Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A figurative 'kick in the ass'

Three times in the last 24 hours, I thought about the figurative 'ass kicking' that kids need from their parents or coaches.

Teenagers or young adults at home that may need some 'tough love' to encourage them to have a little more urgency in their lives; A coddled NBA basketball player (DeMarcus Cousins) who demands a trade from his current team; a number of high school basketball players who come back from a holiday vacation lacking some of the focus and urgency in practice needed to be successful when games resume.

All three instances made me think of the figurative or literal 'ass kicking' offered by one of the true icons in high school sports.

One of the best books I've ever read on coaching and teaching is 'The Miracle of St. Anthony' by Adrian Wojnarowski, which follows high school basketball's St. Anthony of Jersey City, NJ and their outstanding coach Bob Hurley for a season.

There is an excerpt where Hurley talks to his team about kids who probably needed someone to 'beat their ass' at some point in their life - figuratively or literally knocking them down and/or knocking some sense into them to avoid poor choices that were made by teenagers that had never felt the repercussions of making bad decisions.

"You are who you are," Hurley finally said. "These are the personality and character flaws of this entire group. When this season is done, we'll go back to the one simple thing: If this ends up anything short of a state championship, you're just going to be a bunch of people that all the adults will remember as the worst class in St. Anthony history.

"I have never been around more poorly individually motivated people. Ever. This reminds me of what juvenile probation used to look like on Thursdays up at the county building, where guys would just drag their ass in.

"What happened today was very simple: They got into (Derrick) Mercer's chest. And (Ahmad) Mosby's chest. And (Sean) McCurdy's chest. And what happened? Everybody went, 'Ohhhhh nooooo, one of those games.' They couldn't wait to come here and play us.

"And who are you? You're the willing victim. You stand there and you let people get in your face. My prayers are for your families. When you leave this place, the structure that it gives you, how many of you can handle this tough world? My blessings. I hope it works out for you all. But I have real strong reservations of nearly every one of you, because when you have obstacles in your path -- academic, social, athletic, emotional -- you will not have the mental toughness, the self-discipline, the passion, to overcome it."

"I have contempt," Hurley started again. "I have nothing but contempt for you all. You make me sick. You have no passion. You're not going to make it. You're such a sorry-ass bunch. I can say to you that the state championship is a month and a day away, and know what you can do?"

"Go back to your miserable existence."

"Go back to not caring."

"Go back to being cool."

"My frustration is this: I would just love to beat your ass. Because somebody should've beat your ass growing up. I got my ass beat a bunch of times. I came from a very good generation, and if I did something to embarrass my father, he kicked the (crap) out of me."

"And what did I learn? Well, I learned first that I didn't like getting the (crap) kicked out of me. And the second thing I learned as I got older, never would I want to do something to embarrass my dad. Because he was a hero of mine."

When Hurley talks about needing 'to beat your ass', he referenced the fact that he grew up in a time when kids were embarrassed to make mistakes - both from fear of disappointing those they look up to (in this case, his father), and in fear of getting punished (either physically or emotionally).

Too many times, our kids or players go through life without understanding that there are consequences for poor choices they make. Our jobs as coaches, teachers and parents are to teach our children those lessons early enough in life that it prevents them from making larger mistakes later on.

That's the true essence of sports and coaching - that you can draw from experiences on the playing field and apply them to life lessons that will help your players long after the finish their playing careers. The special coaches are able to do that - offer lessons that transcend sport - as well as a win a few games along the way.

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