During my long career coaching basketball at Lima Central Catholic, I was accused of sandbagging on more than one occasion. In fact, I have some close associates who claim that I raised the practice to an art form, worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Lou Holtz. For those of you unaware of this ploy, it is widely regarded as an attempt to beguile people by overestimating an opponent’s strength while minimizing your own team’s clout.
It is fruitless for me to deny the allegation because I have had too many of my former players make the claim. Matt Childers, an outstanding guard who played for me a number of years ago, reminded me of this recently. Matt played on some great basketball teams for LCC and remembers preparing for an opponent late in his senior year.
In typical fashion I had the scouting report organized on the board and brought the team into the locker room to prepare them for the game. I described our opponent as “one of the toughest on our schedule” and magnified the talents of their best players. I warned my guys that they would have their hands full just trying to stay up with this adversary. Matt recalls that he and his teammates were a little skeptical due to the fact that our opponent’s record at the time was 0-18. But that didn’t stop me from issuing dire warnings to anyone who would listen.
I may have been guilty of exaggerating but it was never in an effort to delude anyone. The fact of the matter is that I really believed those things when I said them. I know this may be hard to believe but the truth is that I never overlooked an opponent regardless of their record or talent level. Coaching is a tough business and there is a natural stress that can build up in the week leading up to games.
By the end of the week, I was often worried about every rival and concerned about missing even the slightest detail that might give them an edge. I wanted my teams to respect every adversary regardless of their record. I think I was also affected by the fact that I was at my best, both as a player and as a coach, when I was challenged. Perhaps the sandbagging was just an effort on my behalf to create a daunting challenge even if it only existed in my own mind.
Frankly, I believe a lot of people could benefit from sandbagging and not just in the realm of athletics. In today’s world, if there is one consistent theme I hear, it is people exaggerating the gifts and talents of their offspring. I’m guilty of this flaw myself. I decided that my two toddler grandsons, Brendan and Nolan, are geniuses after spending a weekend with them recently. And when they caught the tennis ball I tossed to them, I immediately assumed their athletic potential is also off the charts.
How many parents have begun to dream the impossible after watching their kids dominate a youth athletic game? I see and hear it all the time. Junior hits two homeruns in little league or scores at will in a youth AAU basketball game and we are ready for the college recruiters to start calling. And the Pro’s can’t be too far behind. Of course, the problem is that when we raise the level of expectation in our own minds we often raise the level of pressure on these young kids to perform. And that is never a good thing
The benefits that come with involvement in sports for young adults are really meant for the participant. The encroachment that parents make into that experience almost never enhances those rewards. In way too many instances, a parents intrusion in their son or daughter’s athletic participation takes the joy out of the game for the child. I have witnessed far too many athletes who have burned out on their sport before they even get to high school.
And after they get to high school, an increasing number of athletes are giving up on their sport because they are unwilling to play a lesser role than the one they have been led to believe they deserve. This dynamic is often at work when an upperclassman sees their place on the team usurped by a younger athlete, or they anticipate its inevitability. It takes a lot of maturity and poise to handle the reality of that humbling experience. Learning to deal with disappointment early in life is a valuable lesson. Athlete’s and their parents must understand that there are plenty of worthwhile rewards for every member of an athletic team, not just those playing leading roles. Being a role player does not diminish the experience and, in many cases, enhances it.
I have a suggestion for all of us. We need to back off our kids and let them enjoy the moment for what it really is.
Or even better yet, start sandbagging it!
Bob Seggerson: State: An exhausting weekend