A special formula to winning

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts

George Bernard Shaw stated, “There is one thing worse than winning all the time, losing all the time.” Somewhere there needs to be a balance of both. When we were kids in the ’50s and ’60s coming up in Little League, Babe Ruth League, basketball leagues, the winners got trophies, not the non-winners. What it taught us, that if we wanted that award next time, we needed to practice more, work hard and play smarter. We knew what it was like to fail and then beat those that beat us. It wasn’t perfect, but taught us to fight back.

Today in many leagues, everyone gets a trophy. Why? In my opinion, children need to learn how to lose and in athletics, like in life later on, there will be losses. As a counselor that I have a great deal of respect for and who works with young people stated: “I believe we are seeing the result of the ‘race to nowhere’ – the achievement/status-driven culture that our kids are being raised in. My clients have spent their adolescences putting their healthy development on hold, coached and managed by parents who are so fearful and anxious about helping their children succeed, that there is simply no room for their children to being to know who they are.

When they arrive in college, the wheels come off. They are so hard on themselves and out of what they really care about – discovering their interests is a foreign concept. There is such a push for perfection, that normal life skills (time management, healthy sleeping habits, and adult responsibilities) are not in place. Substance abuse and other methods of self-medicating are rampant. Most of my students text with their parents multiple times a day and parents run interference for them.

Combine this with the incredible comparisons students make of themselves to others via social media, financial burdens, and a dread of graduating that feels like falling off a cliff, and you have a perfect storm.”

As an ex-basketball coach, I am not saying that you as a parent shouldn’t support your children. However, when we ran our summer leagues in basketball, they were for our kids to improve. The gym was there, if they wanted to practice. I played golf with my buddies in the summer. I didn’t need, nor my wife, to run our kids to every camp, every AAU event or every clinic. We had a pool. Many of the kids lived in it, with our kids. We had a basketball hoop. They chose up sides and played. We had a big backyard that they played football and baseball in. Guess what? This was all “free playtime” without adult supervision. Like any father and mother who love their children, today they are five wonderful adults, hard-working, respectful of us, and Karen and I feel it’s because we allowed them to be children.

Finally, as to “What Made Maddy Run,” only Maddy knew the answer, but we can speculate. Was it the thrill of winning and competition? Was it the thrill of helping your team be successful? Was it the competition against herself? Was it the thinking pattern of not winning but trying not to lose? My basketball players lived with anxiety, but turned it against the team they were playing. My clients also live with anxiety and I’ve always believed that my job was to get them motivated to turn it against their addiction. Maddy appears, in my opinion, to have turned this against herself, because it wasn’t perfect.

Perfect to me, as an ex-basketball coach, is 12 guys or gals, looking each other in the eyes and knowing that each is going to do everything they’ve been given to help their teammates to try and accomplish victory. This is perfect to me, as a coach, regardless of what the scoreboard says. Months ago I told the story of a bunch of JV kids in Gowanda that believed this. Even if they hadn’t won the game, for that moment in time, they believed “you will have to beat us again because we are not going to beat ourselves.” In the beginning of that season, I put up my right hand with five fingers separated. This is where we were at the beginning of the year. At the end of the season we were a “fist” together, pulling for each other and developing a deep respect for each other.

Coaches in my day, the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, were ill-prepared to handle the mental health issues. However, even in 2019, parents, coaches, athletic directors and even counseling centers in college are still unprepared to handle anxiety and depression. I was fortunate to learn both areas of counseling and coaching.

If I were coaching basketball today, this would be one of the priorities amongst all the other priorities that both male and female coaches on the collegiate level have to work through. Again as the introductory statement last week said, “Notice how perfectionism is close to despair.”

Mike Tramuta has been a CASAC counselor for more than 30 years and currently runs the REBT program on Thursday nights at the Holy Trinity Parish Center from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Call 983-1592 for more information.