Star Expectations NOT Star Treatment
In the world of professional sports, many star players receive preferential treatment. Barry Bonds had his own leather recliner, five lockers and a television set in the locker room. As documented by the HBO series Hard Knocks this summer, Jason Taylor repeatedly showed up late to games, practices and scrimmages. The list of examples is endless. As long as athletes are producing on the field, many coaches and teammates are willing to overlook the absence of a team-first mentality as well as antics off the field.
During my tenure in the world of high school sports, I have found that preferential treatment for your leaders and/or the best players can de-motivate players and make a team less cohesive. Holding high expectations for top players yields the best results.
During my senior year of high school, my basketball coach had very high expectations of my co-captain and me—greater expectations than for anyone else on the squad. Before a big home game against a conference rival, my co-captain and I showed up two minutes late to the pre-game meeting. (I still think the clock in the room was fast!) The coach stripped us of our captainship for the game and benched us for the first half. We lost the game to an inferior opponent by two points. I was irate. Earlier in the year when another one of my teammates was late to a pre-game meeting, the punishment was extra running at practice. I did not understand why the punishments were not the same for everyone on the team.
For the rest of the season I was never late for a bus, meeting or practice. Often I was the first person there. More than the obvious lesson of punctuality, my coach had sent the team an important lesson; no one was going to receive special treatment. Furthermore, he positioned my co-captain and me to consistently lead by example. More was expected of us, so in turn we sacrificed more for the team, which garnered the respect of teammates and perhaps even motivated them.
Shortly after that game, our coach restored our captainships. By the end of the year, our team was firing on all cylinders. What I failed to realize in that moment, but understood later, was that the coach needed a different level of commitment from his captains to get our team where we needed to go. The “end game” was not winning that regular season game; it was advancing as far as our talents could take us in the playoffs.
The lessons learned above are a sample of moments that have shaped my philosophy as a current high school coach. I see positive results from having candid conversations with team leaders about how with their role comes greater responsibility. I believe that a team with the strongest players not leading by example will likely struggle as will the team whose star players receive special treatment. Speaking directly to your players about these very high expectations can be empowering and motivating. Such conversations might also prepare your players for how hard you will push them and help them see the great potential for the team if they step into their roles as consistent leaders by example.
Eric Schlein attended SportsChallenge Summer Academy in the summers of 2002 and 2003. Currently he is the editor of the SC blog, “Overtime!” and sits on the Communications Task Force and the Alumni Council. He is an Assistant Girl’s Varsity Basketball Coach at Edmund Burke School in Washington D.C.
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