Most people would consider Elk River a hockey town. And while hockey has been a staple in our community for years, many of us have fled the arctic arena for the cozier confines of the basketball gymnasium. However, in no way has this warmer temperature fostered a more comfortable climate. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find anything “comforting” about some of the coaching techniques of Elk River boys’ varsity basketball coach Randy Klasen.
Over the past decade, with Klasen at the helm, the Elk River boys’ basketball team has enjoyed much success, earning multiple trips to the state tournament and consistently winning in the competitive Northwest Suburban Conference. Regardless, after witnessing many of these games from the bleachers, this reader can’t help but wonder, “Is winning really everything?” You see, from the bleachers, Klasen’s winning record is overshadowed by his domineering persona. From the bleachers you hear Klasen’s harsh criticisms echo throughout the gym; you see his fierce gestures influence his players’ body language; and you notice the dejected expressions on players’ faces after they’ve been benched for extended time periods.
According to adolescent psychologist Dr. Carl Pickhardt, high school coaches often create social environments in which players and parents fear negative consequences and, thus, silence their dissatisfactions. This silence was poignantly illustrated at this year’s Elk River boys basketball banquet. At the banquet — an occasion which is traditionally reserved for commemorating a team’s achievements — Klasen scolded players and parents for allowing family events to disrupt basketball-related activities. Klasen even went as far as to tell parents when it was acceptable for them to plan family trips. But even more audacious than Klasen’s remarks was the fact that, in that room full of adults, not a single person voiced a word of disapproval.
Is winning really everything? Is that all that high school sports are really about? Don’t we also want our kids to develop leadership skills, to learn to treat each other appropriately, and to experience the challenge of an interdependent goal? Those traits transcend the arena of high school sports and are applicable to the rest of one’s adult life. However, it takes the right coach to foster such an atmosphere.
One such coach who comes to mind is a coach who, coincidentally, also did a great deal of winning. Ten-time national champion, Coach John Wooden once said, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” While it would be unfair to compare all coaches to Wooden’s standard, it is the opinion of this reader, that all coaches would be well-served to adopt Wooden’s compassion and humility. In that regard, I think, Randy Klasen has a ways to go. — Jansen B. Werner, Elk River