Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Coach Leta Andrews and TrueHoop

It is because of American Tiger Moms like Leta Andrews that the Korean still has faith in America:
GRANBURY, Tex. — At 7:15 a.m. on Monday, the girls’ basketball team at Granbury High assembled for practice. As always, shirts had to be tucked in, hair pulled back. If a shoelace came untied, it meant running the bleachers. Questions had two acceptable answers: Yes ma’am and no ma’am.

Sure, Coach Leta Andrews had her lighter moments. She might show up at practice in a crazy wig; once she even wore a bikini. But joking around is not how she got her name on the local water tower for winning more basketball games than any high school coach in the country — 1,346 victories, an average of 27 a season, in her 49-year career.


“She’s a tough coach,” Jordan said. “She doesn’t let you slack off. Sometimes she makes us cry, but we know it’s for the good. I can’t picture high school without her.”

Former players stay in touch. In 1996, Andrews traveled to Atlanta to cheer on Amy Acuff, who had played for her championship team in Corpus Christi and was now competing in the Olympic high jump. Three years ago, shortly after having stents implanted in a blocked artery, Andrews drove eight hours to attend the funeral of Cerny’s mother.

Acuff, a four-time Olympian, said: “I think people often are afraid to discipline kids; they feel it is too harsh or that the kid won’t love you. But I think the root of respect and love is a person expecting and demanding that you be as good as you can be every single moment.”

Andrews longs for more diversity on her team and more gym rats, players who want to win as badly as she does. “Don’t run around like a chicken with your head cut off,” she scolded her offense Monday. But she is not ready to retire. The only win that is important, she said, is the next one.

“I’m not ready to turn this over to these younger coaches,” Andrews told her husband recently. “They just don’t demand enough.”
Texas Coach Demands Best, Has Record to Prove It [New York Times] (emphasis the Korean's).

After hearing so much whining about Tiger Mom's "emotional abuse," it was so nice to know there are still people in America who get it. But over at TrueHoop (one of the Korean's favorite blogs,) Henry Abbott had a different take.

More after the jump.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

Henry was troubled by Coach Andrews' strictness:
Exacting is one way to describe it. Another way to describe it is child abuse. I'm sure there is a line between that, and, say the demonic Robert DeNiro character in "This Boy's Life" (PG-13), but it's hard to know precisely where it is. Nevertheless, that kind of parenting is cited as a positive example in how Texas high-school girls are taught, in 2011, to play basketball?


What's weird to me is the conviction -- shared by so many -- that young basketball players need to receive punishments every day; even when they aren't actually doing anything wrong.

Can you imagine if they taught math and science this way? With punishments for almost every student almost every class? With routine tears? With no one but the teacher allowed to speak?
The last phrase caught the Korean's eyes, so he sent Henry an email (which was in turn quoted in TrueHoop):
I am writing because your latest post caught my eyes, especially this passage: "Can you imagine if they taught math and science this way? With punishments for almost every student almost every class? With routine tears? With no one but the teacher allowed to speak?"

This is EXACTLY how math and science are taught in East Asian countries. I emigrated to America when I was 16, after finishing 9th grade in Korea. (I am 30 years old now.) I was astonished to find out just how soft and backward American math and science education was. An average 10th grader at my school was learning math concepts that I finished learning in 6th grade. And the available data bears out my experience -- students from East Asian countries lead the world in math and science, while America comes in near last in the developed world.

My opinion is that tough lessons are accepted for a reason -- they certainly did produce Leta Andrews, whose result speaks for itself.
Henry replied with the crucial question:
My tale is really not about optimal parenting, or even optimal coaching.

It's about inconsistency in what is considered decent and acceptable. Is it okay for a teacher to make kids cry routinely or not? I'm saying that it's odd that sports bring out an appreciation of harshness and punishments that we don't have in other parts of our lives. That hypothetical math teacher would likely be fired. But that real coach is celebrated. My point is: What's the difference? That's a question for all of us.
That's a great question, and a great point. (Bold emphasis is the Korean's.) It is something that requires thought. We clearly want harshness and punishments -- which can be otherwise termed "toughness" -- in teaching children sports. Then why don't we want the same toughness in teaching other things? Why are we so terrified of quote-unquote "emotional abuse"?

We know that what makes a sports team win and what makes students do better in math and science are the same things -- discipline, effort, practice. We feel unhappy when American students come in last in the developed world in math and science, just as much as we feel unhappy to see our sports team lose. We love coaches who instill toughness. Yet we would flip out of our shit if a teacher humiliated students or made students run endless wind sprints for not doing the best they can in math exams.

What's the difference? There should be no difference. Americans have to start realizing that.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. Ouch! In a good way. Every time you put up these posts about the difference between the general American and East Asian work ethic I feel guilty about how Americans, me being one, act when being punished or being corrected. There's this idea to only let the kid/adult stay in his little soft puddle of ignorance. His feelings are more important than the fact of him learning the work. But the point is for the kid to learn his work and to learn it well. If there is a method that's good and it works why throw it away for something shown to be less effective.

    Can I also, say that you're posts tend to inspire, and gives a swift kick to the butt for me to wake up and tough it out. Anyway, thanks for this post.

  2. The difference is this: high school varsity athletes have CHOSEN to play at that level, and in the case of Coach Andrews team, have probably already demonstrated the talent to succeed at that level. In a public school math or science classroom, there is no choice. Everyone must be educated. Some kids are just average. Some are below average. That isn't low expectations, it's reality. Coach Andrews-style methods will undoubtedly raise average scores, but at what cost? Grinding the low-performers into the dust with humilation? And stunting the critical thinking of the best students? I've been a teacher for 14 years (admittedly not in math or science, but elite prep-school English) and being a total hard-ass is NOT the only way to get results. But it is probably the easiest and most efficient method, I will grant. Unless you count a nation's disastrously high suicide rate as an inefficiency. But hey--those kids offing themselves were going to be failures anyway, right?

  3. You can be a tough teacher without yelling or insulting students. (I do think that yelling is less appropriate in a science class than a gym class, if only because gyms are bigger than science classrooms.) Also, if you are a tough teacher, you need to give help to the kids who need it. My honors (later AP) chemistry teacher was very, very tough. The first test of the year was a "90% test"- you either got at least a 90% on it or you took it again and again until you did. (It makes sense- if you don't understand things like the mole concept and how to use a chemical equation REALLY well, you are not going to learn anything in the rest of the course.) He didn't need to shout or yell or insult- he simply had a standard and held everyone to it, no matter how much anyone complained or cried. In addition, he was willing to stay and work with people at lunch and after school until they understood the concepts. Even the "below average" people learned quite a bit.

    My mother sometimes yelled at me for reasons she didn't bother explaining, for things that I couldn't help (like the shape of my jawbone), or for things she assumed I did that I didn't. That's abusive. Setting high standards and demanding that students reach them is not.

  4. The level of harshness in being tough on students is always going to be up for debate, but the point here still is that demanding the best out of students should not be any different than the way we demand the best out of athletes. tK already has pointed out the Football Dad as a perfectly acceptable american stereotype of a demanding parent that exists in the US. So the concept shouldn't be foreign to us. What is the practical difference between a Tiger Mom, a Football Dad or any hardass coach like Leta Andrews? Absolutely nothing. We should be re-examining what exactly are the acceptable notions about what we consider too harsh for demanding excellence in one endeavor when it is tolerated in another.

  5. feld_dog,

    Of course you did not intend it this way, but the Korean finds this statement:

    Some kids are just average. Some are below average. That isn't low expectations, it's reality.

    a little bit troubling. It is a bit fatalistic -- it reads like "dumb kids will be dumb no matter what we do." If we can make them better at something, shouldn't we do it?

    You might reply:

    Coach Andrews-style methods will undoubtedly raise average scores, but at what cost? Grinding the low-performers into the dust with humilation? And stunting the critical thinking of the best students?

    As to the first part -- what exactly is wrong with griding the low-performers with humiliation? Sports coaches humiliate players all the time! And the second part is moving toward the "roboticity" argument, which the Korean already discussed in the Tiger Mom post. There just is no credence to the idea that instilling toughness stunts critical thinking.

    And considering that white, non-Hispanic Americans lead all ethnicities in suicide in America already (while Asian Americans kill themselves at less than half of that rate,) the Korean is doubtful that adding some discipline in America will do much toward increasing suicide rate.

  6. My high school program was IB, which demanded the best. If one child was being too disruptive during class, one notable math teacher would drag the child, desk and all, into the hall or send a marker whizzing by their ear as a warning. "Mathematical atrocities" were punishable by push-ups and wall-sits. Other science teachers would be extremely sarcastic in response to undeveloped questions or answers. I personally find such tough disciplines as useful and effective, even if some students are brought to tears at times (which they were). I believe all of us were the better for it.

  7. @feld_dog: Total misconception that some kids are just born smart and those that aren't are doomed for life and will never be smart. And this coming from a teacher! Boo on you!

    yes - agreed that not one method for teaching works for all kids, but it is the teacher's responsibility to teach and inspire their kids and be able to communicate effectively with them.

    Please read "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle and "Bounce" by Matthew Syed and educate yourself on how the human brain works and how things are learned. Also on how labeling kids at such a young age that one is smart, one is athletic, and one is dumb is setting them up for failure.

    Also, I don't think it's about Coach Andrews being a total hard ass. It's about Coach Andrews having high expectations from her players and firmly believing that each of her players will and can deliver. And not just the best ones will deliver, but each one will deliver.

    We don't have a nation of kids as failures. We have a nation of schools and teachers and parents that have failed their kids.

    @feld_dog, please also read any of John Wooden's books on teaching and inspiring and leadership. He was the greatest coach in history, and we don't have enough teachers and coaches like him. Bravo to Coach Andrews and everyone else like her!

  8. I didn't want to give the impression that in my teaching, I identify the "average" or "below average" students and then passively accept their low results. No--I work like hell to help them improve. And if they are just being lazy or careless, I WILL get harsh and sarcastic with them. But not all poor results are from laziness and carelessness. Sometimes they're from late-developing (relative to other students) intellectual maturity. Sometimes they're from personal problems. A good, observant teacher can tell the difference. If he/she wants to, that is. Granted, it's easier to just yell and punish everyone who can't cut it, period. Knowing when the arm-around-the-shoulder and a little patience is more appropriate than a kick in the butt is what makes superior teachers, in my opinion.
    TK: "Coaches humiliate players all the time."--as I said before, players on a varsity-level team are already high-level performers who have "bought in" to the given system they are joining. And I think selective evidence is in play here. Do we ever hear about the rant-and-punish coaches (and teachers) whose teams (and students) stink? No. And there are plenty of them out there.
    As for suicide rates, I concede that any society's suicide rate is a complex problem, and doesn't have simple cause-effect relationships. But I think anyone would agree that the South Korean student suicide rate is very, very, troubling.
    RI: “I believe all of us were better for it.” Have you checked with everyone on that?
    Also—TRUE HOOPS (indeed an excellent blog) posted an update to the Coach Andrews post from a Korean mathematician that is worth reading. To paraphrase—Korean and American engineers, once finishing college, have about the same abilities. Korean plumbers probably know more math than American plumbers. WHO CARES?

  9. As Buddhism's enlightened "middle way" points out, if you leave a lute string too loose it will not play, if you pull it too taut, the string will snap. You need to tune the string correctly for the lute to play harmoniously. Ostensibly in my estimation it seems the the US needs to tighten the strings significantly on our kids and Korea could stand to loosen them a little.

  10. @feld dog But I think anyone would agree that the South Korean student suicide rate is very, very, troubling.

    Yes, it is no doubt troubling, but one has to wonder just how much Korea's educational system is responsible for this.

    Finland used to have one of the highest rates of suicides in the world, even higher than Korea's current rate.


    "Finland’s dire reputation as a nation of suicidals dates back to the 25-year period from 1965 to 1990 when Finland experienced an economic and urban boom. During that period, the suicide rate tripled."

    Sounds similar to another country I know. Here's a another quote more relevant to the discussion:

    "By 1991, Finland was the world leader in teen suicides, and among the top three in overall suicides alongside New Zealand and Iceland."

    Finland is world-renowned for their enviable educational system and their philosophy of "less is more." And yet, they used to have this issue with teen suicides as well. So perhaps teen suicides have less to do with educational systems than some other underlying factors.

    Finland managed to lower their suicide rates significantly by a combination of medicine, therapy, public awareness, and government programs.

    But there is still a stigma attached to mental illness in South Korea, including depression. Once Korea fully implements similar strategies as Finland's, I suspect its suicide rate will drop drastically as well, regardless of whether or not it changes its educational system.

  11. Absolutely, Americans have gotten too soft, lazy, and passive. We need to toughen up, and smarten up. And this includes Wall Street financial "wizards" and their economy-wrecking "innovations" as much as it does 6th grade math students and teachers. Americans--we all want something for nothing. Can't say that about Korea.

  12. feld_dog,

    And if they are just being lazy or careless, I WILL get harsh and sarcastic with them. ... Knowing when the arm-around-the-shoulder and a little patience is more appropriate than a kick in the butt is what makes superior teachers, in my opinion.

    Agreed one hundred percent. The real problem is too many Americans are categorically afraid of harshness and toughness.

    Coach Andrews seems like she knows the proper balance of toughness and love. The NYT article talks about how she drove eight hours to attend a funeral of a mother of her former player, shortly after getting a surgery. That's love and dedication -- the absolutely necessary foundation of Tiger Parenting (or any parenting or teaching for that matter.)


    The Korean always thought in terms of mental toughness, America needs to move 2/3 toward Korea's way, and Korea needs to move 1/3 toward America's way.

  13. About this comment:

    Korean and American engineers, once finishing college, have about the same abilities. Korean plumbers probably know more math than American plumbers. WHO CARES?

    The point is not about having the same "abilities." It is about having the mental discipline to put those abilities to use in tough times as well as in easy times.

    The Korean cannot imagine that the players that Coach Andrews gets is THAT much better than other players in Texas. After all, it's girls' HS basketball -- not exactly a heavily recruited sport in Texas like boys' HS football. The true difference is not a difference in skills, but mental toughness. Even in the pro realm, the difference in skills between Kobe and Vince Carter is not much. But the former is celebrated while the latter is reviled because Kobe thrives in clutch situations while Vince chokes.

    Fundamentally, it's not about math, or acquiring any specific skill. It's about cultivating mental discipline to accomplish the task no matter what the challenges are. With that kind of mental discipline, everything falls into place -- doing better in math, becoming the winningest basketball team, everything.

  14. This s crap. Seriously. Who cares about the differences. If you are in America you better get your mind right because shit can get real....asap. She is a private school coach and being that her school is bred for Basketball. They recruit unlike most public schools. Try running that record at a public school. American kids are different then Asian school kids and that is easy to see. America has been number one in the world in science for so many years because we give them the chance to be free and study on there own terms. I know this because the high school I went to was a small town school in Oregon. There was only 250 kids in this school yet they were #1 in the world. Our teachers were caring and gave you room to grow. That alone to me proves that over zealous hags are not the way to go. What you do not mention is that this school plays half ass schools in there league and that this school has a legacy going with it so recruits flock there because there is a better chance for a teen to get a scholorship there. BTW my school had 56 graduating people and 50 of them got scholorships in one way or another.

  15. "The real problem is too many Americans are categorically afraid of harshness and toughness."

    wtf do you know...you went to an upity high class college and your opinion of how teens are is a joke because I am pretty sure you were not raised in an American school system. Afraid?...far from it. When I went to school we had guns. Try and pull that shit and you would get shot if it was the wrong person. It is actually the opposite way around. Teachers are scared thus it makes them worse teachers. I know of 4 people who killed themselves when I went to school and all of them were Asian. 1 korean 2 Taiwanese and one chinese. All had mean parents that pushed them.

  16. @bigsampson
    You give your proof against "zealous hags" as your school. So please tell us more about this "#1 in the world" school in oregon with 250 people, I'd really like to know more. What is the name of the school and what exactly was it #1 in the world at.

  17. brutus,

    Take a look at Sam's blog and it will answer a lot of your questions. :)

  18. #1 at suicide! maybe only 246 kids now......245......244.......

  19. Gold Beach High School 1995 - 1997 was the ISEF #1 school. I am not making this up and no I take my opinions from living and going to school in San Jose where Asians are the majority (look up Prospect and Lynbrook High School in California). As for the comment that was pointed towards medical marijuana haha...your a joke. That is a low blow and something I wouldn't expect from a Bay Area college grad....If you want to have a debate about medical marijuana I would love to have one. I mean its obvious I won't have the extreme knowledge you have on 80's Korean Pop Culture....BTW would you like to kow how many Korean War vets I serve every month? I am pretty sure its more then you. Also for suicides, I don't remember anyone killing themselves at my school for being loved and nurtured. Also why assume I am lying....you can use your own fact finding machine to find if I am lying or telling the truth...but lets assume I am not lying (which I am not) would I not have a valid argument about over zealous teachers who mind warp kids into robots?

  20. bigsampson talks about the level of teams they play. I wonder too how many of her kids have gone on to play basketball in college (since she IS a basketball coach) how many completed college, and also how many of her players have jobs in the areas they studied. I am a coach and whether I am hard or easy on my players - I measure my success by how many of the players I coached are successful 3, 6, and even 9 years down the road! Wins don't mean much, I don't get it - why does her "tiger" attitude keep your faith in America? The stats you have here (1346 victories says nothing to the caliber of people she was producing!)

    I don't get this infatuation with tiger mom's, I am in Korea and the Tiger mom is in full gear - but they know nothing about their children OR they have no life outside of their children! The husband is at work till 10 well not at work per-see, but he is out with the boss till then. The child is in school and hagwons until all hours of the night. Does this really foster good family interaction?

    The children are told from early on what they like or dislike - Don't cry especially in public, even if you did just fall and twist your ankle. Don't show emotion (why I don't know). Do not be creative - or if you do - you better be the best - if you are not the best you might as well kill yourself!

    "I am going to put tons of stress on you about school so you can eat what ever you want as long as you stay thin - and I don't care how you stay thin - just do it cause no one will want you unless you are thin, cause I never let you be different in any other way!" Oh and by the way the job you want 10,000 others want it too and I don't care how easy it would be for you to get a job in America paying double what you would make here you are staying here, cause I need someone to take care of me when I get old and that is your job because I got you the best education you did not want and put you in the best hagwons that you slept through and paid the dean of admissions to get you into University ALL so you could be depressed on a regular basis In a job you do not want and constantly unplugged from reality, shopping or watching our K-dramas, while pretending that K-poop is real music!


  21. You don't have to be mean or critical to motivate your children.

  22. Oh tiger mothers and tiger mother supporters look what you have wrought.


  23. I actually happen to attend Lynbrook, one of the high schools mentioned by bigsampson. I've read the comments over a couple times, but I honestly can't understand what his point is in all that rambling. What I do know is that I feel lucky to go to school where I do because we have some truly brilliant students, who would have done NOTHING without their parent's constant pushing

  24. "what his point is in all that rambling. " you do not need to be a bitch to have your kids succeed.


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