I Hate BanquetsErick Streelman
Our culture loves awards. But I hate banquets. I hate awards. I hate all-conference voting. I hate newspaper articles. I hate stats.
Maybe it’s just this time of year as fall sports are winding down and people are starting to get recognized (or not recognized) for their on-field achievements. Or, maybe I have just reached my yearly tipping point, where I get so fed up with the modern culture surrounding high school athletics that I truly comprehend doing something else for a living.
I think I am like most of you. I got into coaching (and subsequently athletic administration) because of what sports did for me. I do this because of the coaches that inspired me, both positively and negatively. I do this because my greatest friends to this day are guys I played ball with. I do this because team sports were, without a doubt, the most fun I ever had in my life. I do this because so many coaches and parents and volunteers gave so much time and so much heart in order to make my experience unforgettable. How can I not give back?
I do this because I believe that kids need to learn to compete and sacrifice and persevere and work together as a team. Those are the skills they will need if they are going to have an impact on this world. Those are the skills they will need to be great employees, husbands, and fathers. There is no better laboratory in which to test, experiment, and grow social intelligence and interpersonal skills than the field, the court, or the locker room.
And, let’s not forget the #1 reason we all do this…It’s supposed to be fun!!!
So, without getting too specific…here was my weekend.
It started on Thursday, when the all-conference teams were released. Friday morning was spent responding to 3 parent emails that all seemed to know the exact motivation of every single coach that was involved in the voting process. Later that morning, a coach walked into my office and showed me a profanity-laden text message from a parent that was upset about the lack of recognition his kid received in the newspaper. Saturday, I was sitting at an event and was cornered by a parent who had obviously been saving up at least a year of frustration regarding the lack of recognition of her kid’s sport compared to the other sports on campus. If I had to summarize the major talking points of her 10 minute venting session, I believe the term “Blatantly Discriminatory” would be a good start. Later that afternoon, one of my coaches had to send a parent back to the bleachers after she decided that the pregame warmup was a good time to discuss her kid’s playing time.
How did we get here? Really? Is this what high school sports have become?
Now, I learned early in my coaching career that you cannot argue rationally with irrationality. You can’t use logic to sway the illogical. Usually, the best response is to just listen and remain calm because any argument will simply escalate the situation.
But, because I assume that, if you are reading this, you have a rational understanding of the true place of sport, here is logical response:
The game itself is reward enough. If there was no one in the stands and no one in the press box, we would still play this game. If there was no newspaper, and no HUDL, and no Maxpreps, we would still play this game. If there were no trophies, no all-conference teams, and no post season season banquets, we would still play this game. If there were no 40 times, no combines, no recruiting services, and no college scholarships, we would still play this game.
The game itself is reward enough. The love of your teammates is enough. The respect of your coaches is enough. Giving your best is enough. The intrinsic value of competition is enough. The knowledge that you have overcome is enough. The brotherhood is enough. The memories are enough. The fact that this is the most fun that you will ever have is enough.
We are fighting a battle against our culture
The Culture of Me
I’ve talked about this before, so I am stealing from some of my previous words. Simply put, The Culture of Me is a mindset that focuses on the role of the individual. The ultimate definition of good is my happiness and my contentment. If I am not happy, If my needs are not met, if I am faced with struggles, then the situation must be altered to satisfy me, please me, help me.
This mindset at best ignores or dismisses other people and at worst completely undermines or discredits them unless, of course, others can be used for my benefit. As soon as people become a threat or a challenge, they are viewed as inherently evil. After all, they are standing in the way of my goals and my happiness. How could they be anything other than Satan incarnate?
In a way this is a genetically engineered child of the American Dream. Our forefathers founded a nation based on freedom, individual choice, and personal liberty. Over the years, much to the credit of Hollywood and the advertising industry, those American values have morphed into something much uglier than intended. If we were to rewrite the Declaration of Independence today it would probably read, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Getting What I Want, Having My Voice Heard, and Achieving My Dream.”
Ok, that’s a little tongue and cheek, but there is actually something to this. People’s worldview is screwed up. It’s all about me, what I can do, how I can achieve my goals, and damn everyone that gets in my way.
This worldview is encouraged by a high school culture that glorifies SAT scores, GPA, college choice, and career path. Our high schools have become, in the minds of many, a vehicle for personal glory, recognition, and praise.
As an athletic director I deal with parents almost every day. I would say, that when you really break it down 80% of the complaints I receive fall into one of the following two categories:
1) My son or daughter isn’t playing enough
2) My son or daughter isn’t getting enough recognition
Think about that. This is what we talk to parents about. Johnny’s stats weren’t right in the paper. Jack should be the starting shortstop, because he hits way better than Jimmy in summer ball. The only reason Michelle is starting over my daughter is because the coach likes her better. Mary isn’t going to play volleyball next year because she doesn’t want to sit on the bench. The media guide doesn’t list all of Jason’s accolades, he was first team all conference the last two years.
What in the world is wrong with us?
I cannot remember a meeting with a parent where the primary focus was the team. Let me say that again… In TEAM sports, I cannot remember a parent meeting where the TEAM was the primary focus.
Like I said, this is a societal problem.
We Are The Solution
All that being said, I know will wake up tomorrow with a renewed sense of hope in what we are trying to do. I will go to work and keep fighting the good fight. I will keep battling the culture and remain hopeful that we are making a difference.
The reason for this hope is simple…we can still reach these kids. They are on still the verge of discovery. They are still malleable. They are still formable.
So, despite the views, biases, and misguided priorities of their parents and despite the battle that we are fighting against seemingly every other cultural voice, we can still make a difference. We can still glorify we over me. We can still preach team first. We can still tout the virtues of humility and self-sacrifice. We can still downplay the importance of individual achievement. We can still teach our leaders how to serve.
Eventually, this generation will decide how it will lead. And, while it may seem like a losing battle, our kids need to hear a different message. They need to see a different example. They need to have a different experience. They need to learn that nothing is more fun, more rewarding, and more challenging then being part of a real team; where you treat others better than yourself, sacrifice for your brother, and all pull in the same direction to achieve a goal; where it’s not about me, my glory, my satisfaction, and my recognition. That’s the message that will give them a chance to live counter-culturally. And, it is the chance to play a humble role in the delivery of that message that will give me hope when I go to work tomorrow.
Thanks for reading guys, I really appreciate it. Have a great week.