Peyton Manning and the lesson of relying too much on one player
The day after the New Orleans Saints beat my hometown Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl, I saw this Facebook status update, written by a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, in my whatever-you-call-the-live-feed these days:
After this Peyton Manning thing, I’m expecting to see LeBron James’ lifeless body dangling from a net during the NBA finals.
Why the parallel between Manning and James? Because both players shoulder pretty much 100 percent of the burden of their team’s success. If Manning or James aren’t perfect, their teams’ chances of winning in the postseason are almost nil. They play on teams that sometimes have pretty good players around them — Manning historically moreso than James — yet when times get difficult, you can sense their teammates and coaches staring at them and screaming, silently: “Save us!”
The Super Bowl was not Peyton Manning’s first crushing loss against an underdog from Louisiana.
Even for players as historically great as Manning and James, that’s more of a burden than they can bear. Manning did win one Super Bowl (the year the defense showed up for the playoffs), but otherwise each player has had one championship game/series loss, and a litany of early flameouts.
So, if that’s the case, why do so many adult coaches putting that burden on young kids?
No doubt, kids figure out early who the best player on the team is, and they will cede to that player in a hurry. It’s a natural reaction. However, what’s not natural is coaches falling into that same trap by riding that top player, whether by keeping him or her in a game too long (either no time to rest or, say, too long on the mound), or drawing up plays simply for that one talented player, or literally telling everyone to get out of that player’s way.
Some kids can handle that pressure. But most can’t. As a youth coach, I stress everyone getting involved in a game, and stress to the designated best player that the best thing he or she can do is find ways to get other players involved. Pass the ball, even if you think they’ll drop it. Give a kind word after a missed free throw or a strikeout. Do something with your exalted position to let your teammates know you’re counting on them, too.
That is its own burden, and I’ve coached kids who have determined that, fuck it, everyone else here sucks, and I have to win this by myself. Again, a natural reaction for a kid, and there’s only so much you can do as a coach to stop it. But at least you have to try. Being the best player is its own burden. No sense making that burden heavier by sending the message that without you, we’re nothing.