During my time as a teacher, I taught English. Being an English teacher brings with it some almost universally shared qualities: (1) We believe that we are smarter than teachers of any other subjects; (2) We overuse sarcasm; (3) We love a good pun; and (4) We believe in the power of satire. As someone who enjoys a good satire, I naturally read The Onion quite often.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, The Onion promotes itself as the leading news source in America, then pumps out article after article bristling with satirical references to current culture. Because they write about most topics, there are often sports related articles in their news feed. Not too long ago, one of our former coaches sent me the link to this article that The Onion staff had posted regarding some new NCAA sanctions being brought down on an unlikely target.
Many athletic directors and coaches talk about the necessity of genetics for kids to play at the collegiate level or beyond. I’ve written about it several times before, most notably here and here. The phrase that I continually return to is that a kid’s ability to play college sports was largely decided at conception. Although this is a harsh message for parents to hear, I think it’s a message that we need to return to time and time again – not because we’re trying to be mean but because we need to make it ok for parents to see their kids not making “the next level.”
Here’s why I really like the article in The Onion: That article is absolutely right. There are some people on this planet who are given an advantage that most of us don’t have, and regardless of the amount of time, money, or effort we spend, we will never reap the same advantages.
Is it unfair to those kids who constantly work their tails off while watching more talented teammates be lazy? Yup.
Is it unfair to those kids who make good decisions while watching more talented teammates make bad ones? Yup.
Is it unfair to those kids who do whatever is best for the team while watching more talented teammates act selfishly? Yup.
But the caveat to all of those unfair realities is what the kids are learning in the process. The kid who works his/her tail off is learning the importance of work ethic. The kid who makes good decisions is learning the importance of integrity. The kid who places the team first is learning the importance of collaboration. And on and on and on. I try hard to remind everyone in our program that we’re running an educational based athletic department. Our ultimate goals are to teach the kids usable life lessons – any games or championships won along the way are just small bonuses.
Being an athlete is a combination of physical ability, work ethic, and coach-ability. At each level, an athlete needs some combination of those three things in order to succeed, and more of one attribute can hide a lack of another. All of us at the high school level can think of a kid whose work ethic and coach-ability has earned him/her some minutes on the high school varsity but lacks the physical ability to play in college. Many of us know of kids who have/had a ton of physical ability but couldn’t succeed in college or the pros because of a lack of work ethic or coach-ability. While a work ethic can be trained and coach-ability can be taught, there’s nothing we can do about our genetics. Sure, we can train in order to maximize our genetics, but everyone has a ceiling eventually.
Since being a good athlete is only partially in our control, we should be focusing on making our kids good people. Regardless of ability, we can coach accountability, perseverance, determination, and all of the other adjectives that we see on motivational purposes. Those attributes should be the focus of all adults – both coaches and parents – when it comes to youth sports. Because, ultimately, The Onion is right: some kids have an unfair advantage that most of us just can’t overcome…which is why we need to teach our kids to be better at everything else.