That coach might not be as mean as you think

Jan. 25—A Forethought — Does anybody out there genuinely know how difficult it is for a coach to please every kid and parent? As I speak, how many of you parents have found it easy to always please your kids, and vice versa?

That's what I thought.

What constitutes a demanding coach is the extent to which you agree or disagree with his decisions and expectations. Also, I might add, the extent to which you may have played sports, if any.

There may be three issues here.

(1) The parent who never played sports and therefore, doesn't understand the commitment (2) The parent who did play sports and thinks that qualifies him for knowing everything and (3) The parent who was never as good as they wanted to be and maybe reliving their life through their child.

There can be a downside to each category.

You're all benched

I could never accept underachieving and not maximizing our potential. Because of this, it was not beyond me to call a timeout and substitute all five starters (Note: I don't recommend doing this in a playoff game). I've even said to the bench, "Five players check in NOW if you can play harder than the five on the floor!"

That always got the attention of the entire team, not to mention every parent. I was pretty successful with this ploy since it brought out the desired results — that the five on the floor are a unit and should play like it. Besides, it was refreshing to throw in five fresh fire-breathing Ninjas who were usually sophomores. If you're a competitive senior you don't want a sophomore to take your place on the floor, for a true competitor the bench is the greatest motivator.

I guess the basketball gods were with me, but I abhorred underachieving especially if we were playing against five average guys named 'Joe' who'd be the last ones chosen in a pickup game at the YMCA. Besides, with coaching 16- and 17-year-olds you need to keep them on their toes like a short guy at a urinal.

Early in my career, the ultimate conundrum was, "How can 16- and 17-year-olds not love the game as much as I do?" This anomaly not only haunted me but was a source of frustration for me. Within minutes following a tough loss I'd see players laughing in the lobby, and I'm thinking, "Am I the only one hurting?"

I know, I know, some of you reading this may be thinking — "What a poor loser. It's only a game." No, it's not. Cornhole is a game.

Okay, get this — practices should be demanding. There's a price to pay for getting better. If not, anybody could do it. Also, with basketball, there's a plethora of skills involved.

Regrettably, some coaches just throw out the ball and scrimmage all the time. What a shame, because they're cheating the game not to mention the kids. For sure, scrimmaging is what kids would like to do, but coaching should never be a democracy where the kids decide. Show me a coach who lets the kids decide and I'll show you a coach with a for sale sign in his yard.

Incidentally, I often heard parents say, "Sports just need to be fun". Blah, blah, blah. That suddenly changes when their team is behind in the fourth quarter of an elimination playoff game and the opposing fans are yelling at your son as he walks to the bench with his fifth foul. It's now time to take having fun more seriously.

You may be convinced that the coach you're playing for is flat-out mean. Chances are, he's not half as mean as you say, even if he gives toothbrushes to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Besides, he may not be doing cartwheels over you either, so just 'suck it up, buttercup'. You'll be made better by doing so. Never play the Victim but instead be Victorious.

Victimization is cancerous. Whoever said that life was always fair, anyway? Babe Ruth trained on hot dogs and cold beer. Get over it.

I did make mistakes in coaching, but I'll never second-guess Alan Simpson for being demanding. Forty-four years ago when I started at Byng, I understood that you could demand much from Byng kids, because Byng kids had a lot to give. That was one reason Kim and I decided to leave Hugo and come to Byng. When you demand much, you can get much, but when you settle for less ... well, you get that, too.

Would Byng kids today play for my demands and practices 44 years ago? I'll take the 5th Amendment on that one, but if you want to know you may want to ask Joe Neely or Scott Fortner. They're survivors.

I'll close with a favorite story on being demanding. In the Civil War Union commander, U.S. Grant was in the midst of a strategic battle at Shiloh, Tennessee. The human carnage was unprecedented with the human toll being the greatest of any war on this continent at the time. That evening some of Grant's officers came to him and said their troops were exhausted and could not withstand another battle the following day.

Grant's reply — "The Confederates are exhausted, too. Tell your men we attack at dawn." The result — General Grant never lost a major battle.

Expect much, get much.


— Alan Simpson