Archive for August, 2009

Klinkhammer comments about ‘unintended consequences’

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Last fall, Minnesota Youth Athletic Services Executive Director Dan Klinkhammer wrote in the MYAS newsletter that BasketCases should be required reading.

“We have a local basketball referee - Derek Wolden - who has authored a book entitled “BasketCases.” He does a great job of showing how youth basketball parents can lower their blood pressure and keep their sanity. I read the book white sitting in my deer stand during deer hunting and the entire time I kept thinking, “Why didn’t somebody write this sooner. This book should be required reading for every coach and parent before their kids hit the court. Wolden does a great job explaining the rules and, more importantly, he explains how and why officials administer the rules the way they do. If making “BasketCases required reading for your coaches and parents will make a more enjoyable and understandable season, then do it.”

In the August edition of the newsletter, Dan wrote an outstanding column about “unintended consequences” of youth coaches who behavor poorly. I e-mailed Dan yesterday and received permission to reprint it here, because the more people who read it, the better. Dan brings up several good points. Please take five minutes. It will be well worth your time.

The term “unintended consequences” has been in the news a lot lately. It usually seems to have some sort of political connection but in my world, it relates to unsportsmanlike conduct. If you’ve read any of my articles over the last 20 years, you already know that unsportsmanlike conduct is my #1 pet peeve and I spend a lot of time harping about the need for better behavior. Regretfully, I have left out WHY I find unsportsmanlike behavior so extremely distasteful and it revolves around those unintended consequences that are the direct result of someone’s foolish and out of control actions.

Sports are packed full of emotion and I fully understand that there are times when a person finds it difficult to control those emotions. I have played, coached and officiated, so I’ve seen, heard and felt all of the emotions that they have experienced. Bad calls will always be part of the game. Erroneous rule interpretations by amateur officials will always be part of the game. Spontaneous reactions will always be part of the game and everyone will experience their fair share of frustration.

Every coach, player and parent should realize this before they ever take their respective positions on the field or court or in the bleachers. Everyone should have a plan for how they are going to react when that moment of choice arrives. Are you going to scream and yell at the officials or are you going to control your emotions and plead your case in a respectful and diplomatic manner? If you take the screaming and yelling approach, be prepared for all of the unintended consequences that will follow.

Frankly, I don’t feel much compassion for a coach who gets booted for verbal or physical abuse of the officials. I do, however, feel sorry for the people who are left in the wake of the coach’s tirade. The first victims of the unintended consequences are the players who witnessed their coach’s temper tantrum. The kids can look at the scenario and come to a number of possible conclusions including: 1) This must be the way to handle the situation and I’ll do it the same way when it’s my turn; 2) I am embarrassed to be on this team; or 3) I play ball to have fun and this just isn’t fun anymore. Yep - the kids are the first casualty of unsportsmanlike behavior. I can’t begin to count the number of kids I know who quit playing because their coaches were behaving like idiots on a regular basis.

Officials quitting is the next unintended consequence. When I was the Recreation Director in Pipestone and Winona, recruiting and retaining officials were my biggest challenges. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times, “You can’t pay me enough to be an umpire or referee.” I used to recruit officials using several tactics. I’d beg them, shame them or dare them to do it! I didn’t have many problems retaining the grizzled veterans but it was like pulling teeth to get new officials hired. Most of them were players and they had already seen numerous unsportsmanlike incidents where rage and anger were directed at the officials. Not many people want to invite that kind of turmoil into their lives or relive those moments over and over again.

Think I’m exaggerating? There were several years in Winona when I lost 50% of my basketball referees before the season ended. They just got fed up with the constant bickering and disrespect that was being displayed on a daily basis. The unsportsmanlike conduct got so bad during one flag football season that I had to cancel the second half of the season because I didn’t have any officials who would work the games.

The parents also become victims of a coach’s unsportsmanlike behavior and usually react in one of two ways when the action between officials and their coach gets heated. They either join in the free for all or they hide their heads in shame and embarrassment. For those who like to join in the mayhem, I am always amused at how bold some of them are in the bleachers and how meek they become as soon as they are standing alone. Far too often, the parents who didn’t join in the fray end up making apologies to the officials, tournament administrators or the other team when their coach goes ballistic. Then they must have a heart to heart talk with their children to explain that their coach’s behavior was not the way to handle things and the parents don’t condone the coach’s unsportsmanlike approach to settling disagreements. Then those same concerned parents have to report their observations to the local youth sports association and the disciplinary process begins, which is no fun for anyone.

Another unintended consequence directly hits the core of any youth sport association - the Board members. When the actions of any coach, player or parent become so egregious that the matter requires Board attention, those volunteers start thinking twice about their involvement at the administrative level. Board members have the responsibility of recruiting, training and evaluating the individuals who are selected to coach their kids. They also have the responsibility of disciplining those coaches when they get out of line. Unfortunately, the coaches are their friends, neighbors, coworkers, relatives or local business owners. Not many of us want to be put into a situation where we can make more enemies than we already have. Not many of us want to fire a volunteer coach. Not many of us look forward to adding to the turmoil that we all deal with in our daily lives.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why people don’t raise their hands to serve on the Board. As testimony to that presumption, all I have to do is revert back to a recent conversation I had with a Board member from a north metro community who said, “I’ve been on the Board for four years and I’m tired of babysitting the kids, parents and coaches. I barely have enough time to handle the basics of what needs to be done and now I have to spend a ton of time dealing with the disciplinary process because one of our coaches doesn’t know when to shut his mouth. I guess it’s time to let someone else take over.”

So there you have it. Now you know why I’m so peeved about the unsportsmanlike behavior of some of our participants. Bad behavior goes much deeper than the coach being ejected from a game. Bad behavior messes with kids’ heads, becomes the #1 deterrent for hiring and retaining qualified officials, places the parents squarely between their kids and the coach, and makes Board members second-guess their volunteer involvement with the association. That is not a pretty picture by anyone’s standards, and it could all be eliminated if coaches would learn how to plead their case in an appropriate and respectful manner as opposed to yelling and screaming at the officials and refusing to leave the court or field once they have been ejected.

Everyone needs to remember that your behavior is a choice you make but you don’t have any control over the unintended consequences that will follow.

A fifth-grade basketball parent did what????

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

I was visiting with a friend the other day and heard a story that made me shake my head. It’s pretty simple. The parents of a talented fifth-grade girls’ basketball player made a videotape of their daughter playing basketball and sent it to the head varsity basketball coach at the school district’s public high school.

To write a sentence in like Yoda would: “On earth, why?”

Some thoughts: 
1) How could that family gain from this videotape? For a school of this size (a large suburban Twin Cities school), even a future D. I superstar would never make the varsity team before eighth grade.
2) If this player is that good, trust me the coach won’t need to watch a videotape to find out about her. Word of mouth would spread the news.
3) What good does a tape do in fifth grade? Do the parents think their daughter would make the varsity next year. I believe Minnesota rules prevent all athletes from playing varsity until a minimum of seventh grade (but I’m not positive). It’s not like she is a 103-pound wrestler.
4) Aren’t the parents sending serious red flags? If I was the coach, I would roll my eyes.  I would wonder when the parents will start sending e-mails about when she should play, and when she does, how they can get her the ball some more.
5) If you want to make a videotape to help get a kid on an AAU team or an all-star team, that makes sense. Making a tape in this situation, makes zero sense.

Thanks for the letter, Kevin

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Actually, Kevin probably sent a lot of letters last week, not just to me. I am referring to Kevin Merkle, Associate Director of the Minnesota State High School League, who oversees the officials. I received a letter because I have been a full registered basketball official in Minnesota for the last decade. I copied most of this letter so you can understand his appreciation for officials.

“The MSHSL established service awards for officials, in order to recognize the service that officials provide to our member schools and the student-athletes of Minnesota. Congratulations on your 10 years of service to our programs! For this service you are being recognized with this enclosed pin.

Throughout your years as a registered official, you have continually worked to upgrade your skills and knowledge in order to be an effective official. You have devoted countless hours, traveled many miles and given great effort to meet the expectations of the League, the schools and the athletes whom you serve. Your efforts have made a difference! You have played a vial role in the education of the youth of Minnesota. For those efforts and your service — Thank You!!!”

Thanks, Kevin, for reminding us that we do play a role in the important education that comes through the team sport experience. I appreciate the reminder.


$5,000 for a fifth grader?

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Every August, I start to feel this way. I’m out of my element. It is the only month throughout the year that I don’t officiate basketball games. Why do I boycott August? Everyone else does. As a general rule, there are no basketball games to officiate in August. Summer camps generally end in July. I’m halfway through the month and have more free time than I usually do. Technically, I have more time to update this blog, but not as much to write about in the offseason.

The other night, however, one of my Facebook “friends” who I met earlier this year and absolutely loved BasketCases, “chatted” me through the Facebook function. Our “chat” is worth some commentary. He asked me about some basketball-related items involving his daughter, who is going into sixth grade in a couple of weeks. I asked him how much money he spent in the last year on basketball for his daughter, who is a very good player. He said $5,000! Wow, that is a lot of money for a fifth grader. Now, I know $20 was well-spent for a copy of BasketCases, but $4,980 is a ton of dough to invest in an 11-year-old. Half of that money went to send his daughter to play in a national tournament across the country, in which his daughter was named to an all-tournament team. I asked him if the goal was for his daughter to play in college. He said absolutely. I didn’t specifically frame the question to “earn a college scholarship,” but I assume that is what he meant by his answer.

I have no problem with that. He said his daughter loves basketball, and they have identified that she has a great deal of talent. If his family can afford to give his daughter these opportunities, good for them (althought the investment in basketball to secure a scholarship may cost more than the scholarship itself at this rate!). It’s just that the $5,000 price tag really caught my attention. I talk about how parents can spend thousands of dollars on basketball over the years, but it’s amazing to see that figure spent in less than one year. If you have a young son or daughter who shows basketball promise, you may need to open a Home Equity Line of Credit before Junior gets to junior high.

“Pop” dispensed at No. 49 on SN list

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Endorsements on the back cover of a book are important. That’s why I targeted the best coach in the NBA in my opinion, Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, to serve as the lead endorsement for BasketCases. In the Aug. 3 edition, the Sporting News ranks Pop as the 49th best coach of all time in any sport. The only NBA coaches voted ahead of him are Phil Jackson at No. 4 (10 NBA titles with the help of Jordan, Shaq and Kobe), Red Auerbach at No. 6 (nine NBA titles with the Celtics), Pat Riley at No. 30 (5 NBA titles) and Chuck Daly at No. 45 (2 NBA titles with the Pistons, Gold Medal with the original Dream Team).

Pop has won four NBA titles with the Spurs and could have won six with different outcomes on the Derek Fisher miracle shot and the Dirk Nowitzki last-second three point play. My friend Jay Howard, the former play by play broadcaster for the Spurs, introduced me to Pop in the fall of 2007, which helped secure his endorsement. 

During his final preseason game of this past year, NBA referee Ken Mauer (who wrote the foreword for BasketCases) worked a game in San Antonio and thanked Pop for me for his important contribution to BasketCases. A few weeks prior to that game, I mailed Pop a copy of the final version of the book with his endorsement on the back cover. When Kenny thanked Pop for helping me out, Kenny said Pop’s eyes lit up. “Kenny, I got the final copy and read the whole thing. It’s great. I loved it,” is what Pop told Mauer.

Pop, congrats on the accolade from Sporting News. Anyone who follows the NBA knows that others have won more championships, but you did it with less talent, which says something about your coaching.

Pop’ s quote on the back of BasketCases reads: “Basketball is the best sport in the world. It’s critically important that we make youth basketball a positive experience for everyone involved — especially the players. I enjoyed BasketCases because it’s the first book I’ve read that focuses on educating parents, coaches and players about the game. Derek Wolden’s perspective as a basketball official provides valuable insight to make the youth basketball experience enjoyable for everyone.”

Thanks, Pop.