Why Geno Auriemma's comments resonate beyond sports

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Why Geno Auriemma’s comments resonate beyond sports

March 23, 2017 - Ryan Denison, PhD

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Geno Auriemma is the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Connecticut. If that name sounds familiar but you aren’t quite sure why, it probably has something to do with the fact that his team hasn’t lost in over two years (109 games straight, and counting) while currently pursuing their fifth consecutive national title. That kind of success is unprecedented in the modern era and has garnered him a level of influence and respect that far surpasses his own sport. For those reasons and more, when he speaks people tend to listen.

Recently, a video from a news conference he gave at last year’s Final Four went viral after professional baseball hitting coach Matt Lisle posted it on his Facebook page. It was viewed more than twenty-four million times in the first twenty-four hours and was picked up by outlets ranging from ESPN to Forbes. The reason for the video’s popularity is that there’s just something about Auriemma’s message that resonates with people regardless of their opinions on women’s basketball.

In it, the coach talks about how difficult it’s become to recruit players “that are really upbeat and loving life and love the game, and have this tremendous appreciation for when their teammates do something well, that’s hard.” This is the coach of the most successful team his sport’s ever seen. If someone like him, who can walk into the home of any recruit in the nation and garner immediate consideration, has trouble finding that kind of player, it’s because there just aren’t that many of her out there.

He would go on to talk about how the problem stems in large part from the fact that kids are “allowed to get away with just whatever, and they’re always thinking about themselves . . . ‘Me, me, me, me, me. I didn’t score, so why would I be happy?’ ‘I’m not getting enough minutes; why would I be happy?’ That’s the world we live in today, unfortunately. Kids check the scoreboard sometimes because they’re going to get yelled at by their parents if they don’t score enough points.”

While Auriemma was speaking specifically to women’s basketball, the problem is not limited to a particular gender or sport. Lamenting the way that many professional and, increasingly, college athletes play without an apparent love of the game is a common refrain from fans of every sport. Most are aware that the problem started long before that, however, with roots running all the way back to YMCA and youth leagues. Ultimately, it’s on coaches and parents to steward their kids well, since children, most often, are only responding to the environment in which they’re raised.

Does it help to see players showboating on Sundays or caring more about their stat lines than the win-loss column? Of course not, but that cycle won’t be broken by changing how the pros play. As John O’Sullivan, a former college and professional soccer player, put it, the problem “started with parents and coaches at age twelve looking the other way because a kid happened to be a good player. That is our outcome-driven youth sports system in a nutshell.”

Can you think of any other parts of our culture where that description would apply? Perhaps an easier question would be can you think of anywhere it wouldn’t. It’s still a sin to take the wrong path to the right destination, but far too often we focus so much on the end that we completely miss all that God might want to do in our lives along the way. We struggle to help our kids see a bigger picture because we’ve missed it ourselves.

Scripture is clear that, while we are meant to raise our kids in community with others, each of us ultimately bears the responsibility for helping them understand the proper way to live (Deuteronomy 6:7). The culture around us can make that job easier or harder, but it never absolves us of that responsibility. And if you don’t have kids, pray and ask God how you can help those who do. Often times, it’s in helping others walk closer with him that the Lord shows us how to do the same.

Geno Auriemma’s words resonate with us because we see those problems play out in our own lives just as often as in the lives of our children. But if we can’t fix ourselves, how are we ever going to help them? That’s an important question for each of us to consider, whether we have kids or not. How would you answer it today?

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