Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Basketball Diaries: Chapter Three.

[Editor's Note: This has an ulterior motive and that motive is The AverageBro Challenge™. Watch me walk the talk firsthand as I coach a team of 6th graders this Winter in our newest series, The Basketball Diaries. This chapter pretty lengthy, but it's good stuff though, so just print out and read when you take a bio break. If you think this feature is worth keeping here at as opposed to my personal journal, let me know in the comments section. If you need a refresher, backtrack and read prior chapters.]


After some deliberation, I've decided on my approach to this Friday, and all subsequent practices. I've had these kids for over a year, and 9 games now. Honestly, their attitude and preparation for practice hasn't improved over time, it has regressed. This manifests itself in lots of anger inducing episodes each practice.

We share the small middle school practice gym with a team of 10th graders who play in an advanced county league. As young kids are bound to do, I find my boys sometimes watching the other team practice when I'm giving instruction, or while they're awaiting their turn during drills. I always threaten the kids by asking them "do you want to practice against them?", which always gets snickers and "Yeah, let's play them"s in response. This shouldn't happen. I usually make the kids run a lap when this happens, but it needs to be a greater punishment (yeah, I said punishment) when they lose focus like this. With just over an hour to practice each week, every minute counts, and while I know preteens have short attention spans, there's no excuse. This will no longer happen.

We spend a lot of time in practice talking and explaining concepts, then having the assistant coaches walk thru a drill that the kids then are to emulate. Inevitably, 2-3 kids aren't paying attention, which means I have to pull them out to run a lap, and thus interrupt the flow of the drill. This too will change.

When we're doing drills, it's okay to get basic stuff (blown layups) wrong. But disregarding very basic instructions in inexcusable and usually results in laps too. For example, when doing fast break drills, you tell the kids to get the rebound and go around to get back in line, not up the middle where you interrupt the next player. And what do they do? Get the rebound and dribble right up the middle, interrupting the next player. This happens repeatedly.

Perhaps the worst discipline issue is backtalking and inability to take criticism. From years of working with kids in various capacities (coaching, mentoring, tutoring, youth ministry), I can tell if a kid has a male influence (Dad, uncle, etc.) in his life immediately. A child with a Dad can take feedback to heart and rise to the challenge. A kid that doesn't will buck back, shirk, pretend not to hear you, look at the floor while you talk, make excuses, cry, or otherwise try to weasel his way out. There are so few derivations to this pattern that I thought about writing a thesis about it. Too bad I never went to grad school.

When you add all these factors up, I have no choice but to start cracking the figurative whip on these guys. Mr. Nice Coach is over. These kids are in for a rude awakening come Friday.


Some of you have been asking via email why I even bother coaching. Sometimes I wonder this myself, but it all gets back to the root of the AB Challenge. I don't think the Black Community is going to change overnight. No amount of osmosis from having a black President is going to fix the achievement gap, keep black men in school and out the traaap, or help our young buys value themselves. Even Obama knows this himself, which is why he's so insistent about having everyone do their part via public service. I'm sure if you took the Magic Negro Filter off him, he'd tell Black folks to quit all these pie in the sky hopes and dreams about things getting better just cause he's in the White House and roll up our sleeves. He's sorta said that enough times already, but some folks caught feelings and accused him of ganging up on black men. Negroes please.

Walking this talk means making a sacrifice. It's one I learned from watching my parents and the things they valued, other than their own kids of course. My mom ran youth scholarship pageants for high school boys and girls in our community. She's probably responsible for more black kids being the first college grads in their families than anyone in Central North Carolina. She did get her props for this, but she never did it for acclaim or a pat on the back, she did it because it was right and she felt obligated to pay or forward because others had cared enough about her when she was growing up.

Likewise for my Dad, who unofficially became the Dad to dozens of fatherless kids in our town, scooping them up for pickup bball and lending avuncular advice when needed. This was what was expected of them, although nobody specifically asked. That's just the way it was supposed to be. My brothers and I in some way or another have all adopted the same ethos in our grown up lives.

So, that's why I coach. Many of the young men on my team don't have any sort of male role model. For those kids I want to fill a void. For the team as a whole, I want to instill a sense of pride in what you do that says I'll give my best, win or lose. I want them to understand that putting others above yourself is an indispensable life lesson. I want them to know how to control their anger, and channel it properly. How to respect authority. How to keep a level head when difficulty arises. How to work as a team. How to push yourself to succeed in every aspect of life. And I feel like everything about youth sports, when properly taught, can help convey these lessons.

The better question is, what am I learning from our current hardship?!?


Lots to cover tomorrow at practice. I'm introducing new rules.
No shooting before practice. If you arrive early, stretch. You'll need it.

Anyone who loses focus, blows an assignment, or can't answer questions about drills runs laps until I say otherwise.

Running means leaning down and touching each corner of the court as you pass it. The quicker and harder you run, the sooner you'll rejoin practice.

If you need water while running, take a quick break, and return to running.

If you want to half-ass your laps, you'll keep running until we say otherwise.

If you don't want to run, sit down outside in the lobby until your parents return to pick you up. Can can resume running next week.

You arrive late without calling me to tell me you're running late for practice, and you run until otherwise told.

If you don't want to run, feel free to call the county Monday morning and ask for a refund.

Shooting the ball is practice is a privilege that must be earned with hard, consistent effort and focus on non-shooting drills. We don't shoot unless we're doing everything else right first.

All kids are entitled to play at least 2 quarters if they play, but I'm not obligated to play you. You can show up and sit on the bench in street clothes. Once we're convinced you're dedicated, you can return to practice.
When we have practice, the parents typically stay in the gym the entire time since it's only an hour and leaving and coming back doesn't make much sense. Whenever I have something I want to say to the kids in confidence, I typically take them out in the lobby to avoid any distractions. I'll do this, and the kids will know Coach AB ain't bullsh*ttin'. I'm tired of losing. It's time to quit goofing off and tighten up.

Friday Morning

Well, we haven't even had practice yet, but the figurative other shoe has already dropped. Pedro's mother called me last night and told me he no longer wants to play. I sorta saw this coming. After our 3rd practice, she called me and said the other kids were picking on him for missing layups during drills. When you're the head coach, you're so focused on execution that your tunnel vision causes you to miss the things going on behind your back. The following week in practice, I addressed this by making all the kids run laps after I explained to them that we're all a team and such chatter isn't acceptable. I assumed this was the end of it, but maybe now.

Pedro's mom says she really wanted him to play more than he did, and she's going to try and convince him to come to practice tonight. I'm not holding my breath. Reality is, if a kid's already quit, getting him to run and do drills and perform in games is a lost cause. It's over.

As a parent, I've always said that when my two boys are old enough to start extracurricular activities like sports, clubs, and music lessons, they are going to have to commit to what they do. Joining a team is a commitment to the other guys that you will give your best. Quitting, especially one game into the season, hurts everyone because with just 8 players, we will have some stamina issues. But the bigger problem is that pressing the eject button when you're young sets a bad precedent. What will you do when school gets hard? A job? A relationship? Sometimes buckling down and just sticking with it is when you get your breakthrough.

Oddly enough, my mom is in town right now, so I told her about Pedro quitting and asked her if I did the same thing as a child. She said "yes", I quit lots of stuff: band practice, after school clubs, and yes, even youth basketball. My parents (Dad included) didn't like this, but they allowed me to make my own decisions and deal with the consequences, good or bad. Had I stuck with BBall, I might be a better than average pickup player today. Had I stuck with band, I'd know today whether I actually have some musical talent or just think I do. But those were my decisions, and longterm, they didn't effect my other, more pressing life choices. I stuck with college and finished in 3 1/2 years. I stuck with my job, I've been here since I graduated over a decade ago. And my marriage, 7 years and running. So, perhaps I'm being judgemental about Pedro.

Perhaps I'm being judgemental about these kids as a whole.


Well, good news and bad news from practice last night.

Pedro showed up, but only to turn in his jersey and tell me personally that he was no longer interested in playing. It was sorta hard to watch. His Mom and Dad made him come to the gym before practice and let me know of his decision. Watching this painfully shy kid mutter that he "just didn't want to do it anymore" was sad, but necessary. I agreed with the parents, if you're gonna bail, be a man (kid) about it, and do it yourself. With that water under the bridge, we could finally start practice and lay down the law.

Sadly, two of our kids didn't make practice, which left us with just 6 players. Effi was at a swim meet, and Mark was at a family function. Both called ahead and told me they'd be there for Sunday's game, which I guess was okay. Still, it meant two players would miss our Discipline Speech and two players (our only bigs) would be clueless on Sunday. But do what you gotta.

I sat all 6 kids in the cold hallways and read them the riot act. We were losing and would continue to lose unless they started listening. Their poor practice approach and habits would ensure more losses. They would start running a lot more. Naturally, one kid named De'Andre who I know has ADD, was the one child who couldn't sit still and quiet as we explain the new rules. And we made an example of him.

De'Andre has ADD, along with a host of other behaviorar issues that I'm not fully aware of. This usually means he's either aloof and disinterested, or completely disruptive in practice. Oddly, he's probably our most talented player, but his lack of focus is endemic of our woes. So, I had an assistant take De'Andre into the gym and get him running while I talked to the rest. About 5 minutes later, the assistant comes back and tells me De'Andre has quit running, and is now getting chewed out by his Mom inside. I finish my talk with the team, and they enter the gym to do their laps. De'Andre is still on the sideline, refusing to finish his laps, and still getting chewed out by his Mom.

The kids run like escaped slaves, and join the huddle where we start working on free throw shooting. Eventually, De'Andre relents, and rejoins the team then apologizes for his messup. I tell him to start running again. About 5 minutes later, the asisstant deems the message sent, and De'Andre rejoins our drill. The rest of practice, with a couple of expections, goes off as planned.

I consider the message relayed. Listen, or run. Run or go home.

We'll see how this plays out Sunday, but win or lose, I like the attitude adjustment already.

Sunday (Postgame)

Well, we lost, but I feel a lot better this week than last.

We fell way behind early on, as the kids failed to stay in their respective zones of the 2-3 and left the opposition open for uncontested jumpers. The kids tightened up and made a game of it in the 4th, before dropping a 26-15 decision.

I have to look at the glass as half full. The kids played hard all game long and didn't give up when they got in a hole. They scrapped and scrapped, and generally did what we asked them to with few exceptions.

The problem is what it always is: inopportune mental lapses. A blown rotation. Failure to box out. Not attacking the "D" and settling for long jumpers instead. You add it up, and 9 times out of 10, you'll lose if you fail to pay attention to these finer points.

This week in practice, we have to get better at the basics of guarding your zone and not freelancing so much. They have to all learn to go to the glass. They have to put the ball on the floor and not launch 3's when there aren't even any 3 pointers counted in our league. And they'll learn this by running, and running, and running until the message sinks in.

Almost doesn't count. Almost equals 0 - 8.

Season Record: 0 Wins and 2 Losses.

Next Opponent: Team Strauss.

Question: Can Coach AB do anything to get the Panthers to play "the right way" or are we staring at an 0-8 season?

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