Keeping Perspective

**This was originally posted on March 5, 2014.  With the winter tournament season upon us, I thought we could all use a reminder about the importance of the games about to take place!


My intention today was to write a follow post to our department goals, but I felt like heading in a different direction.  I will post the follow up later this week.

I’m writing this the morning after the quarterfinal rounds of the East Region basketball tournaments.  Three of our four teams were in action last night – all of them in a losing effort.  I was able to be at the Red River vs. Shanley boys’ game for its entirety; after the game, I was asked by a handful of people what I thought of the game and how our boys performed.  In a nutshell, here’s what I thought:

– There were some really great plays made by kids on both teams – because athletic 15-18 year olds are capable of making really great plays.
– There were some really dumb mistakes made by kids on both teams – because 15-18 year olds sometimes make really dumb mistakes.
– There were some excellent examples of teamwork from kids on both teams – because well-coached 15-18 year olds are capable of filling roles.
– There were some poor, selfish plays made by kids on both teams – because kids can be pretty selfish sometimes.
– There were some good examples of sportsmanship – because 15-18 year olds can respect others who are working as hard as they are.
– There were some poor examples of sportsmanship – because 15-18 year olds, especially in this environment, are highly competitive.
– Most importantly, I saw a group of kids working their tails off on every play, regardless of anything that had happened in a prior play.

To contrast that, I saw a small handful of fans living and dying on every great play and every mistake as if their next paycheck depended on it.  (Let’s be clear – there weren’t many of these.  The majority of fans last night were supportive, encouraging, and there simply to be entertained.  For a couple others, though, I have been half-expecting a bill to arrive today for their services as an assistant coach and official during the game.)

Something that Dr. John Tufte speaks about extensively (see my “Read These” page) is how adults and students view the need to compete differently than each other.  There seems to be one thing that the students understand that many of us, as adults, tend to forget over time: ultimately, last night was nothing more than a group of kids playing a game.  I’m as guilty as anyone else of this mentality; in fact, I’ve apologized several times to the students I coached for not having a better insight into why they were playing a sport.  As a sports’ dad now, I find myself biting my tongue around my sons often – especially in those sports where I feel somewhat knowledgeable.

The kids understand that their game last night decided how they advance in the tournament and whom they will play on Friday; that’s it.  They still had to finish their homework; they still had to go to class this morning; they still had to take out the garbage and clean their rooms; they’re still going to have to manage the multiple relationships that high school kids manage; etc., etc., etc.  Winning last night wouldn’t have changed any of those normal day-to-day items.  Do any of us as adults think that a couple more wins in high school would have a made a big difference to what you’re doing today?  Maybe it would have, but I tend to think not.

To be fair to adult fans, I (and most other athletic directors) have the same discussions with my adult coaches.  Many of our coaches are teachers in the district.  In 2013-14, the base pay for a teacher was $36,850 while the base pay for a head basketball coach was $5,439.  I will often point at those numbers and ask my coaches which job is their priority.  College and professional coaches get paid enough to have tunnel vision about their win/loss records; high school coaches don’t.  This is a large reason why our first goal as a department is to make sure the kids (and coaches!) are having fun.

My challenge to all this weekend – whether heading to Fargo for the last two nights of East Region basketball or staying in Grand Forks for state swimming – remember that you’re watching kids playing a game.  Let them enjoy the experience of competing while you are able to enjoy the experience of watching your son or daughter compete.  After the game, don’t forget to hug them and tell them you love them.  (Unless they embarrass easily; in that case, nods and fist bumps work just fine!)

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