Entitlement.

It’s a popular word to describe the newest generation of players and their parents. National Championship Coach Geno Auriemma believes players are more entitled than ever. Just listen to to his post-game press conference from back in 2017:

I know the majority of coaches today would agree. Except as we are nodding, we seem to miss the part when Geno talks about the boundaries he sets with his players. He doesn’t just talk to them about body language; he holds them accountable for the standards he has set. As he says, “I would rather lose than watch kids play the way some kids are playing these days. […] If someone is not engaged on the bench, they will not get in the game… ever!”

We as coaches seem most bothered by the entitlement of athletes, but it’s we as coaches who are largely responsible for their growing sense of entitlement. When we continue to recruit and give playing time to the selfish and entitled athlete, we breed more entitlement. We send a message to the players that the team needs them more than they need the team.

An increasing number of players feel they are entitled to minutes, the freedom to “play their game”, for coaches to give them personal training, for managers to do their laundry, and for janitors to pick up their trash. They are entitled to new uniforms every season, highlight films, multiple pairs of shoes, and team gear that you wouldn’t have even seen on a professional team 10 years ago.

Not every player is like this, but the players who are can become a cancer to the team and the program.

The solution is very simple, but it is often a very hard road to achieve it.

Boundaries

“Practicing with the team is a privilege, not a right. In order to have that privilege, people need to meet certain standards of timeliness, effort, attitude, and communication. Enforcing those healthy boundaries allows coaches to focus on essential pieces of growth and development—instead of putting out fires—and it creates a culture where the players have the power to choose. This not only elicits the best results, but it gets to the mission of equipping people for life.”

 —Jamie Gilbert, The Principle Circle

My mentor Jamie Gilbert taught me the power of boundaries in our very first conversation.  The principles and strategies behind establishing and enforcing boundaries helped me improve my relationships with my players, challenge them to grow, and maintain the standards we had set in our program. Players started to learn they were not entitled to anything, but they had to earn everything! Players also started to understand that being part of a team was a privilege, and when they failed to live up to the expectations and standards of the program, they would lose that privilege.

Boundaries help everyone establish expectations for one another and for the good of the team. Boundaries help foster positive relationships and growth. Boundaries help keep their problems from becoming your problems.

Here are three simple steps to use boundaries to transform your program.

Step 1: Establish Standards

After years of making rules for our team, I tried a different approach some years ago. We had the players set their own expectations and standards for their season. These standards and expectations covered everything from their on-the-court attitude and effort to all the ways we would represent the program and ourselves off-the-court.

Step 2: Set Consequences

The players and coaches discussed appropriate consequences. We let them know we wouldn’t use running or other conditioning as a consequence moving forward. Conditioning is something that is good for players, and if we kept using it as punishment, it would send the wrong message. Instead, if we wanted them to view their role on the team as a privilege, then as coaches, we had to treat it that way.

For example, if you are late to practice, you must sit out for additional time, or you will not practice at all. If you leave a mess in the locker room, you will not get to have a locker anymore. If you are giving poor effort in practice, you must sit out a drill, or you will go home. If you do not maintain your grades, you will not practice or play.

Step 3: Enforce the Boundaries

Continue to communicate the boundaries respectfully. When a player fails to meet the standards or expectations repeatedly, enforce the consequences by taking away the privilege. Now, this is the hard part:

  • What if it is the first practice of the season, and you really need to get a lot accomplished?
  • What if you are a really bad team that struggles to win, and without this one player, you are going to find it impossible in the next game?
  • What if you have a really big game coming up?

What if, what if, what if…

There are a lot of situations in which we will want to bend or break the boundaries, and we feel we have no choice. But we always have a choice.

You Have a Choice

It is hard to bench one of your most talented players and lose the game by 40-60 points. It is hard to sit two kids out of practice because doing so brings your number of players down and ruins your practice plan. It is hard to not allow a kid to wear his team gear because he failed to put in the time and effort for the team fundraiser.

But you get what you tolerate. If we choose to allow a player who does not respect the boundaries to practice, travel, dress out, play in the game, start in the game, receive team gear, or any other privilege, then we must choose to accept that we are saying the standards do not apply to them.

When we fail to hold them accountable, our message quickly becomes that the team needs them more than the team needs them to live up to the standards and expectations that they have laid out to reach their fullest potential!

Think of any problem you have with a player. You do not have control over their actions. You are not responsible for them. But you do have a responsibility to them.

So, put first things first and teach them that you truly care about them more as a person than as a basketball player. Let them know the team would love to have them, but if they choose to not meet the standards they set, then they are choosing to not be a part of the team. And the power is in communicating these consequences not with anger, but with love.

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