Taking The Air Out Of The Ball

After winning the first basketball game off the season, my seventh grade boys team received a dose of reality in Game #2 this week. It wasn’t that we were manhandled. In fact, with a minute left in the game the score was tied. Our opponents, however, hit an improbable three-pointer and then added two free throws in the closing seconds to take the game 32-27.

The reality medicine began before they even began warming up. It was our first game as the visiting team and one boy with a “deer-in-headlights” look said to me, “I’ve never played an away game before.” I looked at him and used Gene Hackman’s line from the movie Hoosiers.

“Guess what? The rim is ten feet high…just like it is in our gym!” He looked at me as if I was putting him on.

And then the game started…and the dribbling started. We dribbled like there was no tomorrow. If the basketball had been a set of tires on my CRV I would have had to replace it because of wear. We dribbled to the right corner. We dribbled into two defenders. We dribbled with our head down. We dribbled to the restroom…and the concession stand…and to the parking lot. Dribbling seemed to be like that college Psychology 101 class that you’d have to take before you could take Psychology 102. It seemed to be viewed as mandatory.

The next day in practice, my friend and co-coach, Ron McKinney, and I sought to correct a few things. One of the corrections was the dribbling with their head down. For several minutes each of the players put on a pair of special eyeglasses hat intentionally are made to keep the ball handler from seeing the basketball when he dribbles it. It’s always a hoot to see a kid trying his hardest to see the basketball when the eyeglasses are made to keep him from seeing it.

And the second thing we did toward the end of the practice was to take the air out of the basketball. We didn’t tell the boys we were doing that, we just did it. Suddenly, in the midst of their scrimmaging Coach McKinney snuck the other basketball in. The first boy immediately tried to dribble it and the ball only bounced back up about four inches. It confused him, but he knew he couldn’t dribble it again after he picked it up. He passed it to a teammate who followed the same pattern: Dribble, confusion, pick the ball up, and pass it.

It went on like that for a while. A few of the boys were trying their hardest to get that ball to bounce. Gradually, almost all of them understood what was going on and what we were trying to get through their heads. One player, however, five minutes after we had started this lesson on “dribbling addiction” shouted, “Hey! There’s no air in the ball!”

The interesting thing about basketball is that when James Naismith invented the game, players weren’t allowed to dribble. They could roll the ball, but otherwise they had to pass it. The NBA’s obsession with one-on-one matchups has created dribbling fanatics. We want our players to be able to handle the basketball, but, most of all, we want them to understand how to function as a team that experiences success because the sum of all the parts is more important than any one person.

At this level, at least for us as coaches, it’s not about winning and losing. It’s about teaching them the game of basketball. What brings a smile to my face is seeing a young player figuring out what the right decision is and the fundamental skills of the game being executed correctly. Sometimes you’ve got to have kids put on dorky looking glasses and take the air out of the ball for them to get to that point.

Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: