As I have coached youth teams over the years or just watched my kids’ teams compete, I have come to judge student-athletes on three basic traits: ability, attitude and effort. That’s simplistic, indeed, but these raw materials are all anybody – kids or adults – need to achieve success in any sport or field of endeavor.
Ability. That definition is easy – the raw talent and natural skills necessary to play a sport well.
Attitude. How coachable is a kid? Is he a good teammate who will work toward team goals or is he in it for himself?
Effort. Doing the work necessary – in- and off-season – to improve; and giving nothing short of 100 percent once he gets between the white lines.
When a young athlete displays an abundance of all three of these raw materials – terrific! If a coach is lucky enough to have a slew of players like this, he and the AD can start making those state tournament reservations.
Not every student-athlete can possess all three traits, but kids who have any one of the three can find certain roles that contribute to team success. Ability is certainly the key in any sport, but if a kid doesn’t also have the right attitude or effort level, he’ll never achieve his potential and might even drag his team down. Kids that don’t have as much ability as others can make up for it with attitude and effort. Those two traits will pay off for them much more after they graduate than whatever their batting average was for four years.
And for the kid who never develops any one of the three raw materials in any endeavor – well, have fun in the real world! (And please don’t whine about how unfair life is…)
The three building blocks are not static, and the coach’s job is to help a student athlete move the needle in each. Training programs – the proper amount of weight training, the appropriate amount of practice laps at the right speed, etc. – can improve ability. Improving attitude and effort in kids that lack those traits is much harder for coaches, but the best of the best have the ability to get kids to buy in to their philosophies and convince them to go all-in for winning.
So what does this all have to do the private versus public school football debate? As I pointed out in my last blog, a much higher percentage of private schools win at a better rate as compared to the majority of public schools. Why? One of the reasons, I believe, is that teams from private schools inevitably end up with a higher percentage of kids that possess all three traits than public schools do. Their raw material tends to be a little better.
I believe that most of the kids that attend private schools are more likely to inherently possess the traits necessary for athletic – as well as academic – success. Not every private school student is brilliant or a great athlete, of course, but the very fact that they are there tells us something about the parents. The parents are engaged enough to be deeply involved in their kids’ lives and committed to find the “best” education – and frankly, have the money to pay for it. Many private school parents have achieved some success in the real world and most likely possess plenty of ability, attitude and effort and have passed it onto their kids – either genetically or by example.
Furthermore, ability, attitude and effort cannot be nurtured without discipline. I’m not talking about knuckle smacking with a ruler or sitting in the corner, but discipline defined as “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” By their very nature, private schools are much more disciplined than public schools. Kids that must abide by dress codes and sign a code of conduct already have displayed a certain amount of discipline and are more likely to run suicide drills without complaining to the coach than the kids from the public schools that don’t stress discipline.
Of course, there are plenty of disciplined public schools. I wrote about a few of them in The Fields of Fall. Not only do the sports teams – boys and girls – win with regularity at schools like Decorah, Solon and Harlan, but they also have great bands, choirs, dance teams, etc., and their kids perform ahead of the curve academically. This doesn’t happen in schools that lack discipline and don’t push the boundaries of their kids’ ability, attitude and effort.
But the root of discipline is the family – not the schools. I believe that the average private school kid has been subject to more lessons in discipline than the average public school kid.
But do the private schools have an unfair advantage over the public schools when it comes to gathering the raw material that inevitably ends up on the gridiron? The private schools are certainly open for business and have plenty of money, they can advertise, they aren’t limited geographically as to their student base, and can offer scholarships to kids and parents that need them. But public schools are free (major plus!) – and their doors are always open to open enrollees. The common complaint among public school fans is that private schools recruit athletes. I admit I have heard stories and had a few “R-word” experiences regarding private schools that seemed a little shady. But I have also been privy to an equal amount of stories about public school shenanigans with open enrollees. In the end, I believe that the majority of schools in Iowa – public and private – are playing by the rules. Hopefully the rules are written fairly enough for both sides.
Come fall, there are many private schools that consistently set a standard of excellence on the gridiron – but there are just as many public schools that do the same. I don’t resent any of them. I just look forward to watching them play.