“There’s something about the summer that makes me moody.”
- Lyrics by Best Coast in the song Summer Mood
For many of us the summer is a time of rest, relaxation, and consternation as we wonder where the athletes are. If you’re anything like me, you’ve encountered some frustration with lightly attended open gyms, fluctuating scrimmage rosters, and the wholesale disappearance of veteran players.
The summer is here, yet I’m wondering where it’s gone.
As off-season opportunities slip through our grasp, a familiar refrain plays in my head.
We’re falling behind.
We just don’t care.
Basketball’s not that important to us.
The voice of Logan Roy echoes between my ears, “I f*cking love you, but you are not serious people.”
And so it continues, my thoughts oscillating between grave disappointment and tacit understanding.
In some cases, players have communicated about their summer availability, and in most of those cases I have adjusted my expectations accordingly. Some kids are playing other sports, some are at AAU. Others are working summer jobs, and most want to hangout with their friends.
While I might chafe at some of their reasons, at least they made an effort to communicate their intentions, and for that I commend them. As for the others, Michael Scott famously said it best, “It’s the not knowing, that’s what’s killing me.”
In a moment of reflection at the breakfast table, I wondered, “Is this what it feels like when a player doesn’t understand why they’re not playing?” Follow me here.
The player who doesn’t come to an off-season workout is communicating with their feet that something else is more important. Without any further explanation, I tell myself a story that is rarely correct.
I remember years ago seeing a team captain wander into her first open gym after missing weeks of workouts during the summer. I was ready to chastise her for a lack of commitment, “It’s hard to lead when you’re not here.” However, before I launched into my well-rehearsed tirade, I asked how things were going.
She mentioned how tired she was from working two jobs and running cross country at night. She said she missed basketball and her teammates, but her schedule too often conflicted with ours. As I listened, my anger was quickly replaced with shame at the speech I nearly delivered. It wasn’t that she didn’t care - she had other obligations - but in the absence of an explanation I created a story in my head that wasn’t favorable to her, and had little basis in reality.
You think a player has ever made up a story about why they’re not playing while they’re sitting on the bench? It happens all the time.
When players communicate with me in advance, it allows me to adjust my expectations. I might not agree that going to the beach is what’s best for them when they aspire to start next season, but at least I understand where they’re coming from. That’s easier for me to deal with (and explain to others). The same is probably true for players. It’s not not knowing, that’s what kills them.
How Much Does It REALLY Matter?
In 2015, the Springville Orioles made a Cinderella run to the state championship game where we lost on a buzzer-beater. Our starting post was a freshman who averaged just under 10 points per game. She was good, but not great.
Immediately after the season, this same player had reconstruction surgery to correct a cleft palate. The procedure involved breaking her jaw and fusing it back together. She missed the last three months of school with her jaw wired shut, and was restricted from any physical activity for six months. Needless to say, she missed the entire off-season.
The following year, despite not having attended a single open gym, or playing in a single summer scrimmage, this player became the Class 1A Player of the Year and led us to our first state championship.
While it’s easy to lament a lack of off-season participation, we don’t really know exactly how significant these workouts are for a player’s development. Some may see significant improvement as a result of their off-season dedication. Others might benefit more from taking a break before they burn out, and heaven forbid, some just need time to be kids.
Our rush to judgment reminds me of the story of the Zen Master and the little boy.
A boy’s father bought him a horse for his fourteenth birthday and everyone in the village said, “Isn’t that wonderful, the boy got a horse?”
The Zen Master said, We’ll see.
A couple of years later the boy fell from his horse, badly breaking his leg and everyone in the village said, “How awful, he won’t be able to walk properly.”
The Zen Master said, We’ll see.
Then, a war broke out and all the young men had to go and fight, but this young man couldn’t because his leg was still messed up, and everyone said, “How wonderful!”
And the Zen Master said, We’ll see.
At the end of the day, we can use our summer schedules to help players learn to communicate. We can reflect on how our own lack of communication might frustrate others, and perhaps we can challenge ourselves to accept things as they are, not as we wish them to be.
Is it the end of the world if players miss our off-season workouts? All I can say is…
Food for thought.
- Nate Sanderson
Join Our Weekly Newsletter
The most practical insights on leadership and culture...
- 3 Minute Weekly Tools & Tips
- Notes to the Coaching Culture Podcast
- FREE Chapter of The Culture System
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.