Entitlement is a term thrown around often today, generally to describe modern youth. In my experience, there are a large number of kids who have a sense of entitlement, thinking they deserve credit simply for being around. In sport, many kids think they deserve a starting spot, regardless of the work they put in. And indeed, many kids who do put in work end up without starting jobs and feel slighted despite the fact that someone outperformed them. Sport is a competitive medium, and not every athlete handles it well. Even worse, though, are the parents.
One of the toughest things any coach has to do is a tell a kid he or she isn't going to play, to say that they lost their job to someone else. When a coach is forced to do that, a lot of parents' reaction is to blame the coach, say that somehow the player was slighted, that the coach is biased, to blame politics (despite the fact that the coach probably labored over the decision and hated having to tell the kid they weren't going to play). This mindset trickles down to the players themselves, and we create a standard in which kids blame someone else for their shortcomings and challenges. Instead of working hard to fix the situation, to try to earn that job, or pushing hard to get better, the kids get bitter, and the parents get nasty. This is the first manifestation of entitlement in sports, blaming someone else for the fact that a child didn't get a starting spot. This diffusion of responsibility also stems from a lack of perspective; not starting for your team doesn't change the fact that you can help your team, whether that's at practice, in supporting your team during the game, in being ready to play if someone else gets injured or needs to rest, or in teaching your teammates the plays. Not starting isn't a failure, but not being a good teammate is. Not starting isn't a failure, but not giving your best is. Not everyone can be a star, but everyone can be a good teammate and give their best. Parents need to be reminded that humility and backbone are important traits to instill in today's youth. The belief that we aren't owed a starting job, and the perseverance to continue working hard when we don't get one needs to replace the misguided traits of entitlement and "swagger" (maybe my least favorite word).
The second manifestation of entitlement is laziness. Many athletes, talented or not, think they get a job for showing up so they don't put in the work. This works for the extremely talented player to an extent - he or she doesn't have to put in hours in the weight room, in the film room, or in the classroom to be the best player on the field. This might hold true through middle school for some, through high school for a few, through college for even fewer. And, it's difficult to convince the best player that they need to work harder. In this case, entitlement again leads to a lack of perspective - they are comparing themselves to their peers instead of their own potential.
In the case of the athlete who is entitled, therefore lazy, and lacks talent, there is generally a rude awakening when they don't start. They haven't put in the work, they don't have the ability to get by without working, and end up riding the bench and giving up on trying all together, sometimes even quitting. Sometimes they were brought up in such a way that they didn't feel they needed to work, that they were constantly told they were the best even though they weren't. In other cases they just don't care enough to put in extra time. In both cases, they don't yet have the values of humility and backbone, and are only losing whatever potential they do have to entitlement.
So what is it that we as coaches and parents can do? We have to reinforce consistent work ethic and focus towards a goal. We have to remind players that they aren't owed anything besides a fair shot, and that to make the most of that shot they need to work hard. We need to push every player to get better and to reach their potential, regardless of their ability relative to the competition. We must tell them that effort doesn't take talent, anyone and everyone needs to give their best effort. We need to crush entitlement out of every kids' persona, and replace it with humility, backbone, and a team-first attitude. It will serve them well in sports and more importantly in life.
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.