Posted tagged ‘Basketball’

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!

Coming Up With A Title

September 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 12, 2017

                                     

I enjoy writing. It’s where I drink most of my coffee, while sitting on a stool at Starbucks at 7:30 in the morning…or at one of the lower level tables at our local library. I don’t know if it’s the caffeine that gets the words percolating or the comfortableness of the writing spot. My life is now a mixture of writing, coaching, substitute teaching, Sunday preaching, and grandpa-ing!

I recently completed the manuscript of a book I’ve been compiling for a while. Over the summer I was able to put more time into it and, finally, came to the words “THE END” about three weeks ago. A teaching friend, Marise DeKlerk, and a long-time friend, Diana Stucky, are doing editing of the manuscript for me and offering suggestions. Diana, especially, has given me some great feedback that has helped me to strengthen the characters and storyline.

The only thing is…I can’t figure out what to title the book! Titles make people take notice! I spend a lot of time at my public library looking for a new book to read. I survey the shelves that hold countless titles in numerous categories. The title draws me in…or not! I can only read one book at a time, and here I have a multitude of choices.

The book is about a boy named Randy who has moved to a new town, Fleming, West Virginia, with his family as he is about to enter his freshman year of high school. His father is a Baptist pastor coming Fleming to pastor the First Baptist Church. Randy has bright red hair that makes him stand out. He is a young man of great character and humbleness…who also happens to be a very, very good basketball player. He befriends Ethan, the seventh grader who lives across the street from him, and who is seen as being the weird kid in his class because of his thick eyeglasses and awkwardness. Randy’s basketball talent draws attention to him from around the state, but it never changes who he is…a person of character who understands that basketball is just a game, and there are more important things in life.

I could title the book simply “Randy”, or “Shots from Red”, or “New Kid”, or “New Freshman”, or “Bowman” (his last name!). I could go with location and title it “Fleming”, or “The Flame of Fleming”, do basketball specific titles like “Swish!” or “Roundball!”

None of those, however, really catch my eye! I’m stuck! I’m at a loss! How can I write a great story but be clueless about what to call it?

Feeling It!

March 25, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 25, 2017

                                          

There is a TV commercial airing these days from a high-tech mainstay that promotes one of their products that can help assess the shooting ability of a basketball prospect. Showing it several times during each March Madness college basketball game gets noticed by viewers. They add a small “megabyte” of humor to it, but the point is clear: Technology is a valuable tool in assessing talent and potential!

Moneyball was a book and movie about how the Oakland A’s baseball team used statistics and probabilities to figure out how to put a winning team on the field with a small payroll. I loved the movie! Once again, however, it brought the concept to the forefront of using technology and statistics as the determining factors in making decisions.

“Feeling it” seems to be getting pushed further and further back in the decision-making process. I can appreciate that. Hunches, intuition, and feelings are prone to being misread and misleading. If the Cubs had ended up losing the seventh game of the World Series against the Indians their manager, Joe Madden, would have been crucified for following his gut feeling and using relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman on short rest. He would have been rooming with Steve Bartram!

But, thank God, there is still some room for following what a person is led to do or say. Thank God Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have a statistical probability!”; or Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t encourage Luke Skywalker with the line “May the analytical findings print-out be conclusive for you!”

It seems that churches have bought into the information and analysis age as well. One program that is being sold right now promises to be able to help churches fill their sanctuaries on Easter morning. Follow the program and have success.

My cynical side has always been a bit suspicious of a church whose worship leader guides the congregation into worship, complete with raised hands and tear-filled faces, but ends the gathering after an hour because there are two more worship services scheduled that morning. It’s like we trust the leading of the Spirit to a point…er, a time…and then the emergency brake gets engaged. It’s like leasing God instead of buying into him!

What happens when a church is “feeling it?” What happens when the Spirit is truly leading? Unfortunately, most times in recent history when the church has “felt it” has gotten communicated in grandiose projects such as new building campaigns and launching satellite campuses. “Feeling it” doesn’t seem to surface in the relational areas of being led to ask for forgiveness and the practicing of grace. It seems to be in gigantic Solomon temple-sized visions! Perhaps that has made the church, and its people, a bit hesitant about the whispers and leadings of the Spirit.

In my old age I still lace up my sneakers from time to time and play hoop. A couple of weeks ago I was playing with some young guys and every shot I took except one went in. In two pick-up games I made like… ten baskets (Not that I was keeping my “statistics” or anything!)!

“Feed the old guy!” was the increasing emphasis because the old guy was…”feeling it!” It went against success probability and 62 year old player analysis, but they kept giving me the ball and I kept burning the nets.

That “feeling” doesn’t happen very often now, although I still have a “shooter’s touch”, but when it does you’ve got to go with it. To carry it a bit further, there is nothing quite so frustrating as having someone “feeling it” and someone else reluctant to feed the fire.

That sort of summarizes the church, doesn’t it?. We are a people of faith, hatched by an unbelievable God-story… driven most of the time by statistical probabilities!

Getting Scorched!

March 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 11, 2017

                                     

I’ve coached basketball at Timberview Middle School In Colorado Springs for sixteen years. I feel very blessed to be able to do it. Once in a while my team has gotten scorched! This past Thursday we forgot to put our “hoops sun block” on. The result was a severe ego burn! Thanks to a three point shot at the buzzer we only lost by 29!

It was the third time this season my boys had played Mountain Ridge Middle School. The first time we were blitzed on their court by 30! The second time was in the championship game of our local tournament, and we closed the gap to 12! The third time was probably the worst because we are playing in our gym.

To their credit, this group of Mountain Ridge players has not lost a game in two years. To our credit four of the five games we’ve lost these past two years have been to Mountain Ridge.

What do you say to boys who are accustomed to strutting down the hallway on the next school day after a victory with a hint of cockiness in their steps?

Welcome to reality! As someone used to say “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the bug smashed on the windshield!” Life is filled with conquering moments and crushing defeats!

BUT…but we live in a culture that thinks their is always a villain in a defeat! People look for scapegoats in losses. This past week the same Mountain Ridge team had played a different school that they also defeated. The next day the person who assigns officials to middle school games got a call from the school’s athletic director complaining about the officials. They had called four fouls on the school’s best player in the first quarter! It was unfair! They were obviously biased! There was no recognition of the coach’s or player’s responsibilities in the situation. Why did the coach leave him in, not only after his third foul, but after his second foul in the first quarter? What about the player’s responsibility to NOT FOUL?

As a coach I’ve been exalted and also vilified! Some have seen me as the best thing since sliced bread and others have wanted to slice me up like bread!

A different team I coached recently got off to a really bad start against a team that ended up winning our league that season. I called time out three times in the first quarter trying to escape the tsunami! Why hold on to them? If you are getting beat by twenty in the first quarter those timeouts aren’t going to do you a bit of good at the end of the game!

Sometimes we’re just the smashed bug on the windshield! My players probably get tired of me saying it, but after a loss I talk about what we can learn from the experience. When you get scorched there are plenty of teachable moments to refer back to.

The team I coach this season has a number of very talented players who haven’t learned how to play well with each other. That’s been my challenge. They hear me harping on them about offensive possessions where there has been just one pass and then someone launches a three point attempt. They hear me spout off “the lesson of the moment” about “If you can get that shot after one pass you can probably get the same shot after five passes.” They are a good team that makes one great play, but then forgets what they’re suppose to do on the next in-bounds play.

They make me look at what I need to do to be a better coach! They are a team that isn’t used to losing, but taking a loss is sometimes the best thing that can happen to you for the long journey!

A False Sense of Reality

July 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  July 16, 2016

                                     

I’ve been watching a lot of the NBA Summer League games on TV this past week. New draft choices playing alongside D-League players and undrafted free agents, it is an entertaining experience. Next summer I’m thinking about going to Las Vegas with my son and taking in a few of the games being played.

Last night I watched some rim-rocking slams, long-distance threes, and running left hooks.

And then, feeling the energy, I went out in our driveway with “the rock”, as we call the basketball, and started shooting from the corner. I shoot from the corner in our driveway because it slopes down. It’s like an automatic ball return!

As I dribbled the ball and got into my shooting motion reality hit me! Reality came in the form of my right knee whining as it bent…and screamed as it started to unbend! It was the meeting of my mind with my knee and my knee won. Sixty-two year old knees that have run a few marathons, run thousands of miles on asphalt pavements with some of the old running shoes we used to wear, and played years and years of basketball, are knees that now succeed in daily coups against the rest of my body. I say “Let’s play some hoop down at the Y!” and my knees say “I don’t think so!” They are like stubborn octogenarians who refuse to drink their Ensures!

My life seems to have increasing times of false senses of reality. What I envision happening gets a revised plan. It’d like a teenager about to get his first car. He searches the internet web sites, looking at Camaro’s, Jeeps, BMW’s, high-powered Mustangs, and man-sized trucks, and then his parents present him with a gift-wrapped Ford Escort with strips of duct tape on it in different places.

Dreams…expectations…assumptions…and then there comes the reality!

My dream is to slam dunk! My reality is that you can now barely fit one piece of typing paper under my feet when I elevate. The positive however is that it doesn’t take me nearly as long to return to the ground.

Our lives are filled with what we think and what is real.

Remember a time in your growing up years when you had a crush on a certain person and you believed the attraction was mutual. Perhaps you even envisioned in your mind those walks in the park when you would be holding hands, embracing in the shadows of the front porch where parents could not see…and then the reality coming in the form of information that there wasn’t a mutual attraction, and, in fact, you were to leave the other person alone. Stay away! Sometimes reality is like getting slapped in the face with the end of a wet towel that snaps you.

Those are moments in our lives that, plain and simple, just suck!

My knees are just one indication, one painful reminder, that things change. Life is a journey of adjustments. Those adjustments come through afflictions as well as learnings. They come as a result of years of doing something that has left us weary and disillusioned; and they come as we experience the cresting of a new hill that shows us something completely new that we might consider attempting.

Most of us have visited that false sense of reality at one time or another. It comes in a job performance evaluation, or a frank conversation with a trusted friend. It is often hard to hear.

Back to my knees! I shot a few shots, listened to a few internal knee screams, and then went back to the couch. My right knee especially said “This is where you belong!”

I sighed and then watched a 22 year old do a reverse slam dunk on TV!

Unexpected Grace

March 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 5, 2016

                                       

     I’m preaching on grace tomorrow morning, perhaps my favorite subject to dwell upon. We sing an abundance of songs about it…”Amazing Grace”…”Wonderful Grace of Jesus”…Matt Maher’s recent song “Your Grace is Enough”, and Michael W. Smith’s song simply entitled “Grace.”

Grace seems to be a dominant theme pattern in song writers.

And yet in other aspects of our culture, and in the churches that sing about grace, it is given lip service, but rarely put into action and decisions.

Perhaps I’m becoming cynical as I age, but I’ve been at a lot of basketball games lately. I’ve witnessed too many spectators, mostly parents, who are verbally abusive and grace-less. Some may say that it’s simply because I’m talking about a sporting event, and grace is not a part of sports.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Years ago I coached a junior high boy’s basketball team in a Saturday morning church basketball league. Let me just say this! We were several points short of pitiful! My best player, Jimmy Michaels, broke his wrist in the first game of the season. The team instantly went from being short to shorter and short on talent. The boys had matching jerseys and they all had their shoes tied properly, but every Saturday that was as good as it got.

50-5…43-6…39-4…every Saturday morning the score was more resembling of a lock combination than a competitive basketball game.

And then we played Bethlehem Lutheran Church one Saturday. Their Associate Pastor, a guy named Noel Niemann, knew we were a team that was excited about the opportunity to play while being short on talent, and he told his team to play a zone defense that morning where everyone played inside the paint. In effect he was saying we’re going to let the boys of First Baptist shoot and help them score a few points.

Going into that game my goal for the season was to have the team score in double figures in at least one game. It hadn’t happened yet, but that day, thanks to some grace-laced defense, we scored 12! Twelve points! The boys were ecstatic! The final score was 36-12, but if Coach Noel had wanted to he could have geld us scoreless.

We didn’t earn that gift. It was freely given to us, and I’ll never forget that, even though it’s been thirty-five years since it happened.

Grace is helping someone up when there is no advantage to doing so.

And you know, it’s something that needs to be seen in our churches today, not just sung about!

Watching The NBA All-Star Game and Thinking About Faith

February 15, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     February 14, 2016

                

I’m watching the NBA All-Star Game…and wondering why? It’s 145-136 at the end of the third quarter. The only consistency has been the allergies each player has towards defense. Bill Russell is crying as he watches the game. No…Bill Russell is almost asleep as the camera shows him at courtside. Defense doesn’t make for good prime-time TV. The MVP will not be voted on the basis of how many steals he makes. There have been no shot clock violations.

As I watch the jog-and-gun display I can’t help but draw the comparisons between this hyped-showtime event and what many of us do in worship at church each weekend. There’s a lot of going through the motions, minimal passion, and a disdain for patience and perseverance.

There’s something not right with it, and yet we accept it as the way it is. Some Sundays church attenders resemble the YMCA pick-up basketball players…a willingness to shoot and and little else. A spiritual form of “it’s all about me.”

(Russell Westbrook just tried to pass to himself!)

The game is over…finally! 196-173! Russell Westbrook is voted the MVP. I guess if you can pass to yourself you must be the chosen one!