I had the opportunity to watch the Lima Senior High-Elida showdown recently. As usual it was an entertaining match-up that came right down to the wire and the fans who packed the Elida Fieldhouse certainly got their money’s worth. Rivalries like this are often played at a high level because the competitors in the game are focused and playing at full tilt.
One of the most interesting angles in the game was the match-up between two of the premiere players in the area. For Lima Senior High, it was senior point guard Devon Allen, who came into the game as the leading scorer, rebounder and assist leader for the Spartans. His play has helped lead LSH to more wins than all of last season.
Allen can bury the three, take it to the rack, or penetrate and dish the ball to a teammate.
For Elida, it was Dakota Mathias, who came into the contest averaging nearly 30 points a game. His exploits are drawing a lot of attention and deservedly so. I was intrigued by how similar Mathias and Allen play the game. Both can shoot deep threes and must be guarded closely. But they are also very good off the dribble and will pull up for the mid-range jumper, a move that seems to be disappearing from high school basketball. And both are unselfish leaders who lead their teams in assists. I should add that another interesting similarity is they both have indoor basketball gyms attached to their homes. I suppose that helps account for the fact they are both pure shooters and have spent countless hours in the gym honing their skill.
In the game, Allen and Mathias traded blows for three quarters, but it was Dakota who owned the fourth quarter, on both ends of the court, while leading his team to a close win. The Spartans had a good look for a last second 3-point attempt, but narrowly missed the shot that would have put the game into overtime.
But for me, the most intriguing moments of the game took place on the Elida sideline.
At one point, Elida coach Denny Thompson called a timeout and, in the tight team huddle, began to chew on his star player, Mathias. Thompson was not happy with an aspect of Mathias’ play and let him know it, in no uncertain terms. Mathias never took his eyes off his coach and showed no signs of emotion. I could tell he was taking the criticism and processing the information. Mathias’ reaction to his coach’s assessment was refreshing. We are in an age when many are consumed about not hurting anyone’s feelings and too many promising young athletes misinterpret coaching criticism as disrespect. The scene between coach Thompson and Mathias demonstrated how the relationship between a coach and an athlete sometimes has to work.
When asked about the exchange, coach Thompson explained, “I did the same thing with Dakota that I would have done with any of my players.” Thompson also pointed out that athletes who expect to play in college need to be prepared for that kind of grilling. Anyone who has played athletics in college or coached players who competed at the next level will attest to that premise.
Dakota was brutally honest when I asked him about the confrontation. “Coach Thompson was right to get on me. I missed a couple of assignments on the court and he made that clear to me.” Mathias added, “I think it’s good for a team to see that no one is above criticism. It makes the team better.”
That’s pretty heady stuff for a young player and advice that athletes in every sport, at every level, need to hear.
When promising athletes are scouted by college coaches, they love to see those kind of confrontations because it gives them an insight into the athlete’s maturity level and whether or not the player is coachable. There are too many athletes competing today who feel any coaching criticism is a sign of disrespect and bristle at attempts to modify or motivate their game.
Writing about this subject brought me back to the last game I ever coached, the state title game in 2010. The game began with Orville’s leading scorer, Jake Bolyard, scoring the game’s first two baskets, an inside shot and a 3-pointer, to give his team a 5-0 lead. His defender, Desi Kirkman, lost him on both plays. Less than two minutes into the championship game I subbed for Desi and brought our leading scorer to the bench to sit next to me. I let Kirkman know exactly how I felt about his lapse of focus and I did it in a manner that was designed to capture his attention.
When I asked Kirkman recently if he remembered that moment he replied, “Vividly.” Kirkman recalls, “I wasn’t meeting your expectations, and I knew that I had to tighten it up.”
And that he did. With Kirkman hounding him, Bolyard would miss his next 12 attempts at 3-point shots and shoot 4 of 18 from the field, a factor that had a huge impact on our team winning the state championship that day.
Kirkman also provided some interesting comments on his college athletic experience. Kirkman has enjoyed a terrific football career at Wittenberg University and recently had his amazing touchdown run featured on an edition of ESPN’s top ten highlights. Kirkman remarked, “It’s completely different at the college level and getting chewed out is something that you have to deal with quite a bit. Some kids are mature and can handle it and some can’t and that often separates those who play from those who don’t.”
The lesson here for young athletes is pretty simple: Don’t take a coach’s critique personally. Hear it, process the information and move on.
(Bob Seggerson can be reached by email to email@example.com)