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Coach Carter is a 2005 drama film released by Paramount Pictures, and directed by Thomas Carter. The movie is based on a true story, in which Richmond High School (California, USA) head basketball coach Ken Carter, became famous in 1999 for benching his undefeated team due to poor academic results.
At the beginning of the movie, Coach Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) takes a part-time, low-paid job coaching the basketball team at his old high school, Richmond, California. At the start, the boys, non well educated and in a rebellion path, are unruly and disrespectful. Their team lost almost all of their games the previous season.
When Coach Carter arrives, he sets strict new rules for them. They have to maintain a 2.3 grade point average (C+), they have to attend classes and sit in the front row, they have to wear jackets and ties on game days. One of the boys, Cruz, walks out of practice on the first day after an altercation with Carter. We later see Cruz hanging with his older, drug-dealer cousin.
Under Carter’s leadership, the team starts playing well and winning games. Carter’s son, Damien, a brilliant student who attends private school, quits it and transfers to Richmond High School to play basketball on his dad’s team.
Another player, Kenyon, has a pregnant girlfriend, Kyra who has given up on her plans for college in favor of having the baby.
Cruz, seeing his mates winning games and have fun, wants to return to the team. But Carter doesn’t want him back and challenge him to do a huge number of efforts and pushups in a week. As it was predictable, he doesn’t succeed but his team-mates impress the coach by offering to do the rest of the suicides and pushups for Cruz.
Although the boys are winning games, Carter realizes that they are developing a bad attitude, they are becoming arrogant and taunt the other teams. Moreover, many of them don’t fulfill his academic requirements (attending class and maintaining a 2.3 average).
In order to return to a normal situation, Carter lock them out of the gym. He cancels basketball practices and makes the team spend the practice time in the library, being tutored by some of their teachers.
This leads to a conflict with the parents and the school board; the board votes 4-2 to end the lockout. Carter is about to quit, but when he arrives at the gym to pack up his stuff, he finds the boys sitting at school desks, with their teachers tutoring them there. Heartened by this, Carter decides to stay.
Cruz has gone back to working for his drug-dealing cousin. One night, the cousin is gunned down on the street just in front of him. Fortunately, Cruz ends up at Carter’s house that night; Carter brings him into his house, lets him back on the team, and pretty much saves him from a future as his cousin’s.
Kenyon gets a full scholarship to college. He goes to his girlfriend, with whom he’s been on the outs, and tells her the college even wants to help them, as married students with a baby. She tells him that she chose to abort the pregnancy. They do get back together, though.
The big climactic game takes place at the state tournament, against St. Francis. The team is disappointed by the loss, but Carter gives them a really good talk about all they have accomplished, and tells them that this loss doesn’t take that away.
Over the closing song, titles onscreen tell us that six of the players went on to college (this was a school at which only about 50% of students graduated, and a very small percentage usually went to college). Kenyon, Junior, Worm and Cruz were among those who went to college, and at least Kenyon and Cruz graduated from college. When he graduated three years later, Damien got a scholarship to West Point.
The actors perfectly represent American teens. There is the funny character, always making jokes and showing off, Jaron ‘Worm’ Willis (Antwon Tanner), the white kid, Jason Lyle (Channing Tatum), and the coach’s own son, Damien Carter (Robert Richard). There is also the teenager in trouble, Timo Cruz (Rick Gonzalez), whose involvement with drugs and gangs serves as the example of what the teens are striving to avoid.
But the main actor in Coach Carter who makes an impact is Kenyon Stone, played by Rob Brown, whose natural talent is to seem as if he is not acting at all. Brown is involved in the films’ most controversial subplot, a high school pregnancy with Kyra (the pop-star Ashanti).
Scene 1 : Coach Carter arrival (9′ m)
The new coach of the Richmond basketball team made its arrival in front of the players who totally lack of discipline and have a very arrogant behaviour. Ken Carter replaces a coach nearing retirement and was visibly overtaken by events. This former coach failed into managing the teenagers due to a lack of authority to deal with players who had decided to do what they want. Mister Carter will first attempt to inculcate moral values in his group of players. Respect is one of those, he asked his players to contact him using the term “Mister”, he will also do that in return to its players. To teach about respect a win win involvement is setted based on reciprocity.
Coach Carter will thereafter establish the rules of its basketball team. It will provide each team member a contract stipulating the life rules in the group (delays, forms of politeness etc.) Their obligations as students (grades, attendance in class, positioning in the classroom), and wearing a tie on the match days to show everyone that play in this team have to be seen as an honour to fulfil.
The players, not satisfied with the terms of the contract were invited to leave the gym. The two best markers of the previous year consequently, leave the gym.
One of those who left the gym, try to hit Coach Carter and he threats him even verbally. One of the fundamental principles Coach Carter takes its importance: the success of a team is a group rather than individual performances, the coach is not concerned by the departure of these two players, and advocates Working as a key factor for success. For him “the two best markers have left, there will be two new best markers this year,” it does not bend to the whims of these false stars, and wants to show at the same time that he is the boss on the gym.
Last season the Richmond team lost 22 games for only 4 wins, with no particular inquietudes from the Richmond players, the team members are not all aware of the work required to reach the summits. Coach Carter after observing the team previously saw the weaknesses of their strategy: the physical condition of players is not optimal. It will make run hundreds of miles to his players.
In accordance with Rosalynn Carter “a great leader take people where they not necessarily want to go but where they ought to be”, that is why coach Carter expects the team lead at the top of the regional championship while the players were far for recognizing their potential.
Coach Carter uses effective leadership; it has its own ideas, motivation and unwavering desire to do things differently from its predecessors.
Although Basketball is his passion, Coach Carter knows being a good player is not a life accomplishment; his players must be exemplary in the field but also off the field, something that had not been understood by most of his players. That is why he decided to implement the contract; he will try to fulfill it at all costs even if some will not be agree with his methods.
Scene 2 : Meeting with parents (20′ m)
Coach Carter decided to communicate his methods among parents of players. Most of them refused the terms of this contract, arguing that “basketball is the life of their son.” It is precisely on this point that the coach wants Carter to intervene. This period in the Richmond must be one step in the lives of players and not be a guarantee for their social success.
The objective of Coach Carter is of course to win games but above all to maximize the integration of its players in famous universities and even obtain a scholarship. This idea of going to university seems absurd for some parents who do not believe enough in their children’s intellectual capacities of.
Coach Carter is determined to show them the contrary, that’s why the high average to reach for each member of the team. Coach Carter also wishes to remind parents that their children are “student-athletes” and therefore students, before being athlete.
Scene 3 : Contracts signing (22′ m)
The Ken Carter’s son had previously refused to integrate his son to the Richmond school. He had the sensation that his son had no real personal ambitions and wanted to just follow his father. But at their second interview, the Coach Carter’s set the limit much higher than those set by his father to members of its basketball team. Coach Carter brings his son to its responsibilities and accepts his choice; he will join the basketball team of Richmond. This reaction from Coach Carter in terms of leardership aims at showing the good respact of the rules for everyone even if it concerns its own son.
During his first training Carter’s arrived with a few minutes late, while members of the team believed he would receive more favorable treatment than that stipulated by the contract, coach Carter applied the same treatment that to any other member of the team, a huge series of push-ups and many “suicides”. Such behavior has led to all team members on an equal footing and sticked to the respect requirements explained before.
One of the main qualities of a leader is to do fair things ; treating his son like any other member of the team belong to these fair things.
A leader must be honest, to be respected within his group and be listened but also and above all understood.
Scene 4 : Cruz Return (33′ m)
After the first victory of the Richmond team, Cruz one of the last year best markers expressed his desire to reintegrate the team. Coach Carter does not refuse his return but makes it difficult putting the limit very high for him in order to make him understand the lack of respect he had for the coach and all the team members.
As a leader Coach Carter wants to go further in his reponsability and instead of threaten Cruz he wants to educate him making him understand his former mistake and the cost of it. Indeed Cruz tried to hit the coach in his first intervention; Coach Carter has therefore put a test up to his past behavior.
Cruz had been used to be one of the stars of his team; he will need this time to comply with the requirements of the coach if he wants to rejoin his team. Cruz began to realize that the values settled by Coach Carter are good despite the difficulty of the task he must accomplish. Coach Carter intends to use this event to make his players understand that any act has its consequences, and that a man must manage the consequences of his actions. He also hoped at the same time to bind members of its teams together.
Scene 5 : Meeting with the Director (40′ m)
Following the first positive results of his team, Coach Carter decided to meet the director. The goal of the day is not the results of the team but the members’ class results. Indeed, the director had not taken seriously the claims of Coach in terms of academic performance of Basketball team members. She thought it was simply a method of intimidation against the players, so the director had sent no report to the Coach.
Coach Carter has the intention of going after his ideas and reiterates its request for evaluation reports on his players.
Coach Carter is satisfied with the results achieved by its sports players, without forgetting the real reasons for coming to Richmond school. He is determined to change the lives of its Basketball players and especially in human terms.
Scene 6 : Cruz’s sanction (42′ m)
In this scene, Coach Carter first congratulates Cruz for the work he has accomplished but refuses to reinstate him in the team as he has not completely achieved the goals set.
The coach respects here two essential elements for a good leadership and in order to maintain his credibility and the respect he has created in his gym: congratulation and management by objectives.
The initial objectives set by the coach to Cruz were: 2500 push-ups and 1000 suicides to carry out before the end of the week (which corresponded a priori to what the team made since they were left apart by Cruz, we will see later to this Objectives).
Cruz does not meet his targets for 80 suicides and 500 push-ups.
At this point of the movie, Coach Carter faces a « fair dilemma ». Actually, he has to be fair (as being fair is one of the major quality for a good leader), but at this moment what can be considered as fair?
His decision deals with the agreement or the refusal to reinstate Cruz in the team.
Indeed, he had set to Cruz, goals that may seem excessive but fair vis-à-vis other players who had endured the same thing since Cruz had abandoned.
Setting less ambitious goals could have appeared unfair vis-à-vis the entire team, which would be a situation that Coach Carter could not accept.
Logically, as Cruz did not complete his contract, Coach Carter cannot agree to reintegrate him into the team.
The coach’s decision is to keep to his course of action, i.e refusing Cruz who failed his contract. Maybe this decision is tough but it is fair vis-à-vis the rest of the team and it emphasises the discipline of the leader.
In a way we can consider that the coach is supported by his team since they decide to help Cruz finishing his sanction, what Coach Carter accepts, glad to see the team cohesion improved and involved.
The question that can be also asked is : Does Coach Carter would have definitely refused Cruz’s return? Or did he act in the hope of a team’s response to their teammate in trouble?
Scene 7 : Respecting the opponent (47′ m)
In this scene, the coach starts imitating the behaviour that players had during the previous match when they humiliated their opponents after points scored.
Therefore the coach congratulates himself during the training for each basket scored by the team.
This exaggerated behaviour allows him to show how ridiculous they seemed.
He shows to the team the attitude they had before towards their opponent and says that by acting like this, they distort the spirit of sport and the Richmond values.
It may be noted that the coach creates this awareness by questioning the players (example: What gives you the right to …, etc.). Using this technique, he encourages players asking themselves questions and stepping into a process of reflection, which is much more effective than if he had just made a long speech, for which they perhaps would have not felt concerned. Actually in doing so, he allows them to identify the problems they have and so to arrive to resolve it thereafter.
Finally, in order they keep in mind their bad behaviours, he punishes everyone with 500 push-ups…
This admonition is especially to teach the players some fundamental values : here, the respect. The coach’s vision of the team requires that players are more than mere basketball players but real men, able to act as such and it is towards this objective he wants to lead them.
Scene 8 : Checking commitment (49′ m)
At the beginning of the scene, as earlier, Coach Carter tries to instil respect to players after one of them used the word “nigger” talking about Junior Battle. The coach forbids them to use that word in his presence and explains his position, trying also to sensibilize the players as most of them are African Americans.
In order to be sure that this “lesson” is well understood, he encourages everyone to validate that they will not use that word in his presence.
Once this parenthesis closed, he encourages players to wonder about their future, he wants to give them a vision of themselves in the future in order to have objectives, a dream “You have to have a vision”.
After learning that the Lyle’s father is in prison, he asked about their basketball expectations and their life expectations.
If he makes them wonder about their expectations it is to tell them he thinks they can go to college, taking advantage of a scholarship by providing efforts in classroom. In the same way, as a leader, Coach Carter is requesting his players’ opinion which obviously shows interest for and from the players.
Interviewing them about their visions of themselves in the future, Battle answers: “I want to be on ESPN”. At this point, Coach Carter hands him in front of his responsibilities by suspending him for non-compliance with his contract and in particular his lack of presence in classroom, and warned he would not reinstate him if he does not fulfil his contract. Carter suspends Battle despite the fact that he is one of the best players, but this suspension is seen as an example (and may be a threat) for other players.
Finally, while Battle is leaving the gym refusing to do the requested push-ups, he referred him to the choice he is making by leaving his partners, with the aim of bringing him to reflect.
Scene 9 : Making exceptions (57′ m)
This scene begins with the Junior Battle’s mother arrival in the Coach Carter’s shop. The mother comes to announce Carter that a coach from the University of Sacramento will come to the next game in order to see his son playing. The coach reminds that Junior has violated the contract rules and so that he will not play the next game.
The mother explains why she wants Junior to play, hoping he can go to college and thus escape the violence of the life he had for the moment.
Carter then thanks Ms. Battle for her confidence but specifies that it is Junior who had to explain that.
So, Junior enters in the store, apologizes and promises to return to class.
Coach carter asks Junior to look at him in the eyes and explain that he thinks he is making a mistake accepting him to reintegrate the team.
Finally, Coach Carter accepts the Junior’s come back after having punished him with 1000 push-ups and 1000 suicides.
This scene is particularly important as coach Carter accepts the Junior’s come back although the player had not respect the rules. Here Carter appears just like a man, he thinks he is maybe making a mistake but take that risk for the future and the well of one of his player. As a leader, and contrary to the rules Coach Carter had always sticked to, this scene makes appear a new determinant in Carter’s leadership : the ability to making exceptions if it is sensible and worthy.
Scene 10 : Meeting in the library (1′ 22′ m)
In the library and in front of all the players, the coach takes stock of their school performance.
Coach Carter begins by giving them a sense of responsibility for the failure but quickly apologizes and includes himself in this defeat.
Then he takes the most radical decision to solve the problem: the gym lockout.
He also wants to strengthen the team by forcing everyone to work, the bests help those who have difficulties.
Thereafter, the coach maintains his position and comes into conflict with his hierarchy. This scene is a crucial breaking point of the movie, the point where even the Coach, the leader, can recognize a mistake and stand against a higher authority.
Scene 11 : Meeting following the lockout (1′ 27′ min)
Still in the library, while the lockout is becoming increasingly serious, the coach gives details of his position to the players who believe that he acts in order to highlight himself.
He then gives results about students’ fate at Richmond : only 6% go to college and 33% of African Americans go to prison.
He also leads them to get involved by asking them to watch their classmates, watch their lives and of their parents’ ones.
Finally, the coach asks them to wonder if they want to do better and give them appointments the next day if the answer is yes. He also involved himself promising to do everything he can do in order they go to college and have a better life.
Once again the coach tries to imply them in order to be sure that they share the vision he has for them. He wants them to join this vision to continue to move forward. If players do not agree with this vision they would reach no results. The way the Coach is asking for making a decision is very inspired by leadership in the way he creates an ultimatum. The players have the choice, it is up to them to come back or not. There is no physical or moral constraint, only the desire of getting involved in their empowerment or not.
Scene 12 : Altercation (1′ 33′ m)
While the coach is quietly in his car speaking with his son, who is also a player of his team, he is taken left by two persons.
One of him asks to the coach to dim his window to talk to him. It is there that he acts in a virulent way because he asks him to let the players of Richmond take back the road of the gym by spitting him above through the window.
At this moment, the coach loses his self-control and goes out violently from the car. He asks to the aggressor to go out also of the car so that they can discuss it man to man while manhandling this last one remained sat in the car.
Watching it, his son quickly goes out of the car to calm the spirits and especially his father who becomes the opposite of what he always taught him as father and as coach of basketball. The other car takes advantage of it to leave while the son reasons his father with his own educations. During this episode, the coach lost his leader’s status for the benefit of his son who better knew managed the situation by considering what his father inculcated him. His mistake had to be too much influenced by emotions and anger. A good leader has to be in control of his emotions.
Scene 13 : Meeting with the council (1′ 39′ m)
The council evokes that the state requires a balanced cumulative average of 2 points for the students making activities extracurricular. With the new coach arrival, this average is of 2.3 as well as the other conditions (attend classes, sit in the first row of their class and carry a tie in the daytime of match). Once he puts in the light, the council asks when he planned to end up this lockout and allow the return of trainings and championship. For any answer, the coach under the indignation of all the assistance of the room explained that there would be no basketball as long as the team does not manage to honour the clause concerning the average of 2.3.
In front of general uprising the board of directors of the school leaves the word to people of the assistance:
A professor considers inappropriate since the coach asks him for reports on these players pleading a working surplus and a negative broadcasting on his work. He declares himself against this lockout.
A player’s mother regrets the abandon of the team in front of Freemont a rival team (the match being considered as the most mattering of the year) and at the same moment the recruiters were not able to come to see his son playing what is an opportunity for him to obtain a stock grant to be able to go to university.
The player’s uncle explains that only one matter which makes his nephew come to the school, is the basketball and without this sport bad things could be happen to him.
Mr Walters, one player’s father, asks that we remove the law for the coach Carter in order to end up the lockout under the anxiety of the players to lose their coach.
In front of this announcement the coach reacts by explaining that he tries to inculcate to these players that they are not above the laws and that they will have to face the choices which are going to govern their life. If the council votes against this lockout, he would resign not being in agreement with the message which he tried to give to his players. Indeed he tries to inculcate in them at the same time as he teaches them to play basketball fundamental values which will allow them to make the good choices and not to go to the ease (follow the delinquent style of behaving, common in the area).
The members voted in 4 voices against 2 for the end of this last one, so allowing the return of the players of Richmond in the championship.
Scene 14 : The surprise (1 Hour 44)
Further to the announcement of the end of the lockout, Coach Carter goes to the school to get back its affairs. When he was out of the car, the manager of the school who had voted in favour of the lockout comes to see him asking him to think about his resignation, what the coach answered to, that he could not stay seing these values were different from what the board of directors of the school had wanted to make cross to these players. We can say that he felt disoriented and that he did not manage to accept it.
However he had the surprise by going into the gymnasium to see these players who believed in their leader.
Indeed they had installed on the ground of basketball of tables and chairs and they were working to reach an average of 2.3 in spite of what had been able to say the board of directors of the school. They had decided to the end what their coach had begun judging that it was the best thing they had to do. At this point, the leader mission succeeded, and is unanimously recognized by the members.
Scene 15 : The consecration (2 Hour 08)
Once the last game ended, the coach comes to see his players in changing rooms to express them his enjoyment. Indeed, despite their defeat, they gave the maximum of themselves, even playing as true champions and knew how to keep head up. They knew how to keep in memory all the education of their coach without ever proving unworthy.
He explains them that he had come at the beginning teach players of basketball and that they became students, to teach boys and that they became men. That is why he thanks them because even if he is the leader he learnt with them in the same way as they learnt with him.
The movie and this scene ends up with the message of reciprocity of the leadership and gives a feedback on the results of his leading management.
“Coach Carter” is about how one man was able to find a way to reach into the hearts and minds of children and turn them into adults, learning them how to behave to be a winner on and off the court. With his imposing presence, powerful voice, and willingness to allow the teams’ best players to quit if they will not follow the rules, Coach Carter knows how to take control and influence people.
It is also about teaching all of us that perhaps the single greatest fear we all have is success, not failure. Failure is easy and comfortable. Success is scary.
A fair amount of detail, including teenage pregnancy, dilapidated housing and gang warfare, also elevate this above the usual athletic film.
It also reveals the weaknesses of the American educational system, which does not give everyone the same chance to have a successful professional life. Indeed, in this film, on top of the fact that students have big educational difficulties, parents and school officials are more concerned with winning basketball games than making sure the players graduate.
What makes this story so much more interesting and intelligent than most movies of its genre is the serious way it treats its academic storyline. Yes, the basketball scenes are well shot, but the impressive part is the seriousness of its true subject, the importance of an education.
The movie received several awards such as Black Movie Awards and Black Reel Award for Thomas Carter directing, and Image award for Samuel L. Jackson acting.
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