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Small schools are notorious for peaks and valleys as its nearly impossible to maintain high levels of success without some decline or a “rebuild”. A rouge Facebook post really got me thinking about why some programs continue to rebuild and reload and why some programs go from multiple successful years in a row to struggling to see double digit wins for years at a time. And why are some programs are always good or bad. After causing a major blowup in one particular community, I genuinely believe it is less about coaching and naturally gifted athletes and more about mentality, attitude, and culture within a program and even in the community. Despite just being 25 years old and not that long removed from my days as a player I am developing what is becoming a very old school philosophy. Work ethic and competing will take you further than just natural God given talent.
Before I get into my thoughts, I want to preface everything by saying this is not every community, player, or parent but this is what as a writer who has seen over 68 teams and communities already this year thinks what separates the good from average and the great from good. I am not criticizing any particular community or kid. This is what has been on my mind over this week and wish I would have realized sooner.
In a world of everyone wanting to be PC and not hurting feelings, we may be failing the development of the kid’s competitive mentality. The late great Lakers Legend Kobe Bryant was notorious for his “Mamba Mentality” of aggressively and egregiously outworking his competition to the point of insanity. While I don’t think it is healthy for the wellbeing of every kid to train like Kobe was so famous for but for those who want to be better than good and dare, I say great. That is what it takes. That is why local legends such as Isaac Haney, Kael Combs, Ahlante Askew, Nick Burri, and even Aminu Mohammed are household names in SWMO. Even with the natural God given talent and athleticism that Aminu had and his dominance, every time I talked to him after a big game, he was never content. He would reply “Thank you but there’s still work to do. I need to get back into the gym.” DMGB (Doesn’t Matter Get Better) has become the rallying cry for those who do want to go from good to great and great to legendary. Small school Junior High and High School athletics are unique in a sense because the coach and management does not get to choose who walks through the doors the first day of practice. Even youth teams are mostly picked out of friend groups or tryouts. Then in college and professional sports, the coach or front office is responsible for assembling their teams the way they want. High school its you get what you get and you have to work for everything. The DMGB and Mamba mentality of hard work to get where you want to be is more evident at this level than any other.
Most kids these days lack that drive to go beyond what is expected and I think it is the attitude of contentment and lack of accountable from the community, parents, and the players. Nixa assistant coach and trainer Stanley Jacocks Jr said in a documentary I have been watching
“most people count practice as getting your work in for the day. They say we had practice & team shootaround. so, you had a TEAM practice and a TEAM shootaround that are required. Working on your own isn’t required so you see the separation with the guys who put in their own work. “If you want to get better, quit thinking just doing team drills and team practices will be enough, it’s not. Look at Kael.”
This is what it takes to reach that next level. The Blue and Gold tournament is a great opportunity for small schools to compete with the big dogs of SWMO and it’s a great time to test your culture and mentality and that is a beautiful thing. In a vacuum, you would expect the likes of Nixa, Bolivar, Ozark, Republic, etc. to run away with titles every year based on the God given talent in those halls compared to the smaller schools like Fair Grove, Sparta, Strafford, Ash Grove, Clever, Crane, and Spokane. But it is not a matter of the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog. Just ask Sparta and Fair Grove. The Eagles held a lead on the buzzsaw that is Nixa midway through the third quarter. Class 3 Sparta took on and defeated both Class 6 Ozark and Class 5 and top seed Bolivar. Both teams stood out with their ability to show up, fight hard, compete, and see what happens.
In my two years of coaching youth baseball, I preached five basic principals of what I expected from my kids.
1) Work Hard. It is my job to turn you into the best ball player I can do. As a coach I will give you my 100% effort and I expect the same in return.
2) Compete. We as coaches, parents, players put in way too much time, effort, and money into sports and into the season than for you to come out and not try your hardest to win.
3) Have a good attitude. Attitude is everything. If you are defeated before the game starts, you cant compete and you will not work hard. You will also not be able do my final two principals and expectations.
4) Get better. I am a firm believer that if you work hard, compete, and have a good attitude, you have no choice but to get better. Ultimately this is the goal of any season. You want to steadily improve so that you are playing your best ball come postseason time.
5) Have Fun. Ultimately sports is a game and shouldn’t be taken as life and death. High school basketball was one of the best experiences of my life and I never was a star. Actually, I only started one varsity game ever on my senior night. I was never in a game that was less than 10 points but it was the work and relationships I forged that made it the two best years of my life. I had fun and enjoyed every second of it and ultimately worked hard, competed, had the right attitude, and got better.
I would tell my kids that you cant control a bad call or if the other team is more athletic or gifted than you but you can always control attitude and effort.
These are the standards we should hold every athlete and team to. As a small school guy, I am tired of seeing teams give up against the traditional powers for no reason than we are X and they are Y. It is even more disappointing with parents and the community condoning the half effort because “we aren’t supposed to compete with them…. I mean look at them and look at us.” There is no shame in defeat if you have done everything right in terms of attitude and effort. Remember the only two things you can control. It doesn’t matter if you are a Sparta taking on the 2018 Golden State Warriors, go out there and compete and play hard. This mindset from the coaches, team, Parents and community is what separates the dynasties from everyone looking up to them.