In the world of amateur athletics, the coach is the CEO and the valuable words of praise they bestow on their players are mere pennies compared to their most valuable currency – playing time. Traversing an entire season without an athlete asking for a “raise” in pay is as rare as a 1943 Lincoln head penny! Trust me I looked it up. Athletes crave more playing time, but aren’t always willing to do what it takes to earn more of it. For parents, playing time is the gold standard that is often used to measure the athletic value of their children.
The endless debate over systems and game time decisions is white noise compared to the line in the sand disagreements over playing time. It too often becomes a convoluted clash of perception, reality and innate biases. Like a political debate, each side is certain they know and speak the truth. And unlike a political debate, there is a single truth and it is based on the information collected by seeing a player every day in practice and not skewed by the maternal instinct to protect their young. With the ferocity of a mother bear separated from her cub, the aggressive reaction from parents can be overwhelming. It is a nightmare every coach has endured.
The arrows of outside criticism are fired at the target all coaches wear on their back. While coaches will develop immunity to this criticism, players will find themselves in a purgatory between the conflicting messages. It is truly a parent inflicted wound that athletes are left to heal. The repercussion, a strained relationship with parents or coaches, isn’t something that will be beneficial to anyone involved.
A coach recently told me about meeting with the parents of a senior who was not getting much playing time. It began with, our son is fine, he understands his role, but we just can’t accept it. No coach should have to provide that type of parental therapy and no athlete should have to carry their parent’s emotional baggage. Being a teenager and an athlete is difficult enough. When parents “dreams” don’t match up with their children’s dreams, the disconnection can be harmful.
I will forever defend and promote the value of the athletic experience. It isn’t perfect and like any other walk of life there are bad people that become involved. It is a bastion of personal accountability when coaches are allowed to operate without the damage done by outside influence. It is where under the direction of good coaches, players earn their playing time and with it the confidence and temporary satisfaction of their efforts. Nothing earned in athletics is permanent and like life’s battles you have to keep earning your spot day after day.
Many parents’ error is when they turn their empathy into excuses. Giving your athlete a soft place to land when a disappointment strikes is fine, as long as it is quickly shifted to solutions, that doesn’t include parent interference. Take a deep breath and send them back to their coach for the answers. They are truly the key masters to unlocking this mystery. At a time when players need to look inward, too many are encouraged to listen to the outside voices and expect the parental helicopter to come to the rescue. My parents think I should be playing more; my teammates do too, so does Uncle Joe, so the conclusion quickly disintegrates into a blame game centered on the coach. It is a cultural tumor that propagates quickly and can cause irreparable damage to the coach/athlete relationship. This victim mentality encourages attacking the system or in this case the coach; instead of the once tried and true American standard of looking inward and rising above the noise.
The great Kobe Bryant called it being “undeniable”.
It is the bedrock of every great accomplishment in history. It is the inner drive that allows for no excuses, that perseveres through every obstacle and setback. It is taking personal responsibility for your circumstances regardless of what has caused them. On the surface, athletes want more playing time, they say the right things, but too often don’t do what is necessary to achieve their goals. Lou Saban says, "Everybody wants to be the beast, but not everybody wants to do what the beasts do." The road to undeniable passes through the towns of sacrifice, work ethic, discipline and is propelled by an indomitable positive attitude. Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” warriors are driven by an inner grit and relentless tenacity to “prove them wrong”.
Bryant believed it starts with what he called, “Editing your life, find what’s most important to you. From there it is about developing and listening to your inner voice and quieting the outside noise. That includes family, friends, and coaches who are telling you that "You're a great player. You should be starting! The coach doesn’t know what he is doing.” Bryant’s solution was making yourself so good that your coach has to play you. And trust me every coach wants their athletes to believe in that mentality to be truly undeniable.
Loving the process, the daily grind of putting the puzzle together isn’t for everyone. Some will tell you that if you go there you won’t have any fun. To that claim Bryant offered, “That is such an average thing to say. Being excellent is fun. The fun is in the winning." Everyday coaches have to navigate the game plan that balances the push for excellence with the need to have fun. Teaching players the difference between fun and messing around is often misinterpreted as “taking the fun out of the game”. For Bryant that pursuit of excellence was never compromised. "Excellence is a habit,” noted Bryant, “You don't just show up and selectively be excellent. You must be excellent in everything you do."
If we are fortunate and our parents have the self-control to let us fail, we learn one of life’s most precious lessons: that the only person who can really stop us is ourselves. We use to focus on the greatest success stories of our American history, but recently seem more interested in our greatest failures. Both are vitally important, but as in athletics, mistakes should be learned from, not dwelled upon. Those who stay mired in the failures of the past will never experience the future successes that those disappointments will yield.
Developing a strong and relentless inner voice is paramount to achieving success. Similar to that balancing act between excellence and having fun, parents must learn that building that inner voice isn’t just about praise and pats on the back. They, like having fun along the way, are essential, but those skinned knees and dashed dreams are also vital. We are raising a generation that believes if you tell someone enough times they are great, they will become great. Self-esteem and confidence come from accomplishment, not hollow praise. Excellence is preceded by failure.
Nurturing that inner voice that takes control and pushes toward a solution when all seems lost doesn’t happen by accident. Tune out those outside voices and discredit the excuses that only serve to deflate you. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed”.
When life challenges you, rise above the external noise and find your inner drive to—Be Undeniable.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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Please also keep “woofing,” taunting, and otherwise unsportsmanlike behavior to a minimum. Your posts will more than likely be deleted, and worse yet, you reflect badly on yourself, your favorite team and your conference.