Posted tagged ‘basketball coaching’

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!

Cutting Kids

February 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 9, 2018

                                            

Yesterday I posted “the list”! The list is the 13 seventh grade boys who have been invited to be a part of the Timberview Middle School interscholastic basketball team. It’s a list of celebration that had 13 signs of relief breathed upon it.

Not on the list are the 28 others who I had to say “Sorry!” to. Telling seventy percent of the boys that they were cut is worse than a couple of hemorrhoids living side by side…okay, maybe not that bad!

“Cutting kids” is also a life lesson. In every aspect of life there are those who are left off the list. Last spring I applied for a head coaching position for basketball at a local high school. About a week later I received an email informing me that I was not one of the finalists. There was a moment of indignation, but I got over it. Two weeks later I interviewed for another position and was a finalist, but was still not the final pick. In both cases I was not the one. It’s how life works.

For each of the students who tried out for the seventh grade team I did an evaluation that I will willingly share with any of them who ask me. I made the point to those who were not chosen that if they work on specific skills their chances of making next year’s team will improve. Some will make attempts, and others will find other things that may be more of a passion than basketball.

Parents don’t like kids to be cut. In fact, we use softer language as I did in the first paragraph. We “invite” a few students to be on the interscholastic team. If you hear the students talk, however, they will usually use one of two terms. They “made the team”, or they “got cut.”

Some day these same kids will apply for college or submit a resume for a job. When they are rejected I wonder if their parents will correct them and say, “No, honey! You just weren’t invited to take the position!”

Pain and disappointment lead to self-discovery. “I’m sorry to inform you” letters cause adolescents to realize that the world does not spin on their personal axis. If someone is never disappointed he/she will seldom reach for something that is still beyond their reach.

One boy came to me Friday afternoon. He’s a good-sized kid, who I thought would be one of the 13, but his skill deficiencies rose to the surface in the four days of tryouts. “Coach, I was really disappointed when I saw that I didn’t make the team, but I’m okay with it now.” He’s a good kid who I will have in class Monday and Tuesday for the teacher I’ll be subbing for. I told him I’d share my evaluation with him so he can work on a few things. He appreciated that. In the course of a few hours he went from taking it personally to knowing that I care about him. In regards to him, disappointment will make him stronger and cause him to work even harder.

Cutting kids is the hardest thing I do as a coach, and yet one of the most important things I do.

On Monday morning I’ll convince 13 other seventh grade boys that the world does not revolve around them either!

Icing My Shooter

February 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              February 6, 2018

                                        

The freshmen boy’s basketball team I coach at The Classical Academy (TCA) In Colorado Springs has been abysmal in their free throw shooting this basketball season. Three of our five losses came in games where we shot under 50% from the foul line.

Before we had played any games way back in November I had challenged one of my players (I’ll just refer to him as “Verle”!) to improve his shooting. Each day in practice we’d do two or three rounds where each player shoots ten free throws and reports their results.

Verle would tell me, “Coach, I made 2 out of 10.”

“Coach, I was 3 for 10!”

Once in a great while it would be, “Coach, I was 5 for 10!”

Finally, one day I said to him, “Verle, if you shoot 90% for the season I’ll shave my head!”

His eyes lit up!

“Really!”

“Really!”

His eyes squinted together, his way of telling me that he was up to the challenge. In my opinion, his look of determination did not change the fact that he was a master bricklayer as a free throw shooter. Quickly he informed all of his teammates of the coach-player bet. They whooped and hollered about it.

Last night we played our 15th game of the season. Verle had not yet shot a free throw all season. In the fourth quarter of a game where we had a comfortable lead it happened. He got hacked!

The one stat that each of my players were aware of was that Verle had not shot a free throw all season. He was zero for zero! There was instant excitement on the bench of what might happen. The junior varsity players waiting behind our bench knew also and they were intently watching.

He stepped to the line, received the basketball, bounced it twice, and then launched. With minimum rotation the ball headed towards the rim. It hit the front of the rim, bounced and hit the back of the rim, and then fell through the basket. My bench erupted. The JV players joined them in the celebration. Verle looked over at me on the bench with the same squinted eyes look.

I called time out!

In basketball a coaching ploy that is often used is called “icing the shooter.” It’s the idea of making the free throw shooter have to think about the difficulty of the shot he/she is about to attempt. If someone makes the first of two shots it’s the idea of getting him away from the spot that feels comfortable for a few moments before he attempts the second shot.

This, however, might be the first time a coach has called time out to “ice” his own shooter. The players gathered around me, and someone told Verle why I had called time out.

“Coach, are you trying to ice me? Coach, I’ve got ice in my veins!”

“Great! Maybe you’ll freeze up on your shot!”

The bench was excited. The JV players were yelling. Verle walked over to the free throw line, cast one more look of determination at me, and readied himself. Behind me on the bench a couple of players were making buzzing sounds to mimic an electric razor.

He shot! Time stood still! The ball hit nothing but net! I put my head in my hands!

The whole bench, plus the JV team all launched into a symphony of electric razor buzzing. Verle gave me the squinted eye look one more time.

Now I must try to get him into another free throw shooting situation in the final four games, but considering it took fifteen games before he attempted his first one that is going to be a tough task. He may come down with a two week flu, or fake a sprained ankle.

I walked into the locker room to the sound of the whole team “buzzing!”

My hair is toast!

Coaching With People of Integrity

November 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 11, 2017

                               

Yesterday I began a new adventure! It was the first day of high school basketball tryouts. I’ve been a part of high school girl basketball team staffs for eleven years. Yesterday was my first day as a member of a high school boys basketball staff.

It isn’t my first experience coaching boys, mind you! I’ve coaching boy’s basketball at Timberview Middle school in Colorado Springs for 17 years, and am in the midst of coaching The Classical Academy 8th Grade boys team for the second year. (Yes, I will coach three teams this year for those who are wondering about my sanity!)

What makes this season exciting for me is that I’m coaching with five other men who I hold in high regard. They are all men of integrity. One of them, Leo Swiontek, was my son’s JV basketball coach back in 1999-2000.

I knew this was going to be an interesting adventure when we had a coach’s meeting one evening at the home of the head coach back in October. We talked about emphasizing specific aspects of character during the season…subjects such as reliableness and selflessness. The head coach made the statement that when he meets up with a former player twenty years from now at a Starbucks, and the player is now in his mid-thirties, he wants to be able to see that his former player is a person with great character, a man of integrity.

Integrity is a word we throw around a lot these days. With the numerous cases of sexual abuse that have hit the news in recent weeks it would be nice to see a man in the headlines for his integrity instead of his indiscretions. Integrity, however, is not something that a person blows his horn in announcing.

The five men I’ll be coaching with range in age from 26 to…me! I’m the old fart at 63! Three are teachers at the school, two work in other professions, and I am kinda’ retired. My wife keeps saying those words: “I thought you were suppose to be retired!”

The six of us coach at the largest charter school in the state, a school known for its academics, high expectations, and 90% of its graduates going on to college. State championships have been numerous in track and cross country, and last year in soccer. Basketball, however, has been mediocre in its wins and losses record. One reason for that is that the school does not accept any new students for high school. Families sign up their child to be a student at birth. No one transfers in, but some transfer out!

I raise that issue as a point about integrity. I see too many high school coaches hanging out at youth athletic contests hoping to influence someone who can dunk a basketball to come to their high school. Yes, it’s against the rules, but coaches who have no integrity seem to get around that…or not be concerned by that.

At this school who we have on the 8th Grade team is who we will have on the 9th Grade team, and who we will have on the JV team the next year after that. There’s something good about that. It allows us as coaches to have a greater impact on the lives of our players. Two years ago one of the athletes at the high school died. I watched the varsity boys coach walk alongside his team during that. His availability to them in the valley of the shadow of death impressed me and made me want to be on his staff.

Two years ago when I was coaching the JV girls team at the same school I had the opportunity to coach with a young woman who was a person of integrity. Even though she was less than half my age Kasey Lucero always was consistent in how she treated and related to her players. This year my 7th Grade coach is one of her former players, and I see the handprint of Kasey’s influence upon her life. That’s a win in my book!

This morning we run about thirty young men through the second day of tryouts. Some are starting to sport facial hair. Some should give up trying in regards to that. Some have reached the limit to their height, and others are praying for a few more inches. There are some deep voices amongst them and still a few others that resemble chirping birds. I hope all of them end up making the world a better place to live! That would be a lot of wins!

What Character Qualities Will I Teach My Players?

October 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              October 11, 2017

                    

Last night I met with four other men who I will be coaching alongside this coming high school basketball season. During the course of the evening we talked about offenses and defenses, practice plans, try-outs, and schedule, but we spent the most time talking about what the foundational characteristics were that we looked to teach our players. More than just teach, to model for our players!

Twenty years from now when I meet a former player for a cup of coffee what is that I hope to see his life rooted in? What will I be overjoyed about as I talk to someone who has turned 35?

There are a lot of coaches who have been entrusted with opportunities to speak into the lives of their young athletes…who are simply scoundrels! Being a high school basketball official for years I’ve seen how their teams have often taken on their personalities…bad attitudes, sour disposition, arrogant, prone to temper tantrums.

So the men I’ll be working with are committed to emphasizing the development of character in our young players. Last night we talked about four foundations:

            Integrity

            Selfless

            Reliable

            Gracious

All four go against the flow of our culture. “Integrity” seldom makes the headlines. Scandals and conspiracies draw larger audiences.

“Selfless” gets applauded, and yet we live in a time of entitlement. During a recent sports season I had a couple of players who had missed significant practice time because of injuries. When it came to preparing for the last game of the season both of them wanted to be the running backs again. In practice I positioned one of the players at Offensive Tackle. He didn’t like it. After a few plays he asked to be subbed out because he needed to do some more stretching. The other boy kept, who had missed the previous three games, kept asking me “When am I going to run the ball?” Both of them had exhibited actions and attitudes that communicated that they did not understand concept of team. The result was they caused more trouble than they were worth. As I begin this new basketball season the character quality of “selfless” will be the first foundation I emphasize.

“Reliable” is a word that we used to take for granted. An employee was expected to be at work…and working! My son, who is a chef, often talks about his frustrations with workers who just didn’t show up for work. The effect of such an absence puts more pressure and work on those who are there. There’s a lot of people who float in and out of our lives who can not be relied upon. “Dr. Phil” makes a living out of telling life stories of people who aren’t reliable, and the ripple effect of such.

“Gracious” goes to one of my favorite words…grace! I’ve encountered a lot of players who stepped out of line when grace was being handed out. They criticize and demean their teammates. Wouldn’t it be awesome to play on a team where there is a recognition of everyone trying their hardest, committed to a team effort, and recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and needs the grace of their teammates? Grace, on an athletic team, means picking someone up off the ground instead of making them want to sink into the ground.

So this basketball season we’ll seek to lead our teams to victories, but we will also seek to lead them on a path towards being young men of character.

I’ve been out of high school for…Good Lord!…45 years now, but I still remember the people I went to school with who were jerks. Perhaps they’ve changed since 1972, but since I now live five states away I don’t know. My impression was etched in my memory a long time ago. I will strive to take my players on a journey this season that will help lead them towards young men of exceptional character.

And then when we sit at table in Starbucks in 2037 sipping some medium roast together I’ll attempt to hold back tears of gratitude over who this young man has become!