ALL EARS, COACH
If some players are above being coached, can they at least quit beating on their high chair with a wooden spoon, like toddlers do
Stardom and humility usually intersect the way parallel lines do. So it isn?t common to see a player these days gazing at his coach attentively, while humbly deferring and soaking up the instructions being dispensed. And that?s because the player is usually too big for the moment. When he has been the recipient of lavish adulation from throngs of starry-eyed fans, can we really be surprised when this kind of mass swooning ends up going to a player?s head ? Trust me, we?ve all been there. I mean, if you were treated in your day-to-day life as the belle of the ball wherever you went, how likely would you be to keep your ego in check ? Exactly.
In this age when players? stock portfolios matter more than coaches? admonitions, we aren?t used to seeing a player emasculate himself by actually stopping to listen to and then heed the advice he receives from graying men who are completely incapable of procuring the kind of hero worship from fans as the much hunkier men they are tasked with whipping into shape and whose job it is to get in their ear mid-game and remind them of all the things they are doing wrong. In any heated exchange between coach and player these days, we usually hold our breaths and wait for the aggrieved player to, in a fit of pique, lash out with an explosion of ?You?re not the boss of me !? and then likely pursue anti-bullying litigation. After all, humbling a pro athlete could be considered a hate crime in 2015. So when LeBron showed up his coach on the court or all-star Latrell Sprewell choked his coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice, it illustrates the broader point that modern-day athletes not only resent an overbearing coach but will also exercise less restraint than their forebears. Were it not for a harsh one-year suspension handed down to Spre by the league, I reckon that we?d?ve seen many more of these kinds of clashes.
Let?s face it: when we see shots of our athletic heroes walking out of the bus on the way to the stadium while wearing a sparkling, finely tailored three-piece suit with a pocket square and $1,000 loafers, we should all wise up to the unwelcome reality that ? though they might have once come from hard-scrabble beginnings, perhaps working on that Saskatchewan farm from dawn ?til dinner in their youths ? today, these guys are no longer the modest kids they once were. In all but a few cases, the spotlight of stardom has sullied their pureness over the years allowing their egos to precede them. And that?s the problem: when you?ve reached exalted status in any field, how likely are you to remain receptive to advice, especially that which comes from people deemed to be your peons or lesser lites ? Which brings me to salute the players who manage to keep their priorities in line while never letting the money go to their heads. They understand that what got them to the top was listening to wiser, older men telling them how to do the little things right.
Of course, with a newfound emphasis on strict allegiance to systems in some sports ? such as in hockey ? the coach?s role has in some measure actually taken on added importance as he now needs to whip out the whiteboard during timeouts with increased frequency to draw up plays aimed at directing his troops accordingly. Practices would also be used to work towards this goal. But, be that as it may, the elephant in the room is the obscene discrepancies in salary between the two parties which have created a completely unbalanced ? if not unnatural ? relationship between the players and their supposed superiors, the coaches.
We know that many years ago the coach had all the power to bench a player and virtually ruin him if he did not listen or perform. Obviously, today, the wealthy player with the plump contract has all the leverage realizing that the more vulnerable scapegoats are those at the bottom of the pay scale, especially on an underperforming team. That leaves the coach quite impotent when it comes to yelling at an insubordinate player, disciplining him, embarrassing him in public, opting not to play him, etc., etc? The star player may show strained deference as a situation may call on him to feign obedience to his financial lesser. But whenever tensions linger between the two sides that make a working relationship impossible, it behooves management to make a move. And which party is more likely to be shown the door when the organization is immeasurably more invested in the player ? It doesn?t take a crystal ball to answer that one.
So when you see players bearing in when the coach is talking and making an honest effort to absorb his counsel and guidance, such a visual resonates for its quaintness and we recognize it as a bit of a throwback situation. In some ways, it conjures up a Norman Rockwell litho. This is one of those rare times when the stud player is seen doing the unthinkable and checking his ego while briefly subordinating himself before the coach, the authority figure of yesteryear, as the coach gets to parlay his message and occasionally talk some sense into a player. What makes such an exchange potentially combustible is a prima donna player who deems any instructions an affront to the eminence he has earned.
If it saddens you that it has become so much harder for a coach to impart wisdom on his standout players, it is at least heartening to see younger, less experienced players listening to older teammates who may have once occupied a higher pedestal. Often, they?re brought in to provide ?character?. Theirs is meant to provide a different sort of voice from those of coaches ? the voice of a peer. It?s not just advice of a been-there- done-that variety, but more relevant been-there-still-doing-it words of wisdom. And while coaches might be more likely to provide technical or strategic input to correct problems or improve on poor play, it?s the advice of a peer that can often be more beneficial, especially when issues off the field of play arise. That?s when the younger player can lean on all that acquired wisdom the grizzled vet possesses. The veteran player should have a good deal of lessons to pass along to the na?e novice and can be counted on to offer valuable tips about wife swapping or how to beat a pee test.