Posted tagged ‘basketball coaching’

The Threat of Pink Hair

March 31, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 31, 2020

                                

Two months ago the middle school girl’s basketball season ended. The eighth-grade girls I coached had done well enough to be the #2 seed for the league tournament in our 9 team league.

The entire tournament was played on a Friday and Saturday…double-elimination…otherwise translated as doubly-exhausted!

After winning our first game on Friday, we lost our 8:00 semi-final game on Saturday morning to the #3 seed, a team we had beaten in a close game during the regular season. Two more wins put us in the loser bracket final against the same team. BUT it was also our fourth game of the day! 

My girls were dead tired, heavy legs and erratic shooting. There was no spring in their jump, a half-step slow on defense. At halftime, we were behind 18-0.

Let me type that again. 18-0! No points in the first two quarters. Zippo!

But it wasn’t because they weren’t trying. They were just tired. So I said to them at halftime, “Hey! If we come back and win this game I’ll shave my head!”

They looked at me and smiled, and then one of them said, “No, Coach! If we win you’ll dye your hair pink!” Twelve heads bobbed up and down in glee-filled agreement.

“Okay! If we win I’ll dye my hair pink!”

It looked like a safe bet, no points the whole first half…down by 18…we couldn’t throw it in the ocean! So the second half began and we score the first basket…and then the next basket…and then the next seven points after that. Each time one of my players scored the girls on the bench would giggle and smile at me, probably envisioning how I would look with pink hair.

The other team scored and I breathed a sigh of relief, but then we scored a three-pointer. The lead had shrunk to six and I was beginning to ponder what hat I’d be wearing for the next several weeks.

Dead legs had come alive, shots were falling, and I was pondering coaching strategy. Would it look bad if I took my leading scorer out of the game for about the next ten minutes? Would it be okay to have my post player try to dribble the ball up the court? 

But then I thought I could live with pink hair if I had to. If my girls could come back from 18 points down and two big zeroes to summarize their scoring for the first two quarters, then I could look like a 65-year-old pink-haired rock star for a little while.

Right about the time I was trying to envision how I would look, the other team scored and then scored again. They held us off. We had scored 28 points in the second half, but they had scored 34 for the game. 

The team was disappointed, but also proud of their effort, their comeback from forever to come close. 

Me? I plead the fifth!

What Any Coach Would Like To Hear At The end Of The Season

February 15, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     February 15, 2020

           

A good friend of mine, Leo Swiontek, who I’ve known ever since he was my son’s high school JV basketball coach twenty years ago, is coming towards the finish line of his basketball season. He is the varsity boy’s coach at The Classical Academy on the north side of Colorado Springs.

Leo is an incredible coach. He is high energy, enthusiastic, cares about his players, and has taught me a lot. Even with a 14-5 win/loss record this year, following a 17-7 record last year, you can see the weariness in him. High school basketball is almost a year-round sport, taking breaks for April and July, but otherwise filling up the schedule with camps, open gyms, weekend tournaments, and individual evaluations. 

When Leo gets finished in as little as two weeks or as much as four, he will look back at what was and know that he put everything into it. What I hope he hears from his parents and players is how he impacted them and guided them.

I recently completed my middle school girl’s basketball season, a quick two month-long experience from beginning to end, and I received a letter from a grandparent of one of my players. It was like ointment for a tired body. I carry it in my backpack in the envelope it arrived in. It contains words that any coach hopes to hear at the end of a season.

I’d like to share just some parts of it.

“I’m the proud grandparent of one of your players and have had the privilege of watching her play basketball for many years. Her Grandpa and I watched her play under your guidance and I think your coaching skills are the best…I didn’t hear you raise your voice a single time at any of the players or the referees. You handled everything with such professionalism. All the girls played, regardless of their skill level, and I heard you when you had your chats with them. I was impressed with how you handled everything. Her team is so lucky to have had you as their coach!”

Those words, not forced but volunteered, took me by surprise. As a coach, you hope you’re making a difference, not only in the lives of your players but also in the impression you’re communicating to their parents…and grandparents. 

I’m not a hall of fame coach. I’m just a coach who’s been given the opportunity to use a game to teach his players about life. 

I’ll see Coach Swiontek this morning and I’ll applaud his example. I’ll tell him what a great job he has done and is doing, and I’ll look into his tired eyes and remind him that the prize is in sight. He deserves it!

The Guidance and Misguidance of Coaches

September 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               September 15, 2019

                            

I think the first team I ever coached was the Arlington Heights, Illinois First Presbyterian Church boy’s basketball team that played in the community church league. We were mediocre at best, and probably the last basketball team experience for most of the players. But they had fun lacing up their sneakers and trying their hardest.

That was in 1979. Forty years later I’m still coaching. This year will see me coach cross-country, boy’s and girl’s basketball, and track at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. It will be the first year in the last eleven that I won’t be on a high school bench for the basketball season, but the middle school teams will suit me just fine.

What I’ve learned over the years is that a coach can guide, motivate, counsel, and influence for a lifetime. The words we say and the message that our lives speak lead our athletes towards not only success, but also to what are the most important things in life.

On the other hand, coaches can misguide, destroy, and instill the wrong set of values in their athletes. The sports world is littered with stories of athletes who were abused in some way by their coaches. The sexual abuse situations make the headlines, but the verbal abusiveness rarely is heard about. 

Coaches have the opportunity to fan the flames in their athletes to become passionate about their sport of leisure, or to douse the desire with showers of destructive communication. 

Just as there are stories of helicopter parents who make life miserable for the coaches of their kids, there are tyrant coaches who bring misery into the lives of young athletes. How sad is it for a kid who puts in years and years of practice, looking forward to the time he or she can represent their school and wear the school colors, only to encounter a coach, or coaching staff, who operate from a completely different set of values. How tragic and confusing to have an adolescent from a solid well-grounded family experience a coach whose life priorities are on the other end of the spectrum!

I’ve had the opportunity to know some great coaches who are also great human beings. You can see them teach the game to their players, but also teach their players about life. And I’ve also known some coaches who are, quite simply, scoundrels. My kids were fortunate to have a number of coaches through the years who were also great human beings, the kind of coaches that your kids run up to years later and want to embrace, the kind of coaches your kids want to introduce their kids to!

Coaches whose personal lives and life values are a mess, more often than not, make a mess of things with their athletes and teams. 

Playing Hoops Against the 8th Graders

May 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 25, 2019

                              

They hoot and holler as I emerge from the locker room wearing gym shorts, tee shirt, and lily white Air Jordan sneakers. Most of them haven’t seen me in anything but sweat pants or jeans. The paleness of the skin IS a bit alarming!

I’ve been their coach, but never competed against them. Today, however, is the Student-Staff basketball game, an event each year where players who were part of the school 8th grade basketball teams strut onto the court to teach their science, math, and social studies teachers a lesson. 

To them I’m just an old man who knows his “x’s’ and o’s”. They don’t realize that I have a jump shot and can see the court well, even though I take my glasses off when I play. The staff also has “Big Matt”, who measures at about 6’6”, a former college football player who can’t jump or shoot, but…hey! He’s 6’6” and beefy! He causes some of students to “reconsider” every time they have an opportunity to take the basketball into the lane.

Mr. Williams, seventh grade science teacher, has been playing at lunchtime with his students. He’s developed into a shooter, at least for this annual game! Mr. McKinney, despite a sore knee, is fundamentally sound and my coaching compadre!

But the students think that they are all that and a slice of Swiss Cheese! They only have five more days of middle school, and it’s time to leave their mark on the staff! To dominate and then leave like Clint Eastwood at the end of each of his westerns, riding off into the sunset.

One thing, however, that has remained consistent through the years about these basketball games is that the staff plays “team ball” and the students play as individuals. The bodies of the staff might be a bit achy and moving slower, but we know that the whole is better than the sum of the parts. 

Big Matt towers in the lane like Shaq and Mr. Reynolds, who teaches most of the players in social studies, is making them pay for not remembering the three branches of our government. He’s administering “justice” to them, “legislating” pain, and “executing” the game plan. By the middle of the third quarter the lead has hit double figures and keeps growing.

The crowd of students and staff watching from the bleachers cheer on their friends and foes and by the fourth quarter everyone is simply enjoying the event. I close out the game with a half court swish shot at the buzzer and smiles emerge from both sides. For the students, their teachers have become human. For the staff, the students have minimized their swag and enjoyed the moment. 

The next day the kids who I competed against greet me with high fives and looks of amazement. Instead of mentioning my pale-skinned legs they tell me that my sneakers are cool! Instead of my slow defense they talk about my half court shot! 

And what I don’t tell them is that I maxed out on Motrin the night before and soaked my aching body in the hot tub! They are the epilogue to the finished story!

The End Of A Season

February 24, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                February 24, 2019

                                  

Our hope was to make it into March, but the final scoreboard tally cut those aspirations down. Tears exploded from the eyes of a few of the young men and others stood silently, unsure of the moment and what was to happen next.

Our high school team, The Classical Academy Titans, better known as TCA, had just lost our second round game to Greeley Central, 54-49. It was a battle, filled with moments of patient offense, great shooting, and clutch free throws. 

And then it was over! The excitement and adrenalin rush nosedived into a sudden landing. Monday’s practice plan was no longer relevant. The team’s one senior had just barely missed his last three point attempt that could have taken the game down to a one possession difference. He didn’t want to close the book on his high school basketball days, but an appointment to the Air Force Academy is in front of him.

In sports everyone loses…at one time or another! It’s harsh, and yet part of the maturing process. This team did it’s share of winning, 17 wins and 7 defeats for a team that only had two players returning with varsity experience. And yet, the last game, played before a great home crowd, will stand out in the minds of these boys.

The head coach- a man who was my son’s high school JV coach twenty years ago- broke down in tears in the locker room as he talked to his players. He had loved them, yelled at them, applauded them, gotten right in their faces, and embraced them at the end of each practice. 

The first games of the high school basketball season usually happen around December 1, with the last games in late February or early March, but high school basketball is really almost year-round. TCA will take the next six weeks off and then begin open gyms again in April. Then we usually take August off and get back into it once September rolls around. Our off-season will include strength and conditioning, summer camps and tournaments, and more individualized training from the coaches. In other words, it’s very demanding of time and energy. 

That makes the final defeat of the season that much more emotional. It signals the end of a journey whose goal has always been to end the season with a victory. Of course, only one team out of 68 in our 4A Class can accomplish that goal!

Today 12 boys and 4 coaches are grieving a little bit, and yet the coaches are proud of what those 12 boys became. The players replayed missed shots and lost opportunities in their minds as they tossed and turned in their beds last night. The coaches thought about all the games during the season that the team went in as the underdogs and came out as the winners.

Two weeks from today we’ll gather for our team banquet. The wounds from the last defeat will have scabbed over some and we’ll celebrate. There will be laughter and applause, hugs and hand shakes. And these boys will remember that they were a part of the best basketball team in the school’s 25 year history…until next year’s team breaks that record!

Coaching ‘Likes’ and One-Liners

January 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    January 6, 2018

                             

I pushed the door to the locker room open. My Junior Varsity basketball team had ended the first half with several critical mistakes and our 11 point lead had been cut to 3. I was not happy and I let them know about it.

And the “like” comment just flowed out unrehearsed. 

“Our cuts to the basket on offense…it’s like watching a geriatric ward playing basketball! (I’m sure some of my players didn’t know what “geriatric” meant, but, oh well!) I’m about to fall asleep on the bench, they’re so slow!” The varsity coach was in the room and he told me afterwards that he had to stifle himself from having a laughing fit . We went on to lose the game in triple overtime, so far our only loss of the season!

My coaching gets peppered- seasoned, if you will- with one-liners and “like” comparisons. Most come from somewhere in the back of my brain and squeeze themselves into my speech. Some come from Don Fackler, who was my coaching mentor. 

Coach Fackler: Lauren, you owe me five dollars!

Lauren: Why, Coach?

Coach Fackler: After you threw the inbounds pass you stood there. You owe me five dollars for the popcorn!

I’ve used that one with the boys a couple of times.

My players aren’t sure what to expect next. Sometimes I get things confused. Last week in practice two players weren’t executing a sideline screen well so here it came from my lips…a little distorted.

“You look like two ducks passing in the night!”

“Coach, do you mean ships?”

“Whatever…ships, ducks…I don’t care! Just do it right!”

At our last practice I didn’t like the slowness of play. “Listen! This is like watching a bunch of people at Cracker Barrel sitting in those rocking chairs out front. Mammy and Pappy just rocking back and forth. So pick it up!”

And also last week. “Why did you throw it to him in the corner?”

“Coach, he was open!”

“So’s your mom in the bleachers, but you don’t throw it to her, do you?”

“No, Coach.”

“Where do we begin our offense? In the corner?”

“No, Coach.” 

And to a freshman who is right-hand dominant.

“I saw you holding hands with your girlfriend after the last game, and it was your left hand.”

Turning red. “Yes, Coach!”

“You saving your left hand for her, because you don’t seem to use it during the game?”

And still another. “You boys are so right-handed I swear the court is starting to tip to the right!”

I just can’t help it. They just come out! Last game we had two free throw points taken away because the shooters stepped on the foul line after they shot. “Listen to me! They don’t care if you step on the line in the YMCA Kindergarten League, but they do in high school basketball.”

And another!

“Hey! Bobby, you need to guard him on defense so close that you can tell me what kind of deodorant he uses…if he uses any!”

And!

“Hey, Bobby! Did you get his number?”:

“What, Coach?”

“Did you get his license plate number when he blew past you on offense last time?”

Don’t get me wrong! I love my players! I enjoy every day, practice, or game I have with them. And I know they love me! And they’re never sure what I’ll say next! 

High school basketball is a long season. From the first day of tryouts to the last game of the season covers about 16 weeks. It’s a journey where the coach spends a lot of time with his boys. Humor and sarcasm become fuel for the journey. 

It’s like…

Coaching Moments and Conversations

November 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 November 11, 2018

                                

I love coaching kids and adolescents! Just love it! Yesterday I finished my 18th year as boy’s basketball coach at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs. With a new league this year our season got bumped forward to October and November. (Now I begin high school tryouts tomorrow where I’ll be coaching JV Boys)

I enjoy coaching moments and conversations that leave my players smiling and chuckling. They are spontaneous and sometimes non-sensical! 

Like yesterday! I kneeled in front of one of my players who was sitting in the midst of the bench personnel. We were getting beat by about 15 points by the team that had gone undefeated as 7th graders and now as 8th graders. It was our fifth game of the day, after losing to them in the winner’s bracket final, coming back and winning the loser’s bracket, and now having to play them again in the final game. 

The player I kneeled in front of is a bespectacled 4’10” 8th Grader. I said, “I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” He stared back at me slightly smiling. “Okay! I guess that’s not going to happen, so just go on in for Josh!” He went to the scorer’s table and I moved to the next player on the bench, a boy about 5’10”. 

“I need you to grow 6 inches…right now!” His eyes darted from side to side considering the possibilities as I paused. “Okay! Guess that’s not going to happen, so go on in for Tyler.”

I moved on to the third player. Kneeling in front of him and looking him in the eye, “I need you to grow six inches right now…okay, just kidding!”

A little later. “You need to be close to him on defense! Pretend it’s your girlfriend!”

“Coach, I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“No wonder! You keep your distance from her! She thinks you don’t like her!”

Confused look!

I channel Coach Don Fackler from time to time. Don mentored me in coaching back…like 25 years ago. I loved that guy! He passed away suddenly about 15 years ago and it’s the one funeral that I flew from Colorado back to Michigan to attend. 

As Don would say I now find myself saying, “You’re all discombobulated! Get organized! I need my point guard to figure out when we’re all discombobulated and pull it back together.”

Here I come again! “There is nothing in that right corner of the court that is worth dribbling towards. You planning on going somewhere?”

“No, Coach!”
“Cause you keep heading for the Exit sign, son!”

Bad shot selection comment! “Hey! Have you hit a three-pointer yet?”

“No, Coach!”

“That’s right! You’re 0 for November! So let’s consider a better shot!”

“Sorry, Coach!”

Left-hand gone missing!

“What’s that thing attached to the left side of your shoulder?”

“My arm?” replies a confused looking player.

“Why not discover that it has a purpose, okay?”

“Yes, Coach!”
“I would rather you miss a left-handed layup than make a right-handed layup that announces to everyone that you don’t have a lefthand!”

And then yesterday I subbed for a player who made a couple of mistakes. I kneeled in front of him and said, “You made some mistakes, okay! But that’s not why I subbed for you! Your body language is spelling defeat. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you start moping on the court…you might as well be sitting here!” I talked to the player’s parents after the game and they thanked me for letting him know that. 

I love these kids! I love coaching them, guiding them, helping them to figure things out not just on the court, but in the situations of life. 

At the end of our tournament yesterday we gathered together with our runner-up trophy and had our team picture taken by parents and our school administrator. I noticed that the 4’10” player was holding the trophy in the midst of the front row. He was smiling from ear-to-ear, but the trophy was hiding his face.

“Paul, would you grow that six inches I asked for so we can see your face over the top of the trophy?”

Eleven players and three managers couldn’t keep from smiling on that one!

Love that kid!