Thoughts on the High School Basketball Entitlement Culture

 

Last week over at ESPN.com, Dave Telep wrote a great piece regarding what he has seen in what has become the entitlement culture surrounding elite high school basketball. While he did give some great tips in how some values can be instilled in players which can help alleviate this problem in the future, there was not enough discussion on what the actual issues are from which this problem stems.

The issue of entitlement is not limited to high school basketball, but it where a lot of it starts. You see it extend to the college level. There are a lot of good college coaches who avoid these players altogether, or they have a plan in place to get the player to focus on the right things. I have been lucky enough to get to talk to players who have finished their college careers who felt entitled early on, but came to learn what really is important.

The issues which can lead to entitlement are not meant to cover everything and everyone. There are a lot of good players who are surrounded by solid support systems who know how to help guide the player to make the right decisions.

 

What are AAU Basketball and Camps Really About?

The focus of the spring and summer has continually slipped year after year. We are now looking at kids, coaches, and teams focused on winning and putting up numbers. I am not saying winning isn’t important; being able to say you won something is an achievement and something to be proud of.

Winning shouldn’t be the focus during these months. The focus should be on doing everything you can to become a better player. Look back after the high school season ends and evaluate your game. Now formulate some areas to build or add to your game. Use these months to do that. It isn’t going to be a quick process and many will revert right back to what they know, which defeats the purpose.

So where does entitlement fit in? Kids are being bombarded on all sides by people who take on the “winning and stats” mindset. These are still kids and their views on many areas are still being shaped. Getting more attention because they won a tournament or put up big numbers doesn’t help them. Put the focus on what they did well that will help them reach the end goal of what they want out of basketball.

The camp issue is different, yet very similar. Many kids and parents have been led to believe that these camps have an actual impact on the player’s future. There is no such thing as a “must attend” camp and there is no record of a player not taking his talent his as as he could because he didn’t attend certain camps. Camps are a good social opportunity and a chance to compete, but the actual skill impact can be very limited, and often overstated.  People running them will often feed to the entitlement issues, all with their own agendas.

 

The Rankings Culture

Telep alluded to this in his article, and even shouldered some of the blame for the effect it has had on kids. It has gotten into kids’ heads that these mean something. They don't.

It’s important to remember that these rankings are supposed to be reflective of what you as a player has done up to a certain point. Put the focus on where you are going, not where you have been.  Even if you are considered one of the best players in your class, there is a lot you can be doing to get better.

This is not an issue that will go away, so it’s best to instill into kids early what these rankings actually mean. Feel some sense of satisfaction with what you achieved, and then forget about it. When you get to the college level, it isn’t going to mean anything, and if you are lucky enough to get to the professional level, it will mean even less. 

It’s a similar case when dealing with scouting reports or comments about a player’s game. Whether positive or negative, there are some who are qualified to make these assessments, but a lot smaller amount then the number of people that actually do it.  It is important for players to find a way to tune this out, and not let them feel that it is accurate. They should know who to trust about the state of their game.

 

(Over)Exposure

How are kids to avoid a sense of entitlement when every move they make is being covered in some way? If you are one of the better players in your class, there could be countless number of “recruiting” websites wanting all the information they can get on you. That’s part of the life of a good basketball player and you can’t shut yourself off from it. Where it starts to go wrong is when the players, families, and coaches feed into it, and it’s hard for the player to ignore it.

The reality is these sites have no impact on the player’s future. Refusal to cater to them is not going to harm the player. Young high school kids don’t need to give interviews, and if they are going to, they need to learn more about it first. Learning how to answer interview questions is a skill, one if developed correctly will pay off big in the long-term.

 

The Role of the Parents and Coaches

One parent of a player raised to me that a lot of the entitlement issues raised by Telep’s article could be remedied with proper parenting, and in a way that’s very true. Just because your child is a potential basketball star, that doesn’t mean they are still not your child, first and foremost. Don’t be afraid to treat them any differently than you would if they weren’t an athlete, including disciplining them.

This isn’t always going to be possible. We all know of stories of homes with lack of parental figures, and one of the great things about basketball is that these kids can find a family if surrounded by the right people. The issue also arises when there are parents present, but they don’t know how to act like parents when needed.

One further issue involved here, and probably another area that needs its own post – What do you do when the parents (or coaches, trainers, etc.) start to feel entitled as well? The positive influence from these people needs to be a steady influence.  

 

This is not meant to be an indictment of the high school game, or a full list of what ails it. There is a whole sub-culture to the entitlement culture dealing with people whose sole goal is to attach themselves to elite players and their families.

It is an opportunity to continue the discussion which Telep started. Entitlement issues can be tied into a lot of the many other issues affecting high school basketball, and that's when it becomes magnified, and at times, overstated.

Many are going to disagree with some or all of what I wrote and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. The goal is to create the right environment for the players where they can thrive. Part of that is showing them the right way of handling themselves, not just now, but in the future as well. Along with that is an opportunity to take some of the pressure off the families involved because they don’t know what to believe, or they led to believe they have to handle things a certain way because they were misled.

I’m not naïve enough to believe this will have any real impact, but I hope at least one person who reads this takes a minute to assess the situations they find themselves in. These issues will come up again at subsequent levels, so it is important to start to get as much of a handle on it now as possible.

 

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