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   Coaches put a lot of stock in their seniors, but it’s not personal. They have good reasons.  Behind the Clipboad: Clay Kallam    All...

   Coaches put a lot of stock in their seniors, but it’s not personal. They have good reasons. 

Behind the Clipboad: Clay Kallam

   All my coach does is talk about seniors. “The seniors have to step up,” “The seniors are the key to the team,” and he says things like that over and over and over. I’ve heard other coaches say the same things. I’m a sophomore, and I’m sick of hearing about seniors.

   J.D., Lafayette

   OK, it is annoying, I’ll give you that. But there are a lot of reasons coaches love seniors, and why coaches say things like that constantly. First, though, let’s look at the other end of the spectrum.

   One of the annoying things I do is ask my freshmen players, “What’s the best thing about freshmen?” If they know me at all, they’re not expecting me to say something like “Their enthusiasm is so wonderful,” or “I love to see them jumping around the gym and giggling like 10-year-olds” — and they’re right. My answer is simple: “The best thing about freshmen is that next year they’ll be sophomores.”

   Why am I so mean? Well, we don’t have room to go into that, so we’ll settle for why I like sophomores more than freshmen. The obvious answer is easy: They’re more mature. And juniors are more mature than sophomores, and so on. The more mature a player is, the more she can deal with the ups and downs of a long basketball season. She’s less likely to get her feelings hurt by something unintentional, she’s less likely to suddenly have problems with schoolwork and she has a better feel for the reality of high school sports (not to mention life in general).

   But another factor is experience, and my feeling about experience is this: It doesn’t mean a thing until you have it. If a high school basketball player has played 50 varsity games, he’s way ahead of someone who’s played 15 — but there’s no way the player with just 15 games can understand that because he hasn’t played 50 games yet.

   Experience comes into play not just in terms of what happens on the court, but in being familiar with the other gyms in the league, with how to handle a two-hour bus ride, with the best way to keep up on homework, with how to set the inevitable high school drama aside when it’s time to play. The list could go on, but what a sophomore simply cannot see is how much all this matters — though when he’s a senior he’ll understand a bit better.

   Finally, most seniors play with a sense of urgency because for most of them, this is the last time they’ll ever play the sport in an organized fashion with fans and media coverage (however minimal) and adults paying serious attention. This focus translates, most of the time, into an intensity that a sophomore or junior simply can’t comprehend, because at 15 or 16, it seems like high school will never end. But seniors fill out college applications and the reality slowly starts sinking in that this whole high school thing — sports and all — is going to end sooner rather than later.

   So yes, coaches do like seniors more than sophomores, and yes, it’s not fair. But to quote more common coachspeak, “Who says life is fair?”

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