The Shadows of Youth

by

By: Adam Hutchinson
Head Men’s Basketball Coach

"The Shadows of Youth" -- what a great book!

Basketball season is one long emotional roller coaster.  It starts in October, ends in February or March, and is filled with highs and lows.  This February we were in the midst of a really tough stretch where we were not playing our best, winter term was in full swing, the academic pressure on our guys was heavy, and all of us were just generally frustrated. This type of period happens to every coach (at least the ones I know) every season, and it causes such confusion because you often know how you FEEL about everything from your team, to your style of play, to your very profession, but don’t always know what you THINK about those same things.  Usually clarity returns after the season ends and you have time to get away and reflect.  This brings to mind the saying that experience is a cruel teacher, because it gives the test first, and then provides the lesson.

I was in the midst of just such a confusing period when I purchased The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation by Andrew B. Lewis from our campus bookstore.  At first glance one would not think that a book focused on people and events that contributed to the Civil Rights Movement would have much relevance to a college basketball coach in 2011, but two quotes from the book immediately resonated with me:

1)      “This world demands the qualities of youth: not the time of life, but a state of mind, a temper of will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease . . . it is the young people who must take the lead.”  Robert Kennedy

2)      “There go my people: I have to run and catch up with them because I am their leader.”  Gandhi

The general direction of the book seems to be that to focus on a small group of adults as leaders of the  Civil Rights Movement, as the Movement is often depicted, provides an incomplete and inaccurate picture .  The Movement instead was fueled by the energies of numerous young people, and their efforts to correct the inconsistencies and injustices they perceived in American society.  One central premise of the book, and implied in Kennedy’s quote, is that the movement could ONLY be lead by young people, because they had less invested in the way things were, and less to lose if things changed.

Oddly enough, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and several other countries in the middle east were experiencing profound societal pressure and change around the same time I was reading The Shadows of Youth.  The news coverage that I was able to follow in Time, Newsweek, USNews, etc. is in agreement that this change was led by young people and their desire for more open, democratic and fair society.   Mubarek, Ghadaffi and some other leaders in question seem don’t seem inclined to follow Ghandi’s model of leadership, and instead seem intent on maintaining their position of power.

Both Shadows of Youth and the current events in the middle east reminded me that games are just games, but they also challenged me to continue thinking about leadership and group dynamics in ways that challenge conventional wisdom.  For example, why does so much literature focus on leaders instead of doers?  Is it because it would be unwieldy to study and talk about all of the contributions of French soldiers (doers), while it is relatively simple to tell a story about Napoleon (leader)?   These are just a few examples of the many questions that came to mind, most of which would require more length than this blog allows to analyze fairly.  The clarity though can be summarized simply:  the young people on our team were intent on getting us a victory that night, and I had to put this book down and catch up with them.

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