Coaching Seventh Grade Girls

When my coaching buddy, Ron McKinney, stood next to me and the two of us surveyed the basketballs being banged off the rim, the wall, the top of the backboard, or even hitting the wall after going over the top of the backboard, our minds brought up images of lop-sided scores that would be a part of our season.

That was a long sentence, but it took less time to write it than it did for half of our players to make their first shot…in practice…standing next to the basket!

On the other hand, Ron and I love coaching seventh grade girls in the sport of hoops. They’re so teachable, so enjoyable, so convinced that “they aren’t all that!” As we watched that first practice we knew it would be about teaching them the fundamentals of the game: how to do a pivot, how to play defense, how to do a crossover dribble (What am I saying!! How to dribble at all!!), how to do a layup, where to line up for a free throw.

Unlike other years, the turnout for girl’s basketball was abysmal. Twelve girls signed up, three of them after several pleas during the school announcements at the beginning of the day. Two of the twelve died not want to play on the interscholastic team, but just practice during the intramural period which began at the close of the school day. Interscholastic practice occurred after intramurals. Of the remaining ten, two could dribble, five had Triple-A memberships because they traveled so much, and at least three were confused about the rule that said they could only score on one of the baskets (although Ron and I were pretty certain scoring on the wrong basket was not going to be a problem because it meant a basket had been made).

So we began. After the first practice, we chuckled. They were really nice girls, but if we were using an analogy of reading ability, we would have said they were basketball illiterate. So we had to teach most of them how to read, so to speak. And we had six practices to do it. Six practices to teach them how to dribble, how to shoot, how to pass, how to play a man-to-man defense and also a zone defense, out-of-bounds plays, a press breaker, where our bench was, what to do if you were told to sub in for someone, how to rebound, what offense to run. You get the picture?

And we won our first game. Ron texted his wife afterwards: “Are you sitting down?” (pause) “We won!” It was not because we had a juggernaut. The score was 16-10 and three of our points came on a banked three-pointer. Two of our players had scored, the two who can dribble.

And then we won our next game, 23-20, and three players scored (Of course, one of them had 20 of the 23!).

And then we won our third game, 30-4, and five players scored.

After that game, Coach McKinney said to the team, as we met in the locker room, “I meant to bring a bell with me today and ring it (referring to that scene from The Polar Express) and say I believe, but I forgot the bell.”

Now, in our weird middle school sports schedule, the undefeated seventh-grade girls’ basketball team comes back this Thursday (January 5) after a three-week Christmas break. Three weeks! Ron and I wonder if we will need to back up the truck to the beginning again. Will they have forgotten everything that they’ve learned? Will they have picked up basketballs since the last practice on December 14th?

We may not win another game. Hey! We’ve already won three more than we expected. Win-or-lose, however, we are enjoying this group of young ladies who groan at our humor, are surprising themselves, and discovering that basketball is fun.

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