he would be owed more than $1.5 million without having to work another day. Is that the real world?

I was fired from a job because we lost games. It happens. Management thought we had enough talent. I had no control over my roster as does a college coach. My starting point guard left the team 10 days before our first game because his baby daughter got sick. We went from losing the first game of the season, but having the guy who hired me tell me that it was the best defensive performance by the club in five years, to defeating the defending champs in the second game of the year, to losing players to injuries, to having the director of the club talk to me about what good we could do if I stayed for 2-3 years, to being fired 3 days before Christmas. They gave me my airline ticket home. I did not get paid the rest of my contract. I did not get paid for several more years. That’s the real world. Complaining that you could get fired, and only get to collect another $1 million, is not the real world. That’s fantasy land.

You coach college basketball. You have at least 9 people on staff to a job that D2 and D3 coaches do with 1 assistant coach. That’s not the real world.

If you want to rant about entitlement, what about ranting about college coaches who feel that they are entitled to seven-figure salaries when the professors at their schools make $50k, despite it being an institution of higher learning? Just because we have completely misplaced priorities surrounding athletics and academics in our universities does not mean that the job of a college coach is $1 million worth of work or more important than the work of the professors, administrators, counselors, etc. that work at the university for a tenth of a coach’s salary.

And, then he gets to his main point:

“We’re not preparing kids, before they get to us at least, to be ready for that [competition; the real world].”

Now, fortunately for many of these players, they can find work as college basketball coaches when they are done playing, and avoid the real world altogether.

However, that’s a pretty damning statement. He basically said that he is preparing them for the real world because nobody has before they got to the college level. No parent, high school coach, youth coach, high school teacher, etc.: They were all failures.

Mariya Moore played for Kelly Sopak, one of the best high school and AAU coaches in California. Apparently, he failed her. Cortnee Walton played for St Mary’s in Phoenix, AZ when Curtis Ekmark was the head coach. Ekmark was one of the best girls high school basketball coaches in the country and sent close to a dozen players to NCAA D1 schools over a 5-year period. Apparently he failed Walton however. Arica Carter played at Long Beach Poly for Carl Buggs, one of the best high school coaches in Southern California. She played AAU for Cal Sparks, run by Elbert Kinnebrew. Kinnebrew’s teams played in a league that I ran back in 2002-03. He is one of the best there is in the business. Brianna Jones and Sydney Zambrotta are from North Babylon, NY. If I had to guess, they train with Jerry Powell. I don’t know that for a fact, but that’s where he trains players, and he trains a lot of top girls basketball players. Powell has never been known as a coach to coddle young athletes, but I guess maybe he failed with these two players.

Somehow, despite half of his team playing for great coaches, among the best coaches in the country, these coaches, and their parents, failed to prepare these players for the college level and the real world. I’m not going to look up how many, but the above group combined for multiple state championships in high school, but somehow they aren’t ready for the real world that is Louisville women’s basketball. That is what he said. He criticized a generation, but he is talking about his own players. These are the coaches who coached these players. These are the coaches who he criticized without naming names. Coaches who are among the very best in the country. That’s who didn’t do a good enough job with his players. If they failed, do any other programs stand a chance recruiting players who come from far less esteemed coaches and programs?

Walz continues:

“When you play 3-4 AAU games in the day, and lose three and win the last one and everyone goes home happy.”

Seriously, stand in the parking lot after an AAU Tournament. Few people are happy. Most are exhausted.

And, so what? So what if an 11 year old girl loses 3 games in a weekend and is happy when she leaves the gym? I call that a win. I see a girl who is going to continue playing basketball. The girl who is miserable after games. She’s going to quit.

I have a team of beginners. We barely had a team at this school. We lost by 30 yesterday, I think, and the girls were generally happy on the bus home. They expressed a desire to improve, but they laughed for most of the ride home. That is a win to me. In our first game, one girl stopped playing because she was so frustrated and disheartened to be losing. She quit. She quit the team last year too. Is that the attitude that he wants? Someone who gets so mad about losing a game that she quits? Will that prepare her for the real world?

Seriously, what is wrong with a girl (or boy) leaving a gym after a weekend of basketball and being happy? That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about winning or she’s soft or any of the other chauvinistic terms that you want to use. It probably means that she has perspective. She is invested in the process. Isn’t that what we are supposed to teach players now? Trust the process.

I understand Walz angst. A coach chooses basketball as a life pursuit. Players have other interests. That does not make the players wrong. It probably makes them more well-adjusted people.

“Doggarnit, when we played, you lost and you went home.”

Well, I didn’t. Nobody plays a one-game season. We played tournaments where we played tomorrow whether we won or lost today. We went to the park and played, and if we lost, we had to sit out, but if you stuck around, you played again. Is that really that different than AAU?

Show up to AAU tournament. If you win, you sit out two games and play again; if you lose, you sit out one game and play again.

Show up to park. If you win, you stay on the court, and play again; if you lose, you sit out one game, and play again.

Honestly, I play pick up games on Sundays at a middle school, and they have a rule that if more than 3 people are waiting, when you win two games in a row, you’re off. These are adults, not millennials. Rules are made by guys older than me, guys of Walz generation. What’s that teaching us? You win and you still lose? What are these old guys going to do in the real world?

“There was no friendship bracket. Let’s go to the left side for the friendship games.”

Yes. Yes there was. In every regular season tournament that I ever watched or played in from 1st-12th grade, in every sport that I played, there was a consolation bracket because tournaments had to guarantee teams a certain number of games to justify the fees that they paid to enter the tournaments. It’s not about making players feel good; it’s about making money. That has happened forever. Only the postseason lacked the consolation brackets. Heck, in 2009-10, Louisville played in the WBI postseason tournament. What does Walz think that is if not a friendship bracket? I sincerely hope that Louisville misses the NCAA Tournament this season to see if Walz would accept an invitation to the NIT.

Walz finished by saying that it’s not equal opportunity and that some players think they should be playing more. Reading into it, it seems like a player complained, or maybe a parent, and Walz could not handle it, and tore into an entire generation because a player felt that she should play more.

Well, isn’t that the kind of displeasure that he wants players to show at the beginning of the rant? If a player is happy not playing, isn’t that the same attitude as being okay with losing? If you want players to get upset and pout and carry on when they lose, shouldn’t you want the same behaviors when a player doesn’t play? (I am pretty forgiving of players who want to play more for this reason; I want players who want to play, and I want players to believe that they should be playing. I may explain to them why we disagree, but I do prefer that attitude, provided it is handled with respect, to players who are happy to sit on the end of the bench and cheer).

Walz is not totally wrong with his sentiment, as this generation is different. However, I have been hearing complaints about players for 10+ years. I stopped working college camps because I tired of hearing a bunch of whiny ass coaches complain about their players at every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And, these same coaches were nowhere to be found when players wanted to work out on their own. I know because I stopped eating with them and started to work out players at lunch and before sessions. The other coaches would roll their eyes when they strolled in with their Starbucks.

If players are different or not meeting your expectations, that is part of coaching. Teach them. Society probably is too worried about young people’s self-esteem. Many adults are afraid to challenge children. I see children basically running their households and bossing around their parents.

Of course, at the same time, many adults treat adolescents poorly and many come from backgrounds that are far from idyllic.

I referee elite girls soccer. Coaches and parents scream at their children constantly. Coaches belittle their players. They swear at their players. It’s not a sunshine and rainbows environment. I see those behaviors down to the u10 levels. These coaches are not preparing their players for the real world; the behavior, in many instances is completely inappropriate and these coaches should not be coaching with children. Whereas there is a perception that nobody criticizes children today, these people have not been to a youth sports event. There is plenty of criticism at every game.

These girls play hard. They fight. They battle. They sometimes cry after losses. They are competitors. But, they also have fun. They act goofy between games. They laugh. They hang out with their friends. They are teenagers. Just because they are elite players (and I have refereed numerous games with USWNT scouts watching players, not to mention probably every D1 soccer program in the country) does not mean that they are not also teenagers.

I see the same thing in basketball. I know girls who are literally inches from starting fights with the other team because they are playing so hard and frustrating the opponent so much, and after the game, once the uniform comes off, they are laughing and snap chatting with friends or whatever the youngins do these days. Is that wrong? Why? Why do we want players to sulk and carry on for hours because of a loss? Why is it so bad that adolescents play two games in a day (there are physical reasons why it may not be a good idea, but Walz seemed unconcerned about the physical toll)? Why is it bad that college student-athletes have interests beyond basketball? After all, the NCAA tells us that most of the athletes are going pro in something other than sports, and Walz himself said that he is preparing his players for the real world.

Here is my final point. If Walz does not like this generation of players, nobody is forcing him to collect massive paychecks to continue coaching. He can quit and enter the real world. Heck, if he invested smartly and lived frugally, he could practically retire on what he has made thus far as a coach. If the players are so bad, do something else. It is a choice that one makes to go into coaching. It is a choice that one makes to stay in coaching. If coaching this group is so bad, quit. Stephanie Norman has a great reputation; I’m sure she could do a fine job with this team.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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