TEAM TUESDAY – “Your mother can’t help you here,” I said. “So stop looking at her.”
Our boys’ team was getting crushed downtown a few weeks ago. A new player, who’s an extended part of the group and used to recreational ball, was not showing the best of body language. He also kept looking at his mother, who was yelling instructions to him. He dipped his chin and huffed in the huddle as if it was not his fault that he was dribbling into traps. Then he yelled back at his mother who was screaming god-knows-what on the sidelines to bring us back from 40-points down. Typical teenager behavior, but unfortunately he learned quickly that it doesn’t work in our program. I told him several times to look me in the eye and nod his head when I say something. He did not. He looked over at his mother. I repeated it, “Your mother can’t help you here.” He looked at her again soon thereafter. Then he didn’t make eye contact with me or nod his head. I pulled him out and told him that if things did not change, he cannot play in our program. Later in the game, I yelled across to his mom, “No coaching from the sidelines. He looks at you and he’s out.”
She nodded and backed off completely. In an email about a week later, when she wondered if he was still in given his attitude during and after the game, I said he’s only in if he follows our rules. She thanked me and basically said she believed in what I was trying to get across to her only child. The following weekend, I pulled another new boy for the lack of eye contact and accountability. This was after he played no defense, then went down on the offensive end and tried to go one-on-three. I called out his name and said, “Look over here.”
He did not. He was pulled. Coach Andy was with me. Andy played college and pro ball, as did I.
“Do you really think you’re going to get any better advice elsewhere right now?” I said to the player, looking right into his eyes so he had nowhere to hide. “Do you really think you know more about this game than we do?”
He shook his head.
“Good. We agree on something. If I were you, I’d have all eyes and ears on us. We are here to help you not hurt you. That means being honest with you. That means even when you don’t agree with what we are saying or if you don’t think we are right, you still nod your head. You still make eye contact because the truth is that the boss is always right.”
The rules are simple, and the vast majority of our players follow them, which is why our program is what it is. If you look at mom or dad instead of your acting coach in our program – also known as the most highly qualified people trying to help you and your team – then you will not go into the game. We’re not teaching you about hoops here, we’re telling you that mom and dad can’t go to college with you or apply for the same job someday.
What the eye contact signifies is not at all my power trip. It’s the acknowledgement of the truth. It’s the truth of what is going on here, and how we are going to work together to fix it. If you can’t see it or ID it, then we’ll never be able to improve the situation.
Here’s another scenario. She has two parents, I think; siblings – perhaps. I’m not sure. Different socioeconomic backgrounds, other gender, but same story. As in the case with the first boy, and maybe the second, the moms are working overtime to please their teenage children. The details: A teenage girl who is, relatively speaking, a stronger player for her age bracket, seems as though she has her mother do everything for her, very much like the boy in the lead paragraph. If the player thinks she’s in the wrong gym, she texts mom, her personal assistant, to get to the bottom of this instead of asking the two coaches in the gym. Mom texts me to see if she’ll be okay in the boys’ workout, and I say, yes, I would not have put her there if I thought otherwise. Mom says back: “She just wanted me to ask.” Another sign that she is doing double duty as personal assistant.
Player comes to the game without her uniform, wrong shorts, jewelry on. She doesn’t have a water bottle either, and she’s looking at her mom in the stands as she grabs her throat during the game, as if it’s her fault for everything. It’s not that I like any of the kids more than the others, nor do I sit back and assess parenting. I don’t see most of the parenting that takes place, but patterns are clear. The first mistake is the kid turning to the parent to solve their problems. The second mistake is the parent trying to solve them. They keep pushing the truth around so that no one has to fix it.
One statement that works almost 100 percent of the time.
“Listen to your coach.”
All the parents who aim to fix things for their kids are really going to make puberty that much harder for everyone to endure. The pushback is annoying. It’s always the parents’ fault. The kids even try it with coaches, which is part of the reason why we coach in maximum two-year terms for the same group.
We become like a parent about the two-year mark, and lose our influence. The good part about coaching them during this time is that if they bring the chip to practice, you can do something about it. While I see the child 2-3 times a week max and beg him to make eye contact and tell him he’s not as good as he thinks he is, parents see their child all the time with this attitude. And the truth is that often, it is the last thing they can tell their child. Parents tell me all the time, “I tell him all the time. He won’t listen to me. But he’ll listen to you.”
When you are telling your kid, “Listen to your coach,” you are doing one of two things 1) teaching them to respect authority even if the boss has no clue – that’s life; and, 2) you are—in the vast majority of the cases—able to use the coach to get across what you want to tell your kid but can’t. (Get in shape. Use your left hand. Play better D. Be more vocal. Practice more. Work harder.)
The boy who was yanked for not making eye contact during the game came up to me immediately afterwards with his hand extended. “I’m sorry, Coach,” he said. “I’ll change my behavior next time.” I said, “It’s okay. Just don’t forget we are here to help you.”
He said thank you.
And I thought to myself, good. He listened to his mother, who was in the stands, refusing to leave the gym, not until her son went up to a person who was simply helping her do her job.