One of my favorite sayings is the Biblical verse, “The truth will set you free.” On the other hand you have the quote, “You can’t handle the truth!” which is famous from the movie, “A Few Good Men.”

Obviously these two quotes are polar opposites. So which one do you follow as a coach? Which one do you believe in more? I have always tried to follow “The truth will set you free” especially when dealing with young athletes.

Coaches tell the truth when it deals with how a player is playing defense or offense. They also usually tell the truth when the player has a poor attitude or is not hustling. The problem that I see is that many coaches believe in the notion, “You can’t handle the truth” when it comes to that player’s future. For some coaches, it’s almost like they don’t want to get involved.

The biggest problem with young players is their naivety to the game and how to succeed in basketball. Last night I spoke with a few high school coaches and asked them, “Are you players naive in regards to basketball?.” Everyone responded with a resounding, “Yes.”

I understand why kids are “dreamers.” They want to believe that they are THE chosen ones to get that elusive scholarship to that big time D-1 college. They envision being on ESPN, being an NBA lottery pick and believing they will be a multi-year NBA all-star. They want a posse, expensive cars, lavish mansions and they will of course live happily ever after. Right?

Here’s the problem: many young players truly can’t comprehend the difference between fantasy and reality. They know what they want but they truly don’t understand how they are going to get there.

High school players have little if no idea how difficult it is to get a college scholarship. There are 351 Division I Universities in the United States. Hope you follow me on my math here. On the mens side, there are on average 1,050 new scholarships every year. I would estimate that 300 of those scholarships go to Junior College players and probably another 150 will be out of the country players. OK now we are down to 600 available scholarships for high school seniors.

In the United States there are over 20,000 high schools that play high school basketball and I would estimate that there are 5 high school seniors annually that play on a high school team. In other words, 100,000 high school seniors each year are trying to get that D-1 Scholarship and only 600 will.

There are 434 players in the NBA each year. In the United States alone 1,000 people every year will get struck by lightning. That means you have a two times better chance of getting struck by lightning than making it into the NBA. Not very good percentage, huh?

There’s a scene from Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd (Jim Carrey) asks the beautiful Mary Swanson what his chances are for a date. She responds “One in a million” and he responds back, “So you are telling me I have a chance” and he smiles. That is truly an internal optimist speaking.

It’s great for players to think outside the box, but what I have a problem with is that many of these “dreamers” have no sense of reality. I truly believe as coaches we never crush hopes of players, but we also need to tell the truth. We need to explain the odds and explain that there are other levels in college basketball as well (most players do not know this).

The biggest thing coaches need to explain to a player is that if he/she wants to achieve his/her dreams, that individual must work hard and train every day. I’m a big goal setting guy and believe in short term goals and long term goals for athletes especially at the middle school and high school levels. As coaches, we need to explain to our players how to set goals and work towards those goals.

A few years ago I was training an eighth grader and asked him, “What do you want out of basketball?” He responded, “I want to play at UCLA.” I asked him, how much do you train? He looked at me and said, “I don’t train. I just shoot.” “Well how much do you shoot?” I asked. He responded, “Maybe 20 minutes a week.”

I explained to him that “my life long goal is to be Emperor of China. I think that would be a cool gig. There’s only one problem here. I’m not Chinese (I think that’s pretty important). I have never been to China (but I like Chinese food) and the Chinese people don’t know about me. So, what are the chances of me being emperor of China? ZERO. Which is the same chances of you playing at UCLA because you put in little if no time.”

If a player works his or her butt off and has lofty goals, then that’s great. That player may not achieve playing at a UCLA one day, BUT he/she will get something. They will be rewarded some how. I have had players that have gone on to play at a Syracuse and Arizona that people laughed at when they were freshmen in high school. But they had GOALS and they worked toward their GOALS.

As coaches, however, we MUST tell the truth when our players believe they are going to get that elusive scholarship but lack a work ethic and dedication to this great game. It goes back to one of my favorite sayings: “You be good to basketball and basketball will be good to you.” I have added, “If you misuse basketball, basketball will misuse as well.”