The Sports Culture Critic

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Over a decade ago, on a typical rainy September day in Ireland, I walked into the local sports facility and asked if anybody needed a basketball coach. It was not planned, and it was not something I had given any thought to. And to this day, I can’t tell you exactly why I did it—though I like to think it had something to do with my passion for the game of basketball combined with an interest in serving others.

Within a few months, I went from coaching one team to three teams, and at the end of my semester, I dropped out of law school to pursue a physical education degree, so I could coach basketball and teach. My impulsive decision was centered around the fulfillment and joy I experienced when helping people as a coach.  I was enthusiastic, optimistic, and ready to change the world with a basketball team.

Eight years later, my enthusiasm and optimism were all but dead. I was so miserable and disgruntled as a coach that I was seriously considering leaving coaching altogether. My relationships with players were at an all-time low with my frustrations only growing towards the players, the parents, the administrators, and some of the other coaches in our school. I blamed everybody else for the growing entitlement and distorted values of our athletic culture.

From my perspective, sports were doing more harm than good.

So, I became a culture critic.

What good is a critic? Critics aren’t helpful; they rarely change anything. Just think of a Hollywood film critic. Year after year, Hollywood pumps out dumb films like The Fast and the Furious series. Each of those films easily grossed over $200M, the series alone has made over $3.9B, and yet, those films couldn’t be further from art! And while Hollywood critics keep destroying them in their reviews, people keep ignoring those critics and showing up at the theaters! Critics don’t transform culture, they just observe it.

Culture Creator

“If all we do is condemn culture, mutually agreeing on how bad things are becoming, we are very unlikely indeed to have any cultural effect, because human nature abhors a cultural vacuum. They need something better, or their current set of cultural goods will have to do.”

—Andy Crouch, Culture Making

As a leader, I was failing to do what Crouch proposes we are all called to do: Cultivate the existing good, and create more good to replace the existing bad. In his book, Culture Making, Crouch argues that our calling is to become cultivators and creators—not critics.

My attempts to change the culture around me were just complaining, criticizing, and attempting to change people. I failed to focus my attention on the one and only thing I could change: Myself.

To make the difference I set out to make in coaching, I wasn’t just going to need to pick up the latest leadership book and apply some strategies. I’d have to dig a lot deeper and work a lot harder. As Joe Ehrmann says, “If you want to become a better coach, you have to become a better you.”

Take Action

Don’t just be a critic of culture, take the steps to become a creator of culture!

-J.P. Nerbun