I am going to share a story with you and I will not apologize for the language because I want you to feel a (fraction) of what those children felt….
My son made the decision to transfer back into public school his junior year in high school. Although he liked the private school he was attending, he wanted to be back “home”. We supported his decision with the caveat that he maintain an upstanding high school experience considering he was back among peers. And he did not disappoint.
Academically, he maintained. He ended up taking honors math classes and was even voted “best overall student” by administrative staff his senior year. The first year of him returning, the basketball team advanced to the state level. He got a chance to participate in that. The following year (his senior year), most of the seniors graduated so this was a challenging year of figuring out how to mesh the remaining as well as the new players. The team was decent but there were some obvious challenges which caused understandable frustration all the way around.
In one particular game, besides making mistakes, the team overall was not performing well. Although they were still ahead, the game was too close for comfort… The coach expressed his discontent in his usual colorful manor, then, In the middle of the game, his frustration reaches a high and he starts yelling at the players (voice protruding, veins popping, leg stomping yelling). Most of the players shrugged it off because this is unfortunately normally (accepted) as a part of the game and besides, that’s just how he is… On this day though, the coach dug deeper. “Yall play like some little BITCHES. Yall some punks and I don’t know why yall even here… The belligerent tone from the coach started on the court in front of hundreds of spectators then continued into the locker room, where the cheap shots started.
Some of the things thrown at the players from the frustrated coach had nothing to do with the court mistakes, nor with basketball. He chose instead to hit them remarks about their parents and other personal matters that they trusted him to know about what was going on with them at home and otherwise. One player even burst in tears, which caused the other players to shift. These boys are like family, and what is done to the least of them is done to them all. They felt one another pain. Many of the players threatened to quit. Some never returned to the court after halftime, a couple returned to gym without their jersey on and for the rest of the game, the overall spirit was defeated. It was just too much..
“Your dad finally came to see you and you play like a little bitch. You should be embarrassed that he drove all the way here to see this”
“You don’t contribute anything to this team, I don’t even know why you are here”
“I should call some of the players at (Local inner city high school, his alma mater) to come over here and pay them $20 each to come beat yall asses.”
One player he got in his face so close and started yelling so hard that the player could feel the spit on his face. The player turned away, the coach followed him. The player stretched our his arm to distance himself, the coach pushed away his arm then got closer in his face. The player then pushed him off him to which the coach threatened to take his jersey. The player took off his jersey and gave it to the coach then walked away. The game went on but the team was never the same.
Guess who witnessed all this? Hundreds of people, including small children and staff.
What did the assistant coacheS say? Nothing
What did the referees say? Nothing
What did the admin staff say? Nothing
What did the principal say? Nothing
Through the eyes of these players, here are members of their community watching this type antics and nobody says a word. Here you have children that was not in trouble, nor failing grades, nor being a nuisance, most of them took the abuse and never spoke back. They were merely under-performing in a basketball game which resulted in demeaning them publicly by an adult authoritative educator in front of hundreds of people.
If you are an educator, shouldn’t you be held accountable for having the ability to effectively express yourself in a respectful manner?
As a leader, shouldn’t you be held accountable for being able to display emotional control?
As an elder, shouldn’t you be held accountable for setting an example of conflict resolution?
As a coach, shouldn’t you be able to bring out the best in your players in an effective way?
After the game my phone rings for hours, call after call. It is spectators, other parents, other COACHES and even a couple refs. They saw the whole night unfold. It was my son that had the physical altercation with the coach and it was uncharacteristic. They acknowledge the coach was wrong and was checking on my son in particular because they knew him well. They applauded how he handled himself and wanted to make sure emotionally he was okay. I expressed my appreciation. I know that sports can be intense at times but these phone calls confirmed I was not overreacting in my offense ESPECIALLY the ones that came from other coaches who know the game. (One of the coaches was the varsity coach for the team we were paying against).
“He is fine, thanks for checking” I replied. Trying my hardest to not emotionally react.
To one coach, I opened up. “I just don’t know how to handle it. I don’t want to tell my son to kiss ass and subject himself to the continuation of this, but at the same time I don’t want him to quit. This is not an isolated occurrence, it is merely the ONE that the public got to finally witness. This year, I’ve seen the flame for his love of this game dissolve and it saddens me. He does not even play the same. I really do not know what to do but we will figure it out”. I valued his input because I know as a man and as a coach, he can give objective perspective for me to consider. He’s known my son since elementary school, my son played AAU ball for him for years, and was concerned.
So I, finally call the coach, to which he says “I knew you would be calling. I know that your son does not like people violating his personal space, but I did it anyway, and for that I apologize”.
I said I understand your frustration, and feel that my son handled himself well considering the circumstances, but besides that, but do you really think taking cheap shots at the boys, whom you KNOW are experiencing struggle and pain and using that against them is the best way to handle this situation? And getting in my son personal space like that, he is months away from being a grown man and double your size and you dare try to demean him in that way and expect him to just sit there and take it just because you are an authority? Not because he did something wrong, not because he was in trouble, but because he did not perform to your approval. Do you talk to grown men that way you encounter on the street?
His response “ If these boys are planning to play sports at the next level, they will encounter adversity. I am helping them out.”
He never did apologize to the boys. Instead, they saw each other at school the next day, spoke and head nod. After missing a few practices, my son returned to the court to finish the season but the team was never the same.
And to think, this happened unapologetically in the public. The boys don’t talk about all that they endure privately just so they can play ball…. “Put me in the game coach”?
Moral of the story:
While we are so quick to degrade “troubled children”, who is checking your peers? It’s not just educators but adults in general. Are we holding ourselves to the standards that we place upon our youth? Are we SHOWING them how to be? Are we teaching them how to be? It is a vicious cycle and many times, the children are returning the respect (or lack of) that they are receiving, yet we hold them at a higher performing, educational, moral and emotional standard than the adults that should know better. But we say the children are the problem.
Who else, should we accept this method of “Adversity training” for underperformance?
A prejudice neighbor?
Hey coach, how did that “adversity training” work out for you sir? Did you get that trophy?