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.
I was once chastised by a parent for using a Bobby Knight quote, as if he could never have said anything important. Bobby disappeared long before the woke movement and while I may not agree with some of his coaching methods, he has many distinctive quotes. When it comes to coaches having “favorites” Knight said, “I don’t have a doghouse. I have a birdhouse. If you fly, you get into the birdhouse and you get to play. You don’t put guys on the bench, you put other guys in the game who deserve to play.”
Every coach at one time or another has been accused of having favorites. I don’t believe that any coach that is being completely honest would deny that certain players do become your favorites. It then becomes a matter of the definition of exactly what constitutes and earns the favorite label.
Let me try to explain. A favorite is a player who stood on the bench game after game without touching the ice, yet never uttered a complaint or even a hint of poor body language. In the lockeroom they don’t pout nor try to rally sympathy for their situation. That same player works hard in practice every day and takes the coaching provided and uses it to improve their game. They don’t ask for a meeting every week to find out why they aren’t playing. After games they celebrate victories and lament losses with their teammates. They bring the same great attitude and effort to the rink every day and when the time comes and their number gets called, they demonstrate without a doubt that they are ready to play. And if that call comes on the last shift of the game, they are excited and happy for that opportunity. They thank you for giving them the ice time and go home with a smile.
If that person were an employee or someone you worked with, I would argue they would be one of your favorites too. They are people of high character that understand that everything worthwhile in this life is earned and comes at a price. Whether it is a promotion or somebody’s trust or developing an advanced skill it will require effort, and along the road to anything meaningful there will be failure. Lockerooms, like schools, businesses and neighborhoods were once upon a time filled with people just like this. America was touted as “The Land of Opportunity” and we were proud of the blue-collar work ethic required to climb the ladder of success. From Rosie the Riveter and the iconic photos of steelworkers perched on a beam thousands of feet above, to modern day Mike Rowe it has been a revered American standard. The “chop your own wood, it will warm you twice” purveyors of blue-collar work ethic are being replaced by the ‘store bought chopped vegetables and drink Starbucks to stay warm’ generation.
My favorite player is the one who comes to me as a senior and tells me to take her off the powerplay and put a sophomore on instead of her because she is more talented. Add on to that list the player that upon being told that their best right now wasn’t enough to leapfrog them higher on the depth chart, thanks you for being honest and gets back to work. Or maybe the player that tells you face-to-face that they understand why they aren’t the starting goalie, then their parents tell you face-to-face they are the ones that really can’t handle it. Perhaps it is the veteran goalie that willingly shares the net with a talented freshman, because she doesn’t want her to have the awful freshman experience, she had. And let’s not forget the injured player that comes to practice every day even though they can’t get on the ice.
I can add to this list all day.
The character traits that guide these players are consistent with what they have been taught at home. Proof that great parenting still exists.
Favorites possess a strong work ethic, positive attitudes, and a desire to improve. When they are coached, they look you in the eyes, listen intently and thank you when you are finished. Then they demonstrate an honest effort and show consistent progress in changing behavior. They fly toward the birdhouse on the strength of their own wings.
As essential as these character traits are to successful players and teams, we don’t expect every player to come equipped with them. Ethical behavior is not something children are born with; it is learned. No one automatically has good character, but everyone has the capacity to learn it, because character must be taught. The well guided athletic experience serves as the ideal textbook for character development. Players only need to bring an open mind and willingness to be a part of a team to initiate the purposeful osmosis of these values disguised in daily doses of life lessons.
What doesn’t factor into a player’s ability to fly to the birdhouse is their parents or caregivers. Distinctive coaches don’t concern themselves with perceived or actual parent feelings for them. The relationship with the athlete is clearly the top priority. The volume of decisions that must be made during the season, many that won’t favor individual athletes, often requires the coach/parent relationship to be at a very different level. Mature coaches can separate the two relationships if the coach/parent relationship is uncomfortable or unstable. In a perfect world all three: coach, parent and player would have the same goals and collaborate to achieve them. Too often that doesn’t happen and parents step across boundaries and complicate the situation for their own child. Any issues regarding playing time should be avoided like a thriving nest of hornets.
Is having favorites fair? Shouldn’t coaches treat everyone the same? I can assure you that treating every player the same is impossible and I would argue players don’t all want to be treated the same. Upon close examination I doubt you even treat all your own kids the same. Don’t mistake holding players to the same standard, treating them fairly, as treating them all the same. On the bright side, coaches have no limit to the number of favorites they can ultimately manage. Every player has the opportunity to open that door.
Favorites are not a phenomenon and should not be looked at disparagingly. Every team, business and organization have a set of standards that their employees are expected to follow. Those that consistently bring a great attitude, work ethic and decision-making process will become the favorites we all want to be around.
Playing favorites is human nature. And the only person who is keeping you out of the game—is you.
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.