Ken Hitchcock, in an interview with Tom Timmerman of the Post-Dispatch, mentioned that David Backes was “dutiful.” What does that mean? Does that mean that he put his nose to the grindstone and did everything possible for the team to succeed?
Apparently to Hitchcock, “dutiful” means “don’t question the coach.” The full context of that word is here:
“I’m confident in the group,” he said Tuesday, “but this one asks way more questions. (David) Backes was way more dutiful.”
So, is questioning authority not dutiful? Who is it not dutiful toward? Obviously, not accepting what one is told at face value is frustrating for those doing the telling. However, questioning authority is dutiful, especially when your duty is to the team as a whole. Questioning authority doesn’t mean that you don’t trust the authority figure; it means that you want clarification or that you want to understand their thought process. If Hitch wants his beloved “buy-in,” he has to give the team a reason to do so. By explaining what he’s doing and what he’s asking of the team, he gives them a reason to buy in. This isn’t justifying his decisions; it’s giving the team a glimpse into his reasoning and a chance to understand it.
For those of you who don’t know, I am a teacher. I encourage kids to question me. There are different types of questioning authority - some people do it specifically to disrespect that authority figure by poking holes in their argument. People who do this don’t care about understanding why they’re being asked to do something; people who do this want to make themselves look good. People who question an authority figure’s thought process and ideas, however, form a dialogue. This dialogue does two things. One, it strengthens the student’s (or player’s, or whoever’s) understanding of the concept and how to address it. Two, it leads to an exchange of ideas that can find a method that works for all parties - or a method that could be better than the original. If what I’m doing or saying isn’t working for a kid, I want to hear what they have to say. It’s my job to ensure that they learn the material.
It’s Hitch’s job to ensure that the Blues learn how to win games.
Sometimes my lesson plans don’t work the way that I want them to. Sometimes the students’ input can turn a meh activity into a deeper and more useful learning opportunity. Feedback is good.
"This one’s going to be a challenge because they don’t have a problem voicing their opinion. I’ve either got to be a better listener or find some ear plugs on the way to the airport. One way or the other, we’ll figure it out, but these guys aren’t afraid to ask questions.
"It’s a lineup to my door right now. Hopefully we’ll get that fixed in the next week or so. I’m sure I’ll find a way to leave them alone. Hopefully they leave me alone.”
Chances are good that Hitch is kidding around here when he says this - if there were video of this exchange, we could probably tell more clearly. But if he’s not kidding, this is an issue. Dissuading the players from having a dialogue with the coach can create a divide. You really don’t want that. You can have players understand that the coaching staff is in a position of authority without turning it into an “us versus them” situation. Watching some of my coworkers turn their classrooms into that exact situation is painful and frustrating. The students don’t feel like they have a voice, and they’re not invested in the class.
The players need to be invested in the gameplan. The easiest way to get them to buy-in is to have them feel like their input is valued, and that their questions are valid. Success is their responsibility as much as the coaches’. Coming up with a way to achieve that success should be a collaborative process.