The AverageBro Challenge™ and you're gonna see me walk the talk firsthand as I coach a team of 6th graders this Winter in our newest series, The Basketball Diaries. If you need a refresher, read Chapter One.]
So, Sunday is the "big game". I guess it would be more apt to call it the first game, but when you only play 8 total and there's no playoffs, every game counts. So, of course we want to get a solid "W" under our belts to start the season off on the right note.
Things are different this year in many ways. My prior 4 seasons, we both practiced and played games in the eastern part of our sprawling metropolitan county. Where I live is quite diverse, and although nobody's on welfare by any stretch, it's considered the "urban" and "working class" part (translation: where all the Negroes live) of the very suburban county that borders DC to the Northwest.
We usually play our games on Saturday mornings as well, so imagine my surprise when I finally receive the schedule for the season, and it turns out that not only are we playing in a portion of the county in an inner suburb near the District line (translation: where all the rich white folks live), it turns out we're also playing on Sundays. Yep, Sundays, and our "window" is 12-3pm. Not good.
I know this isn't too rare in the world of youth sports, but wrapping my mind around playing games after church takes a moment to process. The fact that this is nearly a 45 minute ride from home in heavy traffic isn't so great either. And then it occurs to me that some of the kids might have to drop out because of church commitments too. Baaddd omen for a team that already only has 9 players.
Thankfully, no kids have dropped out yet, but I see the potential for such a thing down the road, especially when we play the dreaded 12 Noon game. At worst we'll have some kids who just can't make it. At best, these kids will show up late and will probably not be allowed to play.
On the bright side, I have my Saturdays back again, so there's your silver lining.
Practice (our 6th of the season, BTW) was dreadful. For kids about to play their first game in less than 48 hours, there was no focus or sense of urgency. The kids slogged through their offensive movement drills, took awful fadeway-off-the-weak-foot shots frequently, and seemed to be paying zero attention to instruction. When they blow assignments or take bad shots, they run a lap and rejoin the drill once finished, but the lack of focus would return almost immediately. It was a bad omen.
As opposed to scrimmaging, we now have the kids break into separate teams (offense and defense) and practice both ball movement and 2/3 defense simultaneously, with no change of possession. We went about 10 minutes without a single made basket, which you can read either of two ways.
1) The kids have no clue offensively.
2) The kids are excellent defensively.
The answer is probably in the middle. Poor shot selection gives you the illusion that someone is being well defended and being forced into bad shots. And playing a halfcourt zone is misleading as well, because reality is, when teams fall behind, defensive focus is usually the first thing that goes out the window because they're suddenly more focused on getting buckets than getting stops.
For the first time in my two years working with this set of kids, I absolutely lost it when practice ended. It's not unfair to dress down the kids for a bad practice, but I believe I actually crossed a line when I told them that if they played as poorly on Sunday as they'd practiced, they'd lose Sunday, and lose badly. ANewP (my assistant) pulled me to the side and told me this wasn't a good thing to say, and he was right, but seriously, the frustration was mounting. If they don't do it in practice, chances are they won't do it in the game. And that usually means a loss.
T-Minus 24 hours and counting. By this time tomorrow we'll be lining up for the tipoff, and I'll have the chance to size up the competition. Unlike in prior seasons when we usually had only 5-6 teams and got to take on most competitors twice, this season's 9 team league meant you only got one shot at each opponent. For a coach, and players, this makes things harder to predict since you don't develop any familiarity with your opponents and thus can't really put together a gameplan.
With this being the case, execution and focus become even more important because your margin of error is very small. And I'm really concerned that my kids just don't have their heads anywhere in the game.
One thing we've decided to do differently this year is making starting assignments matter. In prior seasons, we tried to give everyone a chance to start, and usually tailored our lineups to give us a traditional "point/wings/bigs" starting five. This year, we're rewarding practice effort and letting the lineups fall where they may.
Our team is short anyway. Our best player on last year's team, a Haitian kid named Oronde, decided not to return, leaving a tall Ethiopian kid name Effi who is in his first year of organized ball as our only "center". Conventional wisdom would say to put your tallest kid on the court, regardless of skill because he can probably offset the other team's big. But Effi is still "growing into his frame", which means he's largely uncoordinated and unassertive. Thus, we're playing significantly smaller players like a black kid named Mark and a whimsical Hispanic boy named Pedro. A year ago, I would never have considered starting either. Mark has four-eyed and clumsly. Pedro was flighty, mouthy, and seemed to think he was playing soccer most of the time, although we were clearly playing hoops.
But magically, both players have gotten more comfortable and aggressive in the offseason and are typically diving for loose balls and gobbling up rebounds in practice. Neither is particularly skilled or talented, but effort is half the battle. Undersized or not, merit matters, and we decide to reward this grit with starting assignments, for better or for worse.
Well, here we go. My sons are down for their afternoon naps and I'm headed to the community center for Game One of Eight.
You never know how kids will respond in the first game of the season. Will they remember all the stuff you taught they learned in practice or will all that stuff go out the window after tipoff?
The funny thing about our schedule is that none of the other teams have names. They're all just listed under the coach's name. So today, it's The Panthers vs Team Wisenbaum. Odd.
I know I'm the main guy telling ya'll to Take The AB Challenge™, and help out our chill'rens. But it's days like today that make me wonder why I even bother wasting my weekends doing this sh*t.
This is what I feel like right now.
We didn't just lose today, we got ethered. The final score was 35-12, but that in no way is indicative of the complete and total asswhipping that our kids took.
We actually led 5-2 at the end of the first quarter. Then the other team just opened a can of industrial grade whoop ass, and we found ourselves down 14-5 at the half.
I pride myself on keeping my composure when working with children. They don't get everything the first time. It takes repetition, reassurance, and kind words for concepts to stick with some kids. But these kids? After 2 years, they just don't effin' get it. Period.
At the half, I calmed down and took the kids outside in the lobby. I explained why we were losing, and how we could get back in the game and win in three simple steps.
1) Move around on offense and stop stand around watching the point guard.
2) When we turn it over on offense, don't give up on the play, get back and set up on D.
3) Every player needs to crash the boards.
These are simple instructions, but our kids still can't get them down. In the third, the turnovers piled up, defensive assignments were blown, and we fell behind by 20+. The game was over.
The really f*cked up thing was when the game ended, the other team's parents gave us a standing ovation. It was so insulting, because here we were, a team full of darkies, who were figuratively bused all the way down to the rich inner suburbs, only to lose (badly) to a team full of trust fund babies. These kids probably just play basketball for the cardio and college application padding. And besides, aren't brown and black kids supposed to own roundball? The act of patronizing was so bizarre I couldn't even be insulted. It was like we'd come there for a spelling bee and gotten destroyed, yet they were giving us an "A" for effort because hey, we weren't supposed to win under any circumstances.
That's the killer instinct and "I will not lose" pride that my prior teams used to have. These kids? They simply don't have it.
As I sat there on the bench in the forth, waiting for the clock to expire, it occurred to me that after 2 years, 9 games, and hours of practice, these kids have no discipline, and without it, we might not even duplicate last season's 2 wins this year. We need discipline. We'll work on this by running until these little... uhhrrr gentlemen puke.
I hope they wear comfortable shoes to practice. They'll need it.
Season Record: 0 Wins - 1 Loss
Next Game: Sunday @ 3pm vs Team Steinberg
Question: Am I being too hard on these kids, or should they understand these basic concepts by now? Do you think running these kids until they get reacquainted with their lunch is going to instill discipline, or is there a better way? Will The Panthers beat Team Steinberg next Sunday?