Generation of quitters

The news began trickling out this week, about all the athletes that are leaving Division I programs right now. It’s clear that this will be another year like last year in which a staggering number of young people give up their scholarships.

It disturbs me deeply. I’ve been thinking for a few days how to write about it, and then this interview with Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard was posted. The Cyclones have lost all four of their women’s basketball recruits from last year, despite reaching the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2010. Their male hoopers are leaving too. It’s a problem that effects both the men’s and women’s sides in every conference.

Here are Pollard’s very candid remarks:

My peers and I continually discuss the epidemic around the country in the sport of basketball. In the past two years over 500 men’s basketball players have transferred from a Division I team to another program. That number is absolutely amazing. Unfortunately if a kid’s world is not absolutely perfect (in their mind), they run from the problem rather than deal with it. Makes you wonder if it is the first signs of our society’s change in our early education program (no longer give kids grades – everybody passes; can’t keep score, everybody has to win; if you do not like something, have mom or dad complain on your behalf). Personally I wonder how that generation is going to survive in the real world when mom or dad or AAU coach are not there for them during their first job interview or first job evaluation. The bottom line is life is not a video game, you can’t just hit reset if you do not like your initial score.

Education isn’t necessarily to blame, as not all elementary schools use the same grading system. High schools use the A-B-C-D-F sytem, and no kid can escape NCAA GPA requirements getting out of high school.

Often times the “using parents as a cop-out” issue does apply, but there are just as many cases where a kid is left on her own and/or not supported much of the time and still quits. I’ve seen plenty of those cases in the schools where I’ve been employed.

I work with athletes. I also teach high school students daily – most of whom aren’t athletes – and I have my own theory about all the transfers: this generation gives up too easily. They don’t seem to have any concept of perseverance and what it takes to reach a goal, the amount of work involved in achievement, and the number of times they’ll need to just suck it up to get there.

Examples…..I have had both athletes and students quit after a couple of laps. Kids will say they’re going to hit the weight room and never get there. They’ll start on something and won’t finish it. They’re worse than their parents – many of whom begin a workout program and then quit. These kids never really get started in the first place. They get tired after less than five minutes and then they give up.

A mixture of several factors contribute to these circumstances, in my opinion. For one, we live in an instant gratification culture where people expect things to happen fastfastfast. Young people have no patience today because of that, which is another part of the problem. If it doesn’t happen right now, they say forget it.

Another factor is that kids don’t believe in adults the way they used to when I was younger. Grownups used to be thought of as wise people, and sometimes kids were even afraid of them. A little fear is a good thing sometimes, but today’s youth aren’t afraid of anything or anyone. They also don’t necessarily respect adults; older people have to “earn” their respect (in their eyes). They think they know more than coaches, and sometimes their parents do too.

Pollard is right on the money with the “reset” theory. Kids today think everything can be negotiated or changed if they don’t like it. They didn’t go to the old school that my father tended – the “tough sh*t” school. That’s unfortunate, because it made me and my peers very resilient. This generation has no resilience, for the most part. It’s scary.

A lot of times female ballers leave a program because they’re homesick. Well, tough beans. If it were my daughter and she tried to levy that excuse, I’d tell her it’s only four years, and she can use this as a lesson in putting up with circumstances that don’t agree with her, because it will be far from the last time that happens. I’d tell her to suck it up.

What will happen to this next generation, I’m not sure. But it makes me uneasy. Given the massive numbers that would rather stay overweight than begin regular exercise, and the hundreds that are now giving up college scholarships, it’s a good thing I plan on working past my retirement age. These quitters are going to need us.


  1. Interesting points, but I'm not quite sure I agree totally with your assessment of the quitting generation (also spoken as an educator). It's not that I'm ignoring the "instant gratification" theory — but I wonder if every generation looks back and the one coming up and says, "When I was young, I had to walk 7 miles, in the snow, with no boots!) 🙂

    (FWIW — it's interesting to look at the graduation/retention rates of colleges OVERALL — check out Higher Ed's chart:

    I'm interested in a broader picture (not to mention action steps).

    There are many reasons a player might transfer — homesick, playing time, a coach that said one thing and acts another way, an academic program that is above their ability or doesn't suit (goes to the kind of thought put into choice of school), trouble/need at home, etc.

    Also, if we're talking quitters, lets talk coaches who move from one program to another, breaking contracts – both with schools and students.

    There have ALWAYS been "quitters" in school, in gym, in life. BUT, college is not for everyone, high school is not for everyone — certainly the oft forgotten history of US education shows that. It's all a relatively new phenomena – and I don't know that the "system" that expects everyone to go to hs and college has caught up with the reality of what that means – quality teachers, quality programs, quality education, fair compensation, etc. (Think of all the complaints we have about officiating — and then think about the fact that it takes 10yrs to develop a top official, and the women's game is behind the men's game etc. etc.)

    There have always been kids who thought they knew better than adults. And there have always been adults that thought they knew better simply BECAUSE they were older — and really didn't know sh*t. That's not going to change — but I think adults have to figure out what to do when they ARE challenged. "Because I said so" is a weak azz answer. If that's all you got, you're not THINKING about what you're doing and why. So, when you get challenged, you get all upset 'cause you've been caught out. By a punk kid no less. Sometimes ego gets in the way on all sides.

    But back to the point — these athletes who're transferring: Somehow, these "quitters" worked hard enough to get to a DI school. The people AROUND them (their parents, coaches, teachers, guidance counselors (ha! we know the reality of that) supported them – be it with money, time, encouragement, fawningness or whatever. College coaches have been kvetching about that for a while. Not every kid is self-possessed enough to resist the praise heaped on them to see the potential "damage" or self-serving reason behind it.

    I also think the reality of a DI basketball scholarship (on the women's side and, maybe it's happening more on the men's side) is hard to explain. Heck, the reality of COLLEGE is hard to explain — I certainly didn't have a clue.

  2. I appreciate the comments and the discussion. As with any major issue, you can't pin it on any ONE thing; it's always a mixture of issues, which makes solutions hard to find.

  3. Great post! We do live in a world of instant gratification that also supports if not encourages taking the path of least resistance. What makes matters worse is that so many kids, athletes and non athletes alike, grow up with such a distorted sense of entitlement that they interpret even the slightest bit of adversity as a personal attack. There used to be a saying "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" Now the saying should be "When the going gets tough, nearly everybody goes!"

    Helen mentions that there are several reasons a player might transfer but none of them are good reasons. If an 18 year old enlists in the Army can she pick up and leave because she's homesick? What if her platoon leader says one thing and acts another way? What if there is trouble at home? What if she is ordered to contribute in a role that she considers to be beneath her?

    We might respond by saying that someone who enlists in the Army should knows what they are getting into before they commit. In this day and age of abundant and accessible information shouldn't the same apply to college athletics?

    In response it was said that somehow these "quitters" obviously worked hard enough to get into a D1 school in the first place. Not necessarily true! There are dozens and dozens of athletes that are awarded D1 scholarships (especially on the women's side) based solely on their size, athleticism, and future potential. Unfortunately there is no real test that measures these athletes ability to persevere when things don't go exactly as planned.

    I completely agree with Helen’s statement that says “I think adults have to figure out what to do when they ARE challenged.” Unfortunately, many of those adults, especially the younger ones, have grown up running away from challenges and adversity and thus do not know how to respond properly when challenged. Those 500 athletes who transferred last two years. . . .what words of wisdom and experience will have they have to impart when they are someday challenged by a “punk kid”?

  4. Great post yourself, Dave. Love your "when the going gets tough, everyone goes." That's right on the money.

    Anyone who works with young people today understands this situation.

  5. People generally don't quit when they find what is right for them. Kids might go through a million things and be 40 before they find that "right" thing that is truly what they want. And then some never do……. There are tons who live in pacified mediocrity, and they are happy with it.

  6. I have a feeling it has a lot to do with parents too. They are more concerned with how much playing time their son/daughter gets rather than the quality of education they will receive. Perhaps more effort should be made to explain the realities of D1 basketball to these youngsters before they sign their LOI. We all can't be super stars and even if we are one in college, it's very unlikely that superstardom will continue beyond those four years. That said, the degree should be primary for these kids. After all, it's their education that will help them pay the rent, not their basketball skills.

    Quitters is an apt description. Life wasn't meant to be easy. If you don't like something, maybe you should suck it up and work through it, rather than give up. That will build more character than basketball ever could.