What Could Be

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: what might have been.”

I look at many things today and wonder about what might have been or might be, if not for a tweak here, extra effort there, or changes in work ethic, attitude, and/or commitment. I’ve also had the pleasure of witnessing, firsthand, what the future holds in many wonderful young people on the cusp of making their mark in the world, which will definitely make it a better place.

In many of my experiences, I’ve seen many motivated young people work to be the best they could be, and sometimes I’ve seen many young people who do not always use all the abilities and talents they have, resulting in grades and opportunities lesser than what could be or have been.

As a coach for many years and dealing with many athletes on youth, middle and high school levels, I’ve seen many players listen and try to put into action what coaches have tried to help them do. They’ve taken the extra steps to try to be the best they can be. I’ve also seen situations where expectations, commitment, and work ethics of programs and athletes have lessened, resulting in lesser quality products being put on the fields today.

Growing up when I did, the family institution was stronger, crime rates were lower and expectations were high. Maybe that’s why things were different then. For the most part, when you went to school, you were expected to give maximum effort academically, behaviorally, and showing respect for people, property, authority. We were told that if teachers told us to do something, we did it. If teachers disciplined us, we deserved it, and if they had to discipline us, we’d be disciplined again at home. We were in school to work hard and learn. There was no questioning the amount of homework. If it was assigned, we were expected to do it and get it done on time.

Today, there doesn’t seem to be that same kind of intensity with regard to that kind of work ethic. This isn’t to say that there aren’t many dedicated students who put forth all-out effort to do the best they can to succeed in school, but it doesn’t appear there are as many percentagewise. So, what’s changed from when I went to school as compared to today? Society has changed. Prioritization appears to have a different look to it. What appeared to be important 45 plus years ago, seems to have lost some of that importance today.

We live in an “instant” world today. Many want to short-cut to get things. Many want things to be done for them. Many want the job to be made easier. People have become accustomed to fast food, microwavable dinners, pizza delivery rather than enjoying a home-cooked meal that took a couple of hours to prepare by someone sweating on a hot day wanting to put a delicious meal on the table. That attitude sometimes appears to follow suit with academics. Many want the answers to be given rather than have to find them. Many want the work to be easier. Many seem to want to show up, not have to do much, but want a good grade too.

That attitude seems to have crept into sports too, on all levels. We hear much about today’s players having to be treated differently. Practices have to be less frequent, or shorter. Coaches aren’t supposed to raise their voices, and everyone is supposed to play in every game. I disagree, especially in baseball/softball where substitution rules limit coaches.

I have no problem with the “everyone plays” policy in recreational leagues where teaching the game and letting kids play is the purpose of the program. I do feel, however, that players in all programs must be accountable. They must attend practices and must practice as hard as they will play in games, and if they don’t, they need to understand that the players who did those things will probably start ahead of them.

Students/players must also realize that, most times, when teachers/coaches raise their voices, it’s not personal. It’s usually the behavior (attitude, effort) that makes the teacher/coach upset, not the person who exhibits it, and that teachers/coaches must be accountable to all members of the class/team, not just one or two, and not the talented over the not as talented students/players. Teachers/coaches need to explain this to their students/players.

Coaches, like teachers beginning a new school year, must establish a philosophy and relay it to their athletes and their parents before a preseason begins. It takes time and effort, but it’s necessary. If coaches want to win every game at all costs, that must be said before preparation begins. If the integrity of the program is a main goal, that too, must be presented before the season begins. It’s OK for coaches to get angry, yell, and set high expectations regarding effort, attitude, hustle, work ethic, and hold players accountable if these expectations are not met, as long as the coach presents his/her philosophy before the season begins and remains consistent in the treatment of players. It’s the onus of players to adapt to the coach, not vice-versa. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening as much today as in the past, again, on all levels of the sport, just as it should be in the classroom, the home, and the workplace.

So today, Whittier’s words might be tweaked to say, “For all sad words of you and me, the most hopeful of these, oh what could be.” With a little more effort, commitment, and/or desire, with greater work ethics in schools, the workplace, and on the fields, perhaps the original quote of John Greenleaf Whittier might be heard less and less.

Congratulations to all graduates. Stay on the course you’ve begun, and we will all see exactly what can be.