Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in Lockroom Logic are solely those of Dan Bauer and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners. Dan presents his opinions based upon his lifetime of teaching and coaching experience and we present them unedited.
Maybe it comes from growing up back when getting sent to the principal’s office was truly frightening (I never made that trip, but the idea of it was paralyzing). Maybe it was the fear of God my dad put in me the two times he spanked me. Or maybe it was the humility my parents modeled and taught me. Perhaps it was the outdated culture that revered hard work, patriotism and family. We refer to it today, in mostly unflattering terms, as being “old school”. I would argue it is a mentality and set of tried and true standards that we are in dire need of finding again.
Young wide receiver DJ Moore of the Carolina Panthers hauled in what should have been a game-winning 62 yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining, but removed his helmet in celebration and cost his team fifteen yards that resulted in a missed extra point. The Panthers went on to lose the game in overtime. Moore was obviously disappointed after the game, but his statement, “It was a natural reaction” is exactly what I am talking about. Today athletes seem more concerned with being the center of attention rather than just one of the moving parts. Is that a product of the helicopter parents who constantly have that search light squarely on their child? Drawing attention to you has not always been the way it was done. In a team sport, where his quarterback had to deliver a perfect throw and his offensive line had to provide the protection, Moore was most concerned with celebrating his achievement, by himself. It is a self-centered mindset that can be a cancer in a team sport.
Humility was once one of the pillars that all sports stood upon. Legendary football coach Paul Brown, donning a sports coat, tie and wearing his signature dress hat famously said, “When you win say nothing, when you lose say less”. Even in his day it was not meant literally, because the press always needs to get their stories. Being humble in victory has long been considered a virtue among the greatest athletes. The “look at me” generation has changed that and the self-centered celebrations serve as a dividing line between young fans and old.
Many are quick to defend today’s antics dismissing it as players just having fun and rationalizing it as an entertainment industry. I actually agree with both of those observations, but believe players can have their fun by celebrating together while not auditioning for the crowd. The choreographed celebrations are at least an attempt at making it a team event. Posing for the camera, once reserved for school yearbooks, family portraits and weddings is now an NFL ritual. The performing “Me Generation” would argue none of this matters, but I believe like a spot of rust, acts of selfishness will cause damage to your team unity. This generation promotes every achievement big and small, and by small I mean absolutely unimportant and sends them out with the frequency of a tornado warning. As for athletes entertaining me, I prefer that comes from your skills and performance under fire and not your acting ability. Much like going to see musicians perform, I come to hear your music, not your political soapboxing.
Finding professional athletes that serve as proper role models for our youth has become more problematic. As great as Aaron Rodgers has been, the perception is that he is too often intolerant of his teammates and unwilling to accept his share of the blame. Brett Favre drove us all crazy with his penchant for throwing interceptions, but his enthusiasm, grit and team first mantra made it easy to love watching him play in spite of it. Seeing him run down the field to lift Donald Driver on to his shoulders after a touchdown connection seemed genuine. The laser sharp light that today’s superstars must play under is unlike any athletes before them. Every facial expression, hand gesture and word is scrutinized and quickly judged by a relentless media and endless fan base. The cameras, voice recorders and unsuspecting ears are scanning their every move and dissecting every comment. Escaping this interrogation is an impossible challenge they face every day. It is an unfair microscope that comes automatically when they sign their million dollar contracts.
Maybe that is what I love so much about hockey, most all of the scoring celebrations are centered on the team and the fad of skating away seems to have mostly disappeared. It may be the only sport that actually involves the entire team in the celebration process. Without our permission, the antics of professional athletes quickly permeate youth sports. I remember several years after Odell Beckham’s famous one-handed catch I witnessed elementary kids at recess trying to repeat that catch.
The problem was that they had not yet mastered the two hand catch and no amount of advice from me could convince they had skipped a step in this skill path.
When it comes to the art of the celebration, coaches still have a distinct influence on what they tolerate from their own players. Just like any other facet of the team, expectations can be established and enforced. My vintage mindset is still convinced that youth and high school athletes should be taught that their achievement in a team game is not just about them. That in spite of the outside message they may be hearing, it is about the team first. Learning to weave themselves into the fabric of the team is one of those essential life lessons to learn from their athletic experience. When it comes to celebrations, demonstrating respect for your opponent and love for your teammates should be the priority. If we don’t take time to teach these principles as parents and coaches they will imitate those professional "entertainers” they see on television.
I have discovered that with age comes experience and from that comes wisdom. As our society grapples with ideas, causes and beliefs that I never dreamed possible, I hold out hope the hull of athletics will remain air tight and keep the waters of passing fads at bay. That the keel, the backbone of that ship will continue to be made of character, discipline, sacrifice, grit, respect, humility and teamwork. Athletic Directors, Coaches and parents are assigned with this most important task and asked to be the crew of this antiquated vessel, the USS Athletics. It is their responsibility to weather the storms of change that possess the power to cripple and sink this majestic ship.
The entertainment value of athletics should be in the individual skill within the symmetry of a team. It should be in the achievement of goals, not the celebration of them. If you are not entertained by the actual game performance and are craving more theatrics, maybe try professional wrestling.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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.