Dealing with the entitled athlete

by Prez Ro, Matteson, IL

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There is no occupation I know of where the employer runs the business and he or she owes an explanation to the employee as to why decisions are made. In Sports, athletes feel a sense of entitlement. Why?

Nearly 83% of Americans surveyed strongly or somewhat agreed that America's youth feel more entitled compared to 10 years ago, according to a national survey conducted by the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute. The poll focused on perceptions of America's youth and explored areas including career choices, decisions about things such as going to college, and which political party to join.

Perceptions about issues such as steroid testing for student athletes, banning soda in public schools, support for more religious courses in public schools and for allowing public school students to reference God in their coursework were also addressed by the poll.

When Tiger Woods address the nation of his off-the-course extra-marital stuff saying “I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. This was an uniquely revealing moment.

As a word and a notion, “entitlement” has been on the lips of those involved in sports and those who watch sports for decades. For many, it is the very symbol of what is wrong with the culture of sports in American society.

The Woods case, and the more recent Ben Roethlisberger, Lawrence Taylor and Penn State cases, have no doubt been viewed as examples of athletic entitlement at its most extreme and hyperbolic. But the phenomenon plays out in less drastic ways, ex-players and sports academics say. Entitlement, they say, creates a world in which many star athletes – the fastest, the strongest, the best – flourish. It becomes the air they breathe. The sense of permission they enjoy by virtue of their fame is no delusion. It is a reality – an elaborate and seductive dance choreographed by coaches, agents, fans, journalists, and, eventually, corporate sponsors. And if left unchecked, it can make hollow, or even ruin, their lives.

Experts say that a sense of entitlement can begin playing a role in an athletes’ life as early as Little League, Pop Warner football or AAU basketball. Once a child displays a special ability – shooting a ball, hitting a ball or throwing a ball – he or she is at risk of drawing attention that focuses on solely on athletic ability at the expense of holistic wellbeing.

“Success at the youth league, high school, or intercollegiate level…can cause huge problems,” said Dan Doyle, the author of The Encyclopedia of Sports Parenting, in an email.

It's the story of a whole new generation of athletes and the heady sense of entitlement that has been instilled in some of them since childhood. Blame it on the athlete and his or her parents and coaches, blame it on our national addiction to sports, blame it on the sports media, blame it on the sponsors, blame it on the sports fan, but one thing is certain: It's not going away.

On Perceptions of America's Youth…

A large majority of respondents, 82.9%, strongly or somewhat agreed that America's youth feel more entitled compared to 10 years ago. And, 81.5% agreed they are more assertive.

Three-quarters of respondents, 76.9%, agreed that America's youth are more pressured to succeed today than 10 years ago.

About half of all respondents said America's youth are more confident, more educated, and have more self-esteem – 53.7%, 57.3% and 55.6% respectively.

Majorities of Americans disagree with the characterization of today's youth as more responsible (54.3%) and more religious (57.6%).

When viewing just “strongly agree” results, 51.9% and 51.6% strongly agreed that youth feel more entitled and are more assertive, respectively. Another 10.6% and 14.0% strongly agreed that youth are more religious and responsible than ten years ago, respectively.

Desmond Howard said while addressing Black Coaches and Administrators convention earlier this year said "the way these coaches recruit these kids, they make them feel like they're the cat's meow, that the program can't move forward without them at the school," Howard said. "When you recruit them that hard, then you gas them up on who they are. You give that guy a sense of entitlement.

"I was told by a giant, Bo Schembechler, that no one man is bigger than the program. Not even (Schembechler). He was larger than life. For me to sit there and this guy tells me nobody's bigger than Michigan, that's all he had to say."

Howard said the prominent coverage of recruiting has young players in the spotlight before they've accomplished anything significant in college. He said if Bobby Bowden can be forced out as coach at Florida State, why should any player feel irreplaceable?

"There are no boundaries," David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute, said Wednesday. "Media interest and media sensation has never been greater, and fans can get into the faces of well-known athletes with their cellphone cameras, which creates the illusion that they are close to the athlete."

Of course, if athletes are behaving badly in public, the blame is all theirs. And athletes often bring this kind of attention on themselves by salivating for it earlier and earlier in their young careers.

Anyone who has been to a kids' sporting event is familiar with the act of the showboating 12-year-old and his or her adoring parents. Perhaps someday this will be known as the Tiger Syndrome, and treated with dread.

But it's hard to imagine a day when a family with a prodigy will slam the front door on a waiting camera crew. They're much more likely to hire a publicist to make sure the crew finds their house without a wrong turn. Media outlets are always happy to oblige, falling over themselves to be the first to find the new young star.

And on it goes, all the way to adulthood. "As long as fans are willing to spend money on tickets and merchandise and elaborate cable packages, this is going to continue," Carter said.

Handling a so-called entitled athlete
Often times your best athletes are the most problematic. Many star athletes feel a sense of entitlement or privilege because they feel the team needs them to win. Other times, the players that see the least amount of playing time are the most problematic. How you deal with them will help determine how cohesive your team will play.

1. Remember that no one person is greater than the team. If you enable an athlete to feel entitled or let them get away with things that other players don't then you will never be able to rein them in when their behavior escalates. Set the tone early by invoking consequences for breaking rules and expectations.

2 Putting pressure on the whole team is a good way to get problem athletes to behave. Having players run as a team for penalties or slacking is an effective way for teammates to force problem athletes to fall in line. Be careful though to not let this "force" become physically harmful.

3 Enlist the help of your captains and veteran players to help you deal with problem players. When a player causes a problem and refuses to listen to the coach, the captains can be very effective in stopping problem behavior. Teammates respect the leaders of the team, so have the captains reinforce your wishes. If one of your problem athletes is one of your captains, then it is important that you remind them that captaincy is something they've earned and can be taken away.

4 Give them responsibilities to keep them occupied and a sense of self-worth. In a classroom setting, good teachers give the problem students small jobs such as erasing the board or bringing the attendance down to the office. It is effective because it keeps the student busy and makes them feel like they are contributing something positive. This works on a team as well. Make your problem athletes responsible for duties that need done, such as filling water bottles and cleaning up the locker room.

5 Take it one step further and pretend that you need to remind them what to do in a certain situation. For example, before a baseball game tell your problem athlete that when there are runners on first and third, it is a good time for the runner on first to steal. This keeps them occupied and makes them feel like part of the team.

It seems that every few days another NFL, NBA, MLB, or whatever sport has a new scandal involving a star athlete harming someone against that person's will. These athletes do things that most of us would never dream of doing and then cannot understand why a simple apology won't make it all okay. Why do they feel this sense of entitlement and not understand why there are consequences. I have a theory. It goes all the way back to their youth and then up through their middle school and high school careers. Surely you have seen the way coaches and teachers treat the star player. These players get special treatment and are often protected from having to face consequences for any bad behaviors because if they did have to face them the team would suffer in their absence. These behaviors are learned at an early age and then the behaviors just get worse but finally the public starts watching and questions the behavior forcing the sport's leaders to punish them for maybe the first time in their lives. 
Which means that someday, we might look back and yearn for the good old days of sports, and admit that entitlement, at all levels, is an extremely contagious disease.

Anyway, this is my opinion so now just go away and leave me alone. LOL... Thoughts?

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