Your “Grind” is Ruining the Game – An Open Letter to ‘Generation Z’ Athletes

Dear Athletes of Generation Z:

First, let me preface this letter by saying it doesn’t apply to all of today’s young athletes. But, I’d say it does apply to many. If you feel that this doesn’t apply to you, read it anyway, share the message, and continue to lead by example.

Also, let me make one thing clear before I dive in: I get today’s young athlete. I am not some old, has-been, washed-up coach. I am a young strength coach who is closer to the age he walked at high school graduation than he is to his 30th birthday. And, I am even further from being the “Get off my lawn!” old man who can’t stand anything “today’s scoundrels” are doing with their flingin’ flangin’ rap music

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No, I understand today’s young athlete. I can identify with having hopelessly grand dreams of playing professional sports, no matter how small, weak, or scrawny I may have been. I vividly remember sacrificing many things for “the love of the game” – such as a social life, and even my grades, which was a very bad choice. I get what you’re saying when you Hashtag “Goals” for a picture of an exotic gold-plated sports car, and for a life that involves going to work on a sports field every day. I get you.

So, when I tell you what I am about to tell you, just remember that I am not without understanding of your perspective. That being said…

Your “GRIND” is killing the high school game.

What game, you ask? ALL of the games. Any of them; basketball, baseball, football, soccer… Any sport you can play in high school, you are ruining. Let me explain:

Are You Chasing Your Dreams, or Running From Adversity?

Every kid your age, or who has ever been your age, has had a dream, whether they openly shared it on Twitter and Instagram or not. So, the difference between you, the current young and entitled athlete, and those in the past is not the dream itself, nor is it the work that goes into pursuing goals and dreams. The difference is in your perception of what it takes to make your dream a reality.

When you think of this process, you think of catchy slogans that fit in 140 characters or less #NoGrindNoGlory. You think playing time, not practice time. You think “Prime” and “Elite”  especially when it comes to travel ball teams – not development and coachability. You think that “transfer”, “big rings”, and “nice things” are more closely synonymous than persistenceadversity, camaraderie, and winning-together. You think “I deserve it”, not  “I earned it”.

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The second adversity strikes on the gridiron, field, or court you generally bail. Not getting enough playing time? You and your parents will, in the case of travel or club ball, take your money elsewhere. Not surrounded with enough talent on the field, while all of the studs are at the cross-town school, you find a means to transfer. Teachers “failing you” for “no reason”, you beg your parents to call the school and order a class change. High school coach isn’t knocking down enough doors for you like your travel ball coach (that you’re paying) is, you threaten to quit the high school team altogether to “focus on grades, training, and travel-ball.”

Never mind the hardship and the lessons that can be learned from sticking it out one time. Forget the growth as a person or a team that comes as a byproduct of resistance and struggle. And, certainly don’t consider the rippling ramifications you’re having on those around you (i.e. the strain on your folks, what you’re taking away from your team, and what your coach is going through). Instead, take the path of least resistance; those “obstacles” are only getting in between you and your dreams. They’re slowing your roll, and for that reason it’s time to “Officially” announce on social media that you’ve decided to transfer high schools, and how you can’t wait to start your grind there.

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It’s this, though – your grind – that is killing the game, and ultimately it is only hurting you in the long run. You may see your commitment to a new high school or travel team as the fast-track to a college commitment, but in reality it is only exposing an uncommitted, self-serving attitude. You believe that this grind is chasing your dreams, but in reality you’re just running away from adversity.

#HarshBro #GotHeem

In all seriousness though, this is intended to be a wake-up call for today’s youth athlete movement. An awakening to the fact that, if this continues down the same path, high school sports will fizzle into irrelevance and utter oblivion (a la American Legion Baseball). And, for what? So that the majority of you high school athletes can spend more [of your parents’] money on “exposure”, learn less life-long lessons, contribute to the disbandment of high school athletics, and still not play collegiate sports? (Since, no matter who you are, the odds and probabilities are still slanted against you).

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More to the point, every time you run from a challenge or adversity to take your grind elsewhere, you’re straining any potential relationship you might actually create. Not just with friends, but with coaches and teachers as well – those who genuinely want to see you succeed, not just as an athlete, but as a whole person. So, instead of running, try sticking around so that those around you who care about you (i.e. your coaches, parents, teachers) can help you break through those hard times; so that they can coach you; so that they can develop you; so that they can help you SUCCEED!

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The blame, though, doesn’t solely fall on your shoulders. You’re also surrounded by enablers, such as coaches who have done or will do anything to make sure you stay on the field because you’re just that talented. Then there is the school board and legislation that has allowed you to transfer more freely than ever. Travel/Club/AAU ball has also created its own culture that fosters the I’ll-Just-Leave-If-I’m-Not-Satisfied mentality. Not to mention your parents who may be even more incentivized to get to the next level than you are:

#Scholarships #MONEY

I’m sorry to generalize and say “you” so much. You, yourself reading this, may actually be quite different than the picture I am painting. But, that would make you an outlier today, not the norm. EDIT: It would be false to claim that the majority if student-athletes are transferring or have this attitude, although it is becoming more prevalent, which is really the actual point I am trying to illuminate. If this all does not apply to you then please, keep up the great work and continue to lead by example and maybe pass this lesson on.

At the end of the day, all educators and coaches want is to see their student-athletes happy, healthy, and in a position to be successful. And, one of our greatest fears is that, in the process of chasing a far off goal or dream, you’re actually, in reality, simply avoiding obstacles by making twists and turns that take your even further from those dreams.

So please, kid, stop letting your grind ruin the game we love, and stop letting it get in the way of your personal, scholastic, and athletic development

Respectfully,

RJF

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19 thoughts on “Your “Grind” is Ruining the Game – An Open Letter to ‘Generation Z’ Athletes

  1. Ryan, I think your piece misses the point for a number of high school players. The notion that these players are running from a challenge or adversity is simply not true. The reality is that many high school coaches simply lack the knowledge to help kids who want to play at a higher level. Quite a few can’t spot a flaw in a player’s swing or provide the extra BP, etc. that a player needs to break out of a slump. For a player who truly wants to play at the next level (even if its only 2 more years or Division 3, whatever) high school ball just may not be that important to them. We should never tell our youth to stop chasing their dreams because their high school coach couldn’t help them, or worse, their high school coach didn’t think they were good enough.

    Additionally, lets say a player isn’t good enough to start on their high school team. Is there really anything wrong with a player transferring to a smaller school so that he can enjoy the game he loves? I don’t think so.

    While I can agree with you on some level (mommy and daddy think Billy is better than he really is), etc. I just don’t think that blanket statement holds true for all players and their parents.

    Respectfully,

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    • BeisbolBob, I don’t disagree with many of the points you’re making. But, I also think it is an over generalization, too, to say many high school coaches aren’t knowledgeable enough, equipped, or care to help their players, when in fact a vast number of high school coaches ARE travel ball coaches as well. And to say that a player can’t be proactive in spite of this type of coach you speak of also, again, takes responsibility away from the player. Not every transfer is a bad thing, they can certainly be justified, so I won’t argue with you there. But, I don’t believe high school coaches today are any worse than they were 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago, and players of those days got to the next level just fine without the culture we have today. Regardless of your stance, I can appreciate your view point, as I don’t think there’s a “right perspective” on this topic anyway, just many lenses in which to view it. Thanks for sharing your input!

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      • Ryan I agree with some of your points, but the point that the VAST number of HS coaches are qualified just because they are travel ball coaches is a misnomer. There are BAD travel ball coaches too. We play in a cold weather state and most HS baseball is REALLY bad, bad fundamentals, horrible mechanics, etc, etc. So who is “coaching them up”? Not sure, but I have seen PLENTY of bad baseball over the years and I think the average HS coach knows baseball (the game) but not necessarily how to DEVELOP players……………….

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      • Scott, I don’t disagree with you. There are not only bad travel ball coaches out there – there are also ones who are only in it for the money, throwing around all the right buzz words to get parents to shell out cash. On the same hand, there are certainly underwhelming high school coaches, in terms of their quality, as well. I’ve seen it and experienced it first hand as a player. Transferring presents itself as an option – and it might be the right one. But, it might not be. Regardless, no matter where you go there are going to be good and bad coaches. We are blessed here in Central Florida to have tremendous coaches all over the place, in travel ball and high school. At the same time, though, we need to put it into context… Making life-altering decisions (for both the individual student-athlete, and for his family as a whole) based solely who the coach is or how the team performs really seems to be placing the emphasis on the wrong word in “student-athlete”. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Scott!

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      • Scott,

        Sure, I think that’s true, but you have to remember that every population fits on some sort of bell curve. Though they aren’t always on a perfect bell curve, traditionally it is close. You have your middle majority that are somewhere near average in their coaching acumen and abilities. You have your upper echelon 5-10% that are incredibly smart and talented coaches that can develop players like nobody else. Then, you have your lower echelon of 5-10%’ers that don’t even belong coaching at their given level. Those in the middle, average range, can be varying degrees in terms of their closeness to each end of the spectrum. You’ve also got to consider that even the upper echelon coaches still may not possess the intangible qualities that make a good coach – fairness, leadership, passion, humility, etc. – while the lower echelon could have all of these qualities, and vice versa. Thus, there are so many breeds and calibers of coaches out there. The same can be said about players today. Either way, the coaches, much like the players AND the parents, must also shoulder the blame for today’s youth culture – which I believe is what you’re driving home in your comment.

        Thanks for your thoughts!

        RJF

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    • They are running away because they are entitled whiners. Not every coach is great….but instead of switching schools or not playing at all for your high school. Go get a batting coach or pitching coach. Where I grew up, all I wanted to do was play on my high school team and then American Legion. Travel ball is killing high school baseball. How about this….play for your school team, work with a private coach of needed and stop paying some guy who’s making a lot of money to run a travel ball team. The only guarantee is that you’re parents will be out $1000s of dollars when it’s all said and done!

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      • THIS is a problem that I have noticed way too many times. Just like you said…..you need to go get a batting or a pitching coach. Why? Shouldn’t your COACH at your H.S. do that for you without the need for outside coaching? The answer is most often NO. The H.S. coaches, with the progression of travel ball, have gotten LAZY. They expect a player to come to them polished and ready to go. They don’t “coach” anymore or at all. They just manage the game. It’s pathetic.

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      • Jared,

        I’m sorry that you’ve obviously encountered some negative experiences with high school coaches in your area. But, I don’t believe this is the case everywhere. I know for certain in my region, Central Florida, that this is not the case. We have incredible coaches here at the high school level that care about their players and work their tails off for them and their school, despite being under paid and often under appreciated. In fact, many of them coach travel ball as well and take just as much pride in both. Similarly, we have many travel ball coaches who do it just for the money. Although there are just as many that take pride in developing players within the travel ball framework as well. Of course, my region here could be just as much of an outlier as yours, but I want to believe that not all of high school baseball coaches have become lazy – although the law of averages tells me that many have, just like many will also NEVER have a lazy day on the yard in their whole career. But, the fact that you have experiences that tell you otherwise means that there is certainly a changed needed in many places. And, to your point, I do believe that coaches have their own role in the changing culture of youth sports, as does the media, as do the kids themselves, as do the parents.

        Thanks again for the input!

        RJF

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    • I agree, most coaches are just teachers they hire to coach sports because it is cheaper than going outside the school to find. I do find it disturbing though that some of these kids play one sport year round and will be burnt out before they actually should be peeking.

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  2. Fair points Ryan. Yes, I should have said “some” high school coaches rather than many. I believe Central Florida is quite deep in high school coaching talent and meant no offense to the many good ones we have. And you are also correct in that many of them spend their summers coaching the top travel squads around.

    Transfers are a complicated issue though because while I do believe that a completely open transfer policy will have a negative effect on high school ball, I also feel there are such things as “bad fits” where a transfer may be the best for all involved.

    Respectfully,

    Bob

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    • I agree, there certainly is such a thing as a bad fit and that is completely understandable. I personally went to an “out-of-zone” high school for their IB academic program – but I’d be lying if I didn’t also say that the baseball program was better there as well and that was another reason to go. I would just beg this last question: academic, social, and other factors can dictate the right “fit” for a student-athlete. But, should athletics actually be a reason for a kid to transfer? At the end of the day, they are student-athletes, yes, but they should be at a school for education first at this point in there life. I am not against ALL athletic-related transfers, but overall, to allow students to transfer almost-freely for athletic purposes just seems to be missing the point.

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  3. Ryan, I’m right there with you on this one.

    From the perspective of a generation y varsity football athlete, this hits the points that are most frustrating when recruiting or introducing younger athletes to a university level setting.

    If you don’t make the team, work harder and want it more. If not, go play intramural’s brother.

    Great piece.

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    • Brandon, thanks a ton for sharing your insight from, what I assume, is a college coach’s perspective! I couldn’t agree more. And, correct me if I’m wrong, if a kid is legitimately not getting deserved playing time, but he is THAT good of a player, you are still going to find him, right? So, why not stick it out, develop as a ball player, push through some adversity, and learn some great life-long skills and lessons along the way?

      Thanks again Brandon!

      Respectfully,

      RJF

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  4. While I do agree with most of your statements, I feel that there are other factors that may contribute to a kid and his family going elsewhere to play. There is concept in youth sports called daddy ball. In this concept, you have head coaches or assistant coaches who have a son on their team, and the sole purpose is to make that kid look like a star no matter what skill level that kid have. These coaches will put their kids at positions so little Johnny can live out his dreams while the rest of the team have to sit back and watch, and not be taught the fundamentals of the game. These same coaches will run little Johnny 35 out of 40 plays in a game. These same coaches haven’t given the rest of the team a chance to showcase their skills other than blocking for little Johnny. My question to anyone, at what point do you bail out and go elsewhere where coaches are going to take the time to teach the whole team the fubdementals of the game?

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    • Dwight, thanks for commenting and sharing that vantage point! I’ve certainly seen Daddy Ball at its finest… An “unfair” shake at playing time can be a reason to transfer, as can many other factors. I don’t believe transferring is an absolute no-no – I just don’t like seeing the context of student-athlete being turned into “athlete-student”. The majority of kids playing high school sports, like it or not, will not play at the collegiate level. So, what are we really doing by uprooting ourselves and, our family, and our education for the priority of a sport? So, I don’t disagree ONE bit that there are reasons to transfer – I’d rather just see a kid stick it out through the tough part of sporting-life so that he may learn the lessons that not only contribute to a successful athletic career, but a successful life outside of sports.

      Thanks again, Dwight!

      Respectfully,

      RJF

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  5. Interesting to hear a young coach’s perspective. It’s always good to have people in the game who care about the soul of the player. Sorry coach, all we can do it lead by example. I think it’s a good sign you feel pain/frustration for these players. You want them to succeed.

    Other thoughts: coachability is not a priority at the pro level. Watching the draft sends the message that everyone favours “physical specimens” over “coachability”. When coaching a player is a major issue they are presented as… could be the steal of the draft!

    I’m also thinking of that Blind Side book which is a story of “helping” a student athlete, covering up a very ugly reality of “saving” a poor black kid because he’s the right size. I can understand why young people don’t care about the following the system. The system is pretty selective in caring about them.

    I believe sports are excellent for everyone to learn teamwork, commitment, and leadership. Why don’t we see every player in it for the valuable, community experience? Because the capitalist pipe dream of 10 million dollars poisons all of it.

    If you put a 10 million dollar illusion on chess, firefighting, or poetry you’d see plenty of people in it for the wrong reasons.

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    • Peter, thanks for reading, giving some feedback, and sharing your thoughts! I couldn’t agree with you more. Sure, some coaches and systems can be the culprit – not everyone is as knowledgable, passionate, or caring as others – but oftentimes it is the media’s portrayal (and that of “expert analysts”) that have the greatest influence on the young and easily-influenced athletes of today.

      Your final point – about the pipe dream of 10 million dollars – is an excellent one, and with your permission I’d like to share it at some point (and credit you as well).

      Thanks again for the insight! And, as you said, keep on to leading by example!

      Respectfully,

      RJF

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  6. I think everyone has made some great points here. Nobody has mentioned how the coaches have evolved either. Take football for example. The fundamentals have been substituted with a high power offenses and spread defenses. Coaches are spending all their time on the schemes and no time on fundamentals. High school kids about to graduate don’t know how to block, catch or really even tackle properly! All of this is due to the health of ” the program”. So they can get all the athletes on the field every year and be somewhat successful each year. There are tons of kids that have the ability to be great players and possibly play some level of college ball. But, they aren’t tought anything about the game. It’s turning into street ball. No learning how run specific routes or block. Just running a route to a void and block an area. In my opinion coaches these days are killing me with their #Program.

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    • Dave,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight! I can certainly appreciate your proposition that coaches have evolved as well, and that this needs to be taken into consideration just as much as player/game/parental/cultural evolution. Something I think is worth considering on this topic is a concept that I believe most strength coaches battle on a daily basis, but so too do sport coaches: how do we systemize individualization. Or, rather, individualize the system. In other words, how can we create a framework to optimize our “program”, while still treating the individual as a person who needs their own unique learning/development? There are many coaches who seem to have their own systemized individualization. There are others that aren’t even capable of this because they lack the experience and skill. It’s an interesting concept nonetheless.

      Thanks again,

      RJF

      Like

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