The topic of this blog is not a concept that is new to reflections about sports. In the wake of A Nation of Wimps, plenty of people have reflected on the state of American youth and how they respond to hardships. But the fact remains that American children seem less prepared to handle the hard knocks that life has waiting for them and, as a teacher and coach of pre-teen children, I see just how much this fate seems inevitable. Time and time again, I see kids give up before they even try, before enough time has passed to make any kind of conclusion. I’ve coached a basketball game where my team went down by two in the first minute and a player (I’m not exaggerating) said, “Well, looks like this game’s over.” I’ve been in a classroom where a student has done poorly on a quiz that he admitted to spending no time studying for and still told me that the quiz was too hard. And while the laziness, the excuses, the blame game bother me, what frustrates me the most is a complete lack of pride that most of the kids exhibit. So often, all I want to ask them is whether they’re even slightly concerned about looking stupid, of being perceived as a failure, of being found out as incapable of something?
I think about any of the practices that I have coached in recent years. I’ll ask my players to perform a particular task, and when they struggle with it, they tell me that they can’t do it and it’s too hard. When this happens, I often tell my players that it’s called practice for a reason and that if they can do everything I’m asking them do, then I must not be much of a coach. In my head, though, I can’t help but remember my own years as a player. If a coach asked me to do something, I did it, or at least did my best to do what my coach asked, because to me, an inability to do what my coach asked me to do was not a reflection on my coach’s ability to measure my skill appropriately, but rather a reflection on what I should be able to accomplish, as determined by my coach. In other words, if my coach asked me to do something and I couldn’t, I was the failure, not my coach, and I’d damn well better do whatever I could to do what my coach asked, lest I be revealed as a failure.
This situation is not limited just to sports. Even in the classroom, I see this level of frustration and abandon when it comes to learning new concepts. I have taught a new concept to a group of students only to have a student in tears when that concept does not sink in with perfect clarity within just minutes. Again, I ask the student what the point of school is if they don’t need to learn and practice new concepts and skills, but that doesn’t change the fact that students get frustrated. And, just as with sports, I recall quite similarly trying to accomplish whatever task a teacher asked from me and, if I was unable to accomplish it, trying my darndest to figure out how to do what it was my teacher asked of me, or at least figuring out a way to pretend that I could do it, even if I couldn’t.
But instead of a belief that they should be able to accomplish the things that are asked of them, I see kids deciding from the beginning that expectations are too high and they shouldn’t even be asked in the first place. They quit without trying and they sell themselves short without the slightest bit of work. Where does this leave us? I’m scared of my middle age, when these kids end up as my coworkers, refusing to do what’s being asked of them and settling for mediocrity. This doesn’t even touch on those kids who pursue much more life-influencing professions, like doctors or police officers or pilots. I’d hate to be on a plane when a pilot stops trying to fly because it’s too much to expect that she be able to fly in a storm. Of course, I’m being a bit dramatic, but the fact remains that kids are giving up earlier and selling themselves short, and too many adults are simply lowering their expectations to match the kids. I can do what I can to make a difference, but if things keep going in this direction, maybe we’ll be hearing about a lot more plane crashes in twenty years.