Posted tagged ‘basketball coaching’

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!

Turning My Basketball Players Into Basketball Officials

March 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 11, 2018

               

I hand a black and white striped shirt to each one of them. Each of them is also given a whistle, and they stare at me!

“Okay, boys! Here’s what I want you to work on to begin with.”

“The boys” are the players who are a part of my freshmen basketball team. They are being asked to be the officials for the kid’s basketball program that our varsity coach has operated for the past few years. The varsity and junior varsity players are the coaches for the eleven teams of boys between the grades of three and six. “The boys” have all played basketball for several years, but none of them have ever officiated a basketball game.

They look like a herd of deer in headlights, wide-eyed and unsure of how this is going to play out. If asked I am sure each of them would rather be shooting a game-deciding free throw in front of a packed gym than blowing a whistle to indicate that a third grade boy just ran down the court with the basketball and forgot to dribble.

I have them practice their referee mechanics, the hand signals that indicate what call is being made. However, I know that once the game starts they will be like the third and fourth grade boys who are practicing dribbling using two basketballs, but once the game starts they will all dribble to the right corner. My players will practice their mechanics, but once the game begins they will blow their whistles inconsistently and weakly.

“Don’t let your whistles sound like tweety-bird! Strong whistles and strong voices.”

“Coach, I’m going to be awesome!” one of them boasts, but then goes through the entire first half without his whistle making a peep.

“Coach, watch this!” The boy in front of me is doing the hand signal that indicates he is doing a ten second count.

“That’s great, but I don’t think getting a ten second back court violation is our biggest concern with third and fourth graders.” He stares at me as if I mortally wounded him.

“Let’s keep it simple. Arm up with a closed fist means…”

“Foul!”

“Good! Arm up with an open fist means…”

“A really bad foul?”

“No, space cadet! It indicates a stoppage in play because you are about to give the signal for a violation that has happened, or that it’s a held ball, or that the ball is dead.”

“Dead? So, do we get another ball when that happens?”

I don’t have to respond. The player who asks the unintelligent question is hounded by his teammates.

The games begin and I conduct an official’s clinic as the afternoon progresses, instructing these fifteen year olds on where to stand, what to look for, how to use their voices, and how to sell a call that could go either way? I ask them questions about situations and other questions that seek to help them cultivate the common sense of officiating. We laugh together and they get better each game they do.

“You’ve got to have a whistle on that play!” I yell at them.

“Yes, but-“

“No, yes but’s! If you were doing a high school game right now would you stop the game and say to the irate coach ‘Yes, but!’?”

I hung up my whistle last year after sixteen seasons of officiating high school and junior college basketball, but I enjoy these moments of helping my players see things from the perspective of the person with the black and white striped shirt.

And then the reward! A parent comes up to me and says, “Coach, your boys are so much better at officiating than those who have done it in past years.”

I smile and thank her. It’s a comment I share with my players who still at times resemble deer in headlights…but not as often!

My Last Day With Hair…For A While!

March 4, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               March 4, 2018

                                 “

Back in November I made a promise to one of my basketball players. He was worse than pitiful shooting free throws during our practices. His shots weren’t even close! Clank! Bam! Crack! Airball!

And then I said it. “Verle, if you shoot 90% for the season I’ll shave my head!” That got his attention, plus all of his teammates. I figured my hair was as safe as an Old Spice  deodorant stick in a middle school boy’s locker room.

Through the first 14 games of the season Verle did not shoot a free throw, and then in Game #15 he got fouled and got two shots. The first shot hit every part of the rim, bounced off the backboard, rolled around three times, stopped for coffee, took a nap…and then fell through. I called timeout to ice my own shooter, but Verle calmly stepped to the line and sank the second free throw after the timeout.

Those were the only two free throws he shot the whole season! I did not qualify my promise very well. Years from now Verle will be telling people that he was the leading free throw shooter on his 9th Grade team.

Tonight we have our team banquet at 5:00. At 6:30, Darla, my friend and barber, will be coming to the school to shave me down! And so today I had to worry about shampoo for the last time for the next couple of weeks or so. I had to pick up my comb and put the part in the left side of my hair. I’ve let it grow out for a while because I knew this day was coming. For the past couple of weeks I’ve resembled a college philosophy professor. The hair has started to curl around my ears. Two more weeks and I could have done one of those “man buns”!

Verle and his teammates are pumped for tonight’s festivities. They will feast on barbecue and all the fixings before their coach gets fixed! I made sure Darla would come and give me the buzz instead of one of them. I could just imagine Verle with an electric hair trimmer in his hands. As it is, his hair looks like two rows of wheat bowing over in the wind. I could just imagine what permanent damage he would do to the top of my scalp.

“Hey! Did you have some skin cancers on the top of your scalp and have to have some radiation treatments?”
“No, I had one of my basketball players give me a haircut!”

When Darla hits the ON switch tonight the chanting will start in a circle around her. The whooping will reverberate around the school cafeteria. My players will break into their usual rendition of “Who Let The Dogs Out?” and, hopefully, Darla’s hands will remain steady in the midst of her laughter.

And at the end I’ll resemble one of those Thanksgiving turkeys that have had all of their feathers plucked!

I’ve got to remember to bring a hat tonight! Wide brim, and one that sinks down low on my head!

6:30 A.M. 7th Grade Basketball Practice

February 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 28, 2018

                                     

There usually are loud moans and groans when I make the announcement, but I expect it. The pained expressions on the faces of my 7th Grade basketball team are the result of finding out that most of our practices will be held before school at 6:30 in the morning.

The eyes get big and the mouths drop open. There is a momentary weeping and gnashing of teeth…and then they accept it for what it is.

For the past several years I’ve made that unpopular decision for a few reasons, which none of the players think are good are to begin with. When we practice after school we have to share the gym with the 8th Grade team. Our middle school has two gyms, one a full-size court and the other a small gym that resembles an elementary school facility. When both teams practice at the same time we get 30-45 minutes in the larger gym and 30-45 minutes in the small gym.

6:30 A.M. practice…problem solved! And it helps the 8th Grade team, also!

Some of them come dragging to the front doors of the school looking a bit disheveled. I greet each one of them with words like “Good morning, handsome!” and “Looking good this morning!” Some snap out of their weariness and smile. Others are not yet to the conversational level of their day.

As they’ve gotten used to the the fact that practice is that early most of them have adjusted. There’s more spring in their step and a few more smiles as they head to school long before anyone else does.

The blood gets flowing and by 6:40 they are at full speed and wide awake. Last week I asked them if they would rather practice before school or after school. All but one said before!

Amazing! Thirteen players and five others who are designated the practice squad, and seventeen of the eighteen said 6:30 rules!

A couple of teachers have commented to me that they’ve noticed how my players are wide awake and ready for class on days we practice early. I’m sure that when the season ends in a couple of weeks that they’ll revert back to their usual school wake-up schedule, but for a few weeks they are learning what it means to be early risers.

It’s one way that I make sure they are committed to what we’re about. It’s one way to make sure they know I have higher expectations for them, and it’s one way I emphasize discipline. I wait at the front doors for each of the boys to arrive, but at 6:30 I head to the gym. You arrive late…too bad!

Tomorrow we have a game. It’s tie day. I’ve told each one of them to dress up for school tomorrow…shirt and tie. I’ll wear one for the game, also! When I told them that the teachers would be impressed they just stared at me, but when I said the young ladies would suddenly see how handsome they were…they grinned!