January 13, 2014 • From the BenchWinning Hoops

There’s no harm in dreaming big

by Kevin Hoffman

Very few of you have ever had the luxury of coaching a future NBA star. The odds are overwhelmingly stacked against young athletes, and regardless of the jumpers they put up in practice or the hours they spend in the weight room, most are doomed well before they ever step on to the court.

That begs an important question: Do we provide kids with false hope and fuel their dreams of becoming a pro athlete, or do we force them to face the harsh reality that the game will never exceed the worth of academics?

Matt Amaral, a high school English teacher in southern California, addressed that quandary in May when he wrote a lengthy blog explaining why he hopes Steph Curry never visits his school. Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player this season, has been an inspirational figure off the court, but Amaral believes he’s sending the wrong message to young athletes. Especially those in poor high schools where dreams of being a rich-and-famous celebrity might lead some kids to neglect their studies, which in all likelihood are the true key to their futures.

Amaral isn’t concerned with the message Curry might send, rather the message he fails to send.

“You won’t say that since the day you were born you had a professional one-on-one tutor who helped you hone your skills on a daily basis, Amaral wrote. Your father Dell Curry was an NBA great just like you are after him, but you will not remind the poor kids at my school that they have never had such a wonderful instructor and they never will.

“And if you do ever visit my school, you also won’t mention that along with your father’s success came all the monetary rewards none of my students have, like three square meals a day; a full sized court and hoop in the backyard; a sense of safety; a mother and a father; top schools, top peers, and community resources. I know you might not think of it like this, but you might as well have come from another planet. But you won’t say that, will you?”

Amaral goes on to illustrate why it’s dangerous for his students to dream big. They won’t become the next Curry, he argues, so it’s more advantageous for them to hit books instead of jump shots.

Amaral isn’t wrong, and statistics show just how difficult it is for young athletes to reach the professional level. That being said, I think Amaral misses a key point.

When we tell our children they can be astronauts or actors, it’s more about instilling confidence in their abilities than it is trying to create the next Neil Armstrong. If we make a habit of telling kids they’re not good enough to be great, they could also begin to lose faith in their capacity achieve something more attainable, like a college degree.

Curry’s message won’t force kids to exchange their books for basketballs, but it could provide a greater sense of worth that’s equally beneficial in the classroom or job market. Young student-athletes are smart enough to figure out when their chances of going pro have all but evaporated. They don’t need another voice in their heads telling them to give up.