September 30, 2020

Joba, I’m Going to Need You to Stay After Class

March 16, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Professional athletes are like high school girls.  “I get older, they stay the same age.”

I’m slowly reaching the point in my life where I am now older than a majority of the athletes I root for.  I feel this difference in age gives me the right to complain about how things today aren’t as great as when I was young—when everyone was on PEDs and putting up ungodly unnatural numbers—how players today lack etiquette, take their fans for granted, and overindulge in fame—totally unlike the ’86 Mets—and lecture those younger than me about the proper way to play the game.

So now, I’m going to merge my day job as a middle school teacher with this gig, put on my teacher hat, hold Joba Chamberlain after class, and have a nice one-on-one with him before he heads off to recess.

Joba, do you know why I asked you to stay behind today?

(You always want to give them a chance to share their side of the story.)

No?  Ok, well let’s go over a few things.  As you know, the Yankees’ starting rotation is in a state of flux right now.  C.C., A.J., and Phil are still here, but Andy retired and we all had no idea who the fifth starter was going to be anyway.  So, there were two starting pitching spots open this spring.

Remember when you were drafted?  Before you came into the league, you were a starter, right?

(Again, engage them in conversation.  You don’t want this to come off like a lecture.)

And when you were drafted, weren’t you told that the eventual goal was to use you as a starter?

Well, knowing all that, shouldn’t you have worked your tail off this winter to give yourself the best possible opportunity to take one of those open spots?

Instead, you showed up to camp overweight and out of shape.  Your fastball hasn’t been what it once was, and you’re being hit pretty hard.  Also, because of your lack of preparation, you’ve got a strained oblique and you may miss opening day.

(This is important, you want to name and identify the undesirable behavior.  Also, it’s meaningful if you can make a connection between the behavior and a negative result.)

To be honest, I’m not really interested in what Derek or Alex did.  You know who’s responsible for Alex’s actions?

Alex is; that’s right.  So who is responsible for your actions?

Exactly, you are.  You shouldn’t be worried about what other people do, because you can only control one person, and that’s yourself.

(Don’t allow the student to compare himself to his classmates.  This is a very social time of life, but students need to be able to see themselves as their own person capable of making their own decisions.  Just because Alex Rodriguez hangs out with Cameron Diaz at the Super Bowl doesn’t mean Joba Chamberlain has to eat three cheeseburgers and a plate of hot wings in the company of some wannabe actress at a local pub in February.)

No, I know you’re not entirely to blame for this situation.  I agree, the Yankee brass really messed with your head.  Look, I compare this situation to the differences between how my wife and I listen to the car radio.

(Personal anecdotes can help humanize a teacher.  Students will hopefully see you as less of an authority figure and more of a person.)

She loves Billy Joel and Taylor Swift.  She will flip around endlessly until she lights upon Uptown Girl or Tim McGraw.  It can get annoying, but she knows what she wants and she goes after it.  Me?  My music tastes are more eclectic.  It means I can tolerate more, so I flip around less.  The result is that sometimes I’ll happily end up with The Beatles’ Let it Be or Green Day’s Basketcase, but other times, because I don’t know what I want, I’ll have to deal with Ricky Martin or the Spice Girls.  Yeah, I agree; they do suck.

The Yankees never really knew what they wanted from you.  You were a phenom as a reliever and mediocre as a starter because of all the innings limits and pitch restrictions they placed on you.  Now, you’re not really excelling in any role.  You’re the equivalent of a radio stuck on a staticy station that endlessly plays Who Let the Dogs Out.

(Note: Don’t insult the student like I just did.  I’m allowed to because this is a fictional situation and I’m pretending that 26-year-old Joba Chamberlain is a middle-schooler.)

Joba, I can see you’re getting upset, but you need to understand how important this is.  We saw what happened to the Yankees last year without a stable starting rotation, and this year’s staff looks worse.  You could have gone a long way in helping out your teammates, your coaches, and your fans.  You chose not to.

I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed.

(This is also key.  When students think you’re mad, they feel like they’re being chastised and can tune out.  Conveying disappointment shows that you still hold them in high regard and have high standards that you still believe they can meet.)

Look, right now, we need to focus on getting you healthy.  But, just know, your actions have consequences.  The natural upshot for you is that you’re not going to compete for a starting role or the set-up spot.  You’ll be a middle reliever and we’ll go from there.

Does that sound fair?  I know it’s not what anybody wants, but it’s what has to happen.  Maybe in the future, you’ll learn from this mistake, and be better prepared to become a starter.

Alright, here’s a tissue.  Go get a drink of water and clean yourself up.

You’ve still got a few minutes of recess left.


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