Tod Mattox | Head coach at The Bishop's School
Given the recent college admissions scandal, the term “entitlement” has become a favorite for the many critics looking for a simple explanation. Several of my volleyball coaching friends have joined the feeding frenzy.
The “I told you so” response goes something like this: “With all those helicopter parents trying to clear a cozy path for all those entitled kids, what did you expect?” Coaches will then regale their brethren with favorite “nightmare parent” tales, and then a spirited competition begins. The winner will be the coach who crafts the funniest story about the craziest parent.
If we closely examine the state of youth volleyball, we should take a look at ourselves. Coaches, as well as school and club administrators, are largely to blame for creating this entitlement culture.
On a recent trip, I read George Dohrmann’s 2010 book Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between our own sport and this tawdry tale of AAU basketball, shoe company money, and young basketball players.
Here are examples of the gasoline we have thrown on the entitlement campfire:
- We care where a 6th grader is going to high school.
- We care where a 6th grader is playing club volleyball.
- We create a system that doesn’t value the health of the players. Instead, it values competing and winning while minimizing the value of rest and recovery.
- We spend ungodly amounts of money traveling, yet our tunnel vision rarely allows us to venture beyond the volleyball court to take advantage of the educational benefits.
- We care a lot about gold medals for very young players.
- We participate in tournaments on school days, sending the message that the competition is far more important than class.
- We question the commitment of young players who play another sport or who participate in artistic/academic competitions.
- We hire coaches because of their connections to the most talented players.
- We recruit and coddle talented players and their parents.
- We dress up our young players in expensive gear and put their names on the back of their jerseys.
- We provide special benefits (workouts, more coaches, etc.) for our most talented players.
- We love private lessons.
- We market our clubs as a means to provide college scholarships.
- We participate in ranking young players.
This is the system we have created, so why are we surprised that talented players and their parents feel entitled? Maybe we should be most surprised when someone survives our system and does not act entitled.
Some suggest ending this madness by closing Pandora’s box and taking us back to “the good old days.” Of course, that isn’t going to happen, and even if it could, the “good old days” probably weren’t as good as the old-timers remember. Perhaps it was a time of more abusive coaching and limited opportunities for young girls to play and coach.
No, going back in time is neither possible nor desirable. What is possible is to stop pointing fingers, to take responsibility for our role in the current youth sports environment, and to come together as adults to provide the healthy educational experience that our kids deserve.
Tod Mattox is the head coach of the girls’ varsity volleyball team at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California, and the associate director at Starlings Volleyball Clubs, USA.