Interesting article. Another
for Urban Meyer and a
for Bill Callahan - jeez, what a surprise.
New kind of motivation required for today's student-athletes
Oct. 23, 2007
By Spencer Tillman
When you see a defensive collapse like Nebraska's, despite the team's quality players and a high-profile coach, the reasons are far more than play calling and execution.
Teams are up and down for a variety of reasons. Key players are lost. There is more parity because everyone is dealing with the same number of scholarships (85).
But this Huskers team, especially on defense, is different. I see a team with no passion and drive, with players acting like they're meandering through a San Francisco fog. All of the symptoms of disconnect between coaches and players are there. Remember the famous line in Cool Hand Luke: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."
Bill Callahan and his charges aren't dealing with your average group of adolescents. The Big Red of the Big 12 North division, and every other university team, are members of a special breed: Generation Y.
You can trace part of this generation's outlook to their cultural upbringing. They've seen parents or relatives laid off by employers whom they previously trusted. They see political corruption and even religious icons fall from grace.
Minority young men are the most affected by their culture. Inner cities are much the same wherever you go -- poverty, single-parent homes and a climate of intimidation.
I know firsthand today's youth are coming from another point of view. Each week, Houston-area high school players are spotlighted at the television station where I do some work. They tell me flat out that they're not nearly as interested in glitzy college athletic facilities as most think they are. They just want to play.
The way I see it, reaching this particular brand of youth requires personal engagement. I've played under coaches that ruled with an iron hand and it was my way or the highway, brother. That works with kids who grew up in a highly structured way with a promise of, shall we say, punishment when rules were ignored.
Applying psychology and reason are popular tools to motivate today's players. But they're why some of these cerebral geniuses such as Charlie Weis and Callahan are faltering, and the Urban Meyers of the college coaching world are thriving.
Why? Coaches like Meyer are tough to be sure, but they also work hard at establishing personal relationships with the individual team members. All recruits meet Meyer's family. Each week there's Family Day, when coaches' children do some fun time with the players.
Mike Muetzel, an author and anthropologist, grew up in football-crazed Pittsburgh, and as he puts it, is a "sports junkie." As a successful lacrosse coach he finds parallels and lessons between business and athletics. Coaches need to know that players no longer come to a program with blind trust in authority figureheads.
In one of his books about a similar, yet older age stratum, Generation X, Muetzel quotes coach Bobby Bowden: "Ten years ago if you told a kid to run through a wall, he ran through a wall. Today, they ask why."
The most effective coaches establish a cause, a purpose and a mission. We aren't building walls. We're building cathedrals. The teams I played on at San Francisco were the epitome of dedication and commitment. If we failed, then we let our team down.
John Blake, an associate head coach for Butch Davis' North Carolina Tar Heels, and one of America's elite recruiters, offered the following: "When my players make a mistake or error in assignment, they're not down because they made an error; they're more disappointed because they feel they've let me down."
Experts say this sort of familial connection yields the most productive, long-term results. Few coaches, however, have tapped into this shift in culture and adjusted their coaching strategies accordingly. Blake continues, "If I'm ahead of any curve, so be it. For me, it's a core value; I cannot operate any other way."
Today's coaching also requires skills often associated with the business world, namely collecting the opinions of one's players, the people who work for you. Players aren't drones who jump through hoops. Gen-Y players often need to know how they're doing. You need to ask them how they feel about their own development.
As I told one young man recently, never be ashamed to ask for advice and counsel. Some of you who work in large corporations know exactly what this means. The contract between employer and employees is pragmatic at best. The same is true for student-athletes at major colleges. There are no real promises on either side. That four-year "full ride" in reality is a series of one-year, renewable contracts.
We have an abundance of talented young men -- bigger, faster, smarter -- who want to play the game, not ride a bench. That's why, as I said, today's players are drawn to teams where they can play, to contribute.
Why go to USC and sit it out when you can go to a second-tier school and make your mark? Ultimately, a coach's challenge is to use this talent to its maximum advantage. That means patterning schemes to fit players.
But more than any time in the game, it means connecting with your players, motivating them and building a team. Gen Y to the rescue.