Over time I’ve had some good coaches and trainers. When you know the person guiding you, there’s typically an etiquette to the relationship. If something difficult needs to be said, there’s a time and a place. That’s how good coaching works.
But not all coaches and trainers use the same tactics. Some spill it out right then and there. And while it hurts to be told “You suck, Cudworth!” it does get the point across. Harsh, and sometimes effective. But not always.
There is plenty of criticism these days of college students complaining that they need a “safe space” in their lives. The backlash to that request is part of the hate speech now directed at millennials for the general perception that the new generation wants things handed to them, and without criticism.
I don’t buy any of that argument. If anything, the many millennials I know are their own worst critics. Their complaints are often a reflection of being hard on themselves already. Have you seen the workload so many high schools pile on these kids? And then, colleges want these same kids to be rife with service or volunteer experience. And it better genuine at that, or they won’t consider you for admission.
Competition just to get into colleges is fierce. That’s true both academically and athletically. The days of the diversified three-sport athlete are essentially gone. Poof! The pressures to excel in one sport require athletes to spend literally all year in training for volleyball, basketball, soccer, football or whatever sport is either chosen or assigned by their parents.
And speaking of parents. They can be the problem, not a solution to all this. I’ve spoken with many coaches over the years that have told me, “I would love this job of coaching kids if it weren’t for the parents.” Hovering parents show up at practices and demand answers from coaches. The cycle goes round and round with the kids in the middle.
But the fact of the matter is that parents have to be advocates for their kids in many cases. A parent I know learned the hard way that his high school student tennis player was being left off the team his senior year even though his son had earned his way to second spot on the roster. It turned out that unless the kid took private lessons from the head coach he was basically banned from the team.
So this entire system we’ve created for academics and sports and the workplace is founded on arguably false premises. Companies now have the right to demand “unpaid internships” in which students work like slaves for no pay. “To gain experience,” they’re told. But exactly what experience or impression are they gaining? That their work has no value? That getting compensated for your time is a decidedly precious perk that you don’t really deserve?
Our culture at its best builds wonderful opportunities for competitive testing and growth. But our culture is failing not because we are being too soft on kids, but because the expectations have become so specialized and strained there is often no room for self-discovery or exploration. This has been happening for years to professional athletes who devote their lives to making the NFL or NBA. We push them through school in many cases without a sufficient education. They last a year to three years and make a bunch of money perhaps. Yet a high percentage of them are close to broke when it’s all said and done. This is a cultural failing. And yet our society mimics its dynamics all the way down to Pre-K soccer and football.
How many young athletes do you see playing their “favorite sport” from the age of 5 through the age of 12 and then they’ve just “had enough?” The fun has gone out of it. They’re smart enough to see what comes next. Year-round practices. Expenses their parents have to bear. Games on early Sunday mornings and late at night. It’s no wonder there is burnout among athletes of many types. But the opposite can be just as bad. I once coached an athlete who was participating in four sports at once. He was enrolled in soccer, football, basketball, baseball. His parents told me, “He does best when he’s busy, because he has ADD.” Sheesh.
Some parents do learn the art of balance and are able to positively guide their children through to success. These are the kids who achieve both academically and athletically. When you meet these youth, they are impressive beyond belief. And it’s pretty well accepted that today’s athletes in sports such as basketball and football and volleyball could kick the ass of all those generations before. Strength training is responsible for much of that, and intensive coaching. Yet for all this intensity and success, who is actually measuring the collateral damage?
Kids also cheat and take steroids. That’s how pressure-filled this world can be. They’re just imitating the role models above them. Track and field is apparently still a dirty sport at the top. So was cycling for many years. Who knows if triathletes are drug cheaters too?
This pressure to achieve is countermanded by a culture that has tried to reward and encourage kids that participation is just as important as winning. And like they say, half of success in life is just showing up.
Yet there’s been big criticism over the last 15 years that kids coming up through the system are rewarded too frequently and earn awards just for showing up. Some people scoff at participation trophies for young kids. They think it makes kids soft. Personally, I have experience as a kid getting cut from a baseball team the first time I tried out. It drove me to better things, and when I made the team, I actually pitched in the semifinal game of a city championship. But not all kids are wired the same. Some will never go out for a competitive sport. Yet the benefits of learning teamwork, how to work on your mistakes and exhibit good sportsmanship are all still cultural values we want to encourage. Right? That’s the entire foundation of the corporate world, right there. So participation trophies are designed to reward that commitment of time. No harm done.
And let’s be honest: getting a “finisher’s medal” for completing a race is nothing more than a participation trophy. If we applied the same standard to running a marathon as we do in criticizing a little kid for getting a participation trophy for playing baseball for a season, it would sound like this: “So what if you ran 26 miles! People do it all the time! Millions of people! Every year!” Yet we’ve created that dynamic in sports for big people. And that is somehow different? I think not.
Still, a certain segment of society loves to believe that it’s had a much tougher time getting along in this world than the rest of us. These are the very same people excoriating millennials as somehow soft and inferior. They rip into college kids and young people in the workplace as lazy and too demanding for their age. They bitch about kids wanting to be paid a fair wage for their jobs.
But the fact of the matter is that our economy has refused to raise wages for everyone who participates in the workforce. Wall Street wants its profits, and it’s going to get them. Same with the shareholders. And the corporate executives. By the time it comes to raising the wages of the people who actually do the work, the trickle-down effect has worn off. Petered out. Dried up. Reagan was wrong. All the Bushes too. The cost of living has gone up but across the board in so many occupations, salaries have not gone up. The wealth that formerly sustained the middle class has migrated to a very small segment of society.
In terms of total jobs since 2008, things have gotten better for the American economy. Yet the wage pressures that remain have embittered much of society.
Meanwhile, attempts to create equity in the corporatized system of health insurance we’ve created have resulted in growing pains. The costs of including people formerly excluded from health care are real, and people don’t like paying more into the system as a result. But again, is it Obamacare causing these rate increases, or is it an industry spoiled by its own habitual and grotesque profit-taking that is slamming middle-class Americans?
If you trace this pattern with your finger you will see that the health insurance industry has employed the very same tactics as corporate America in refusing to treat its constituents fairly. Our healthcare system is corporatized in a bureaucratic fashion. The wealth of healthcare is stuck at the top. Companies like Blue Cross and United are not going to budget from their profit-taking. If they don’t like how much money a plan is making, they simply cut the plan and shove people into a different one. That’s not Obamacare at work. That’s greed.
Divide and conquer
That dynamic has pitted everyday working Americans against each other, and that’s where the money lords like things to be. It’s true in the investment and financial world, where we’re being told that banks are “too big to fail.” And, when given taxpayer money to bail them out of the crisis they created, many banks doled out big cash bonuses or held parties to reward their fat cat employees. Talk about participation medals…
And to think that people have the gall to criticize a bunch of desperate recent college grads as acting too privileged. So there’s another meme to which we should all pay attention. It’s the basic phrase that we should not criticize until we’ve walked a mile in another person’s shoes.
You’re the coach
Imagine if you were actually coaching some of this younger generation. What would you tell them to help them succeed? Would you personally look them in the eye and tell them they’re spoiled and lacking motivation? Would you insist that you’ve had a much harder life than them so far? Would you tell them they don’t deserve to be paid a reasonable wage for going to work?
I have kids who are millennials. I have friends who have kids that are millennials. I do not know a single one that is lazy or unmotivated. I do know they bear the burden of college loans at levels our generation could not comprehend. They bought into the system as they were told or encouraged to do. And the system does not care about them. So they complain a little. Just like older people complaining about the costs of healthcare. We’re all trying to figure out what it means. And the answer is simple: we have to fight back, and do it together.
Society is acting like a snotty trainer or coach who secretly despises his athletes. His own failings drive him to show contempt for those trying to better themselves any way they can. And rather than keep those opinions to himself, the bitterness and bile escape into shrill criticism. These same attitudes have flooded society as a whole, poisoning politics and social discourse. This anger seeks targets, not discussion. It refuses to acknowledge success where it occurs because that is too big a threat to the obvious failings of the people doing the s0-called coaching. The voices of these bad coaches can be heard railing through the waves of talk radio and TV news outlets that have ads to sell and profits to make. They know that anger and complaint sell best. So that’s what they market. And people buy it. And repeat it. And elect candidates who seem to use the same microphone like a bad coach screaming at his athletes to suck it up and come along with him, or you don’t get to play.
It’s almost like working with a coach who wants you to fail because to witness the success of others, especially those you consider inferior, would just be too hard to take. Do you see anyone in today’s politics who embodies those values? If so, you better watch out. A bad coach can really screw things up.