A Reader Writes: Please Help Rescue My School’s Crummy Facilities!


I received this letter the other day from a high-school teacher who’s facing a problem we increasingly share: How to deal with the sweet, tempting narcotic of luxury.


Hi Dan,

The school where I used to teach has a great facility for the young athletes. It fit the “crummy” description perfectly. They had no lodge, heat, bathrooms, they changed in their cars and kicked ass, the skiers from this time won four state competitions and went on to win multiple national championships. 

Then some funding came up, new lodge, heat, bathrooms, outdoor electricity, timing hut, more trails, etc. Same coaches (one is an former Olympian, yes the psychology of being great was/is there too). The team has not won a state title since the new facility. 

The school district has another “crummy” facility that has produced some really impressive results for the football team. It is in the basement of the school, everyone (varsity non-varsity, established/unestablished) trains in close proximity. It’s got everything it needs to be great and nothing more. Now there’s a move to build a “better” and “bigger” facility. 

I emailed the head coach with my concern, and told him about your work and the power of crummy facilities. He wrote off what I had to say. 

Can you help me in any way to possibly save the “crummy” facility?


Readers: anything you’d like to share? Stories? Strategies? Wisdom from your experience with similar dilemmas? Feel free to write them below.

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18 Responses to “A Reader Writes: Please Help Rescue My School’s Crummy Facilities!”

  1. Adam says:

    Do you have a link where I could read about your work on crummy facility? I’m not familiar 🙁

  2. Aaron Danks says:

    Very interesting and a subject high on the agenda in football/soccer in the uk. We are currently undergoing a revamp of youth development by the premier league with clubs being audited in the hope of achieving category one status by meeting a long list of pre requisites. One of which is facilities. The players in this sport are receiving so much more at such a young age and this coupled with the state of the art facilities, sports scientist, performance analysts etc in a ‘leave no stone unturned’ coaching philosophy have left us in a tricky position.
    Better is good.
    But complacency is the biggest killer of talent in this country.

    The key questions for us now are:
    What causes complacency?
    What kills complacency?

    Interesting times and an intriguing discussion.
    I’m @coachdanks on twitter.

  3. How about keep the crummy facility and build a “press” room, lounge area, trophy display, etc. Sometimes better facilities serve as “eye candy” – it’s the proof that you have a great program for those who have not had a chance to see you in person. Admin people like this stuff.

    You could also buy your Admin person Dan’s books – and point out the “crummy” hotbeds around the world. I think most people are surprised that crumminess can create greatness.

  4. djcoyle says:

    Fascinating stuff, Aaron — I agree completely. As one commenter on twitter put it, the problem isn’t the facilities — it’s the privileged feeling they create. Is it possible to avoid that feeling with your athletes, when every signal they get is that they are the Chosen Ones?
    Seems like some places create a culture of humbleness — I’m thinking of Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy here — that goes out of their way to keep the kids grounded. Would that be possible?

  5. Mike says:

    The problem is the feeling of success, which has many sources, that stops kids/parents from trying to find that ‘sweet spot’ where improvement continues. If you’re on a local team who wins every tournament, you stop practicing as much (or as well) because you don’t need to; you’re the best! But in reality, if you travel outside your area you find teams that are much better than yours and it would motivate your kids to work harder because they now know they aren’t the chosen ones. Also, great facilities can motivate kids; our t-ball kids loved moving up to the nice major league fields. They were inspired and focused every time we did it. Facilities are an issue, but not the only issue, and it goes both ways.

  6. Casey says:

    I’m in the same boat. My school just finished a beautiful $10 million facility. It looks spectacular but it does scream to the kids, “You’ve made it,” when our mission right now is to create a hard working enviroment.

    I’m their strength coach, and have purposely purchased equipment that looks a little beat up, or it will in the next 2 years, as well as having a rule that no machines or anything that looks state of the art. They did install a 60 inch screen tv, but I only use it for music. I also have ordered a couple posters that scream blue collar attitude. Pictures of athletes in gyms sweating, chalk on their hands, and getting after it. I want to find an old punch clock machine where they come in an use that for attendance. I want the feeling that when you come in, you come to work.

    Last thing is, I’m having a student paint a “Kaizen” mural on the wall that represents that attitude of putting in work everyday and looking for errors to improve.

  7. Geof G. says:

    It’s all about the culture you create. Nice facilities do attract casual players, crummy facilities dont.
    Personally, I still train outdoors a lot on purpose, for both skills and SAQ, it filters the really serious ones and they love it. People who want to excel adapt well, casual players don’t. IMO.

  8. gpo613 says:

    My daughter is part of a huge swim team. They practice at 5 pools now. We are the smallest group and only get 5 of the 8 lanes of the local college’s pool. The younger kids get to see the older kids practice even if it is just for 15-30 mins. But they also get to know the older kids some. The other pools are much more segregated. Older kids at one pool and younger kids at another pool. Also the pool is not real spacious. There is not a ton of room on the pool deck. There is no viewing area and the parents who stay for practice have to sit on deck. I would describe it as cosy. The kids like it and it seems to work. I would hate nice facilities for anything especially high school.

  9. Ángel Sanz says:

    I have been working with elite talented athletes for the last 6 years to take the, to their highest and it is working quite well (16 years old girl just became Masters Champion n Tennis. 19 years old boy made it to the Paralimpics in London 2012, 22 years old driver is in Mclaren High Performance Program or 25 year old man won the Golf Spain PGA Championship and now playing Asian Tour).

    Regarding the issue, what I have learned is that it really makes the difference when they(athletes) are hungry enough. If they are hungry, they improve, they work everyday and stay motivated because they understand that is what it takes. Having the best facilities might give them the false sense of achievement. In addition, they need to stay hungry because they are going to compete against other athletes who are really hungry and sometimes, winning is about who wants it more (who is the hungriest!!!). And that is easier to train in “not so fancy” facilities where the environment helps

    Top facilities make more difficult to work on the hungerness and it is a draw back for talent development that has to be managed.

  10. Doc says:

    I would like to link this to one of Seth Godins ideas in his Education Manifesto. He believes that schools were created to prepare students to become complient workers in the idustrial system and since we were producing productive, complient workers we needed complient consumers. If we give students all the best facilities then they will probably never go back. If they have had great high school facilities and then even greater college facilities they will probably want the same or higher level of comfort in their personal lives which means buying and owning more stuff. I believe the coach has to be a great salesman/saleswoman to sell the simplicity idea to both players and parents. And, of course the coach has to believe this as well. However there are great players and individuals being turned out by both philosophies so maybe the idea of “What works best, works best” is best.

  11. Ian McClurg says:

    During the last 3 years our soccer academy has trained at a “run down” tennis club facility for winter futsal training and at a private school’s outdoor grass facility, which is currently in “transition”. One young player proclaimed that the “bad bounches” were helping his 1st touch! In the last 18 months, we have taken 1 player to Sevilla FC (Spain) for a trial, had 6 players invited to train with Toronto Fc academy and 16 players have been invited to the Wolves FC academy in England in spring! Creating a strong “training” environment is key and I am a disciple of the importance of “struggle” during training! May have something to do with my Northern Ireland background! Maximize what you have in terms of facilities and the importance of “earning” must not be lost in the path towards excellence!

  12. Walter says:

    I like Ian’s points! I coach a U12 boys soccer team and we have done very very well the last 2 years. Our club heads keep trying to give us a nice field to pactice on, or some of the greener better fields, but we are quite happy with our field that is not lined, not very green and come summer time the ground is hard as nails and the ball takes weird bounces. I figure if our boys learn to control the ball and play on that kind of surface, it’s no wonder their passing and soccer skills look so much better when we play our games on those nice “greener” and better fields.

  13. TJ says:

    I’m in the exact same situation. I’m in the process of building a new athletic training facility at my gym. We’ve outgrown our existing one, and safety has become a concern (we share it with the general public). At the same time though, I also don’t want to give the impression to my existing athletes that they’ve made it with a brand new facility just for them.

    We’ve decided we’re going to hang quotes around the new facility to gently remind the athletes the importance of hard work. For example, before entering the facility, there will be a sign on the door “If you’re not willing to give 100% every second, do not enter.” Then a huge banner across one of the walls reads “If you are happy with mediocrity you are in the wrong gym.” And before they leave, the door poses a questions to them “Are you better now than you were before you entered those doors?”.

    We’re also hanging school banners in the hallway entering the gym of our former athletes who are currently in college hoping they motivate our current athletes to follow in their footsteps with regards to hard work.

    We also hope that because the new facility is larger, some of our younger athletes will get to be in the gym at the same time as some of our older athletes so that they see positive role models.

    And if those measures fail, we’ll reinforce our commitment to hard work and growth and remove any athletes that aren’t ready yet.

  14. TJ says:

    And of course we perform monthly evaluations with the athlete that has the athlete rate their effort, their growth, their failures, and their successes during the previous 30 days as well as set concrete small and large goals for the next 30 days. We try to focus on effort as opposed to performance measures. In fact, we praise effort and at times, especially with our males, ignore positive performances.

  15. Richard says:

    Some great points mentioned.
    Casey, love the Kaizen mural idea, big fan of the concept and having that as driving force.
    Re the facilities, agree with most sentiments that they can create a sense of entitlement or feeling of having already “made it”. I have seen this repeatedly with our private school system, recruiting the best young talent and they dont achieve anything in the long run.
    One factor thatseems to be overlooked is the change of approach by the coahces and staff when they get new or super facilities. How much do they influence they attitude of the players or athletes. If the coaches stay hungry and keep driving the standards expected the quality of the facilities, should not be as big a factor.

  16. Alec says:

    The truth is that most innovations don’t come from money. Innovation comes from being forced to find a way to make it work.

  17. Alex says:

    This gave me some ideads, there is research showing that we become happy/satisfied not if what we have is luxurious but what we have in comparision to our neighboors/acquantancies.

    I guess I would investing in having top medical facilities and scientists/coaches/nutritionists/psychologists but having a day to day beat up ground to train would be great to spurt growth.

    Just thought about one problem of doing this for top teams (professional level), you will need to pay more for athletes and their work to get out of the club might mean causing ruckus since they don’t need to build their reputation.

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