Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Basketball Diaries : Chapter Nine.

[Editor's Note: This blog 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 is the final of nine chapters. If you need to catch up, backtrack and read prior chapters.]

Well, it's over. I wish I could give you guys a Disney storybook ending to our not-so-magical season, but I have no such conclusion.

Today was the last game of the year. After 6 straight losses, we finally broke through with a win last week. It was against a repugnant foe, but a win is a win. We reveled in it, but as a coach, I know to not get deluded by wins over teams with far less talent. 5 years as a head coach has taught me this.

Still, winning last week felt good, so good that my assistant ANewP and I nearly went back on our pledge to move on with a different set of kids next year. Thankfully, we talked each other out of this, and even better, a couple of Dads of kids on this years team have decided to coach The Panthers as 7th graders next season. This meant Friday's practice would officially be our last, so as is custom, we decided to do our "Rules For The Road" speech where we talked to the kids about the importance of listening to authority, not giving up, and a dozen or so other standard "sports as life" cliches. The kids struggled to stay awake and alert the entire time. This just further confirmed that time was indeed up.

Strangely, when we officially informed the kids that we wouldn't be coaching them next year, they acted genuinely disappointed. This was a broad departure from their usual nonchalance, and for about 1/2 a second, I thought we'd actually made some impact. Then DeAndre launched into some mindless diatribe that had nothing to do with what we'd just discussed. It was time to scrimmage.

Today's game typified the two years of total and complete agony that were coaching The Panthers. In the first quarter, we couldn't stay in our 2-3 zone, and as the kids got continually beat going to the basket, they resorted to an increasingly rough series of fouls, sending the opposing team to the line. On offense, we couldn't put the rock in the ocean, but since the opposition took more than 20 free throws (seriously) and only hit 3, we lead by a modest margin at the half. I implored the kids to move their feet (not their hands) and stay in their zones (not freelancing) on D. If we could do that, we'd have a chance of holding on for the win.

Famous last words.

The kids went right back out and kept on hacking. But now, the other team started hitting free throws. By the end of the 3rd, two Panthers had already fouled out and we trailed by 4. We went on to lose 21-9.

Since this is the final chapter of The Basketball Diaries, I suppose this would be the time to recap what I've learned from coaching this particular set of kids over the last 2 seasons.

1) Patience is a virtue - Kids don't automatically pick things up. Some kids in fact, never pick things up, or at least not while you're coaching them. As a coach (and by extension, a parent), recognizing that all kids develop at different rates can save you a lot of gray hairs.

2) Winning isn't everything, but it sure as hell beats losing - Our sole win this season felt like an oasis in the Sahara. Wins aren't guaranteed. Savor them when they come. After coaching a prior set of kids that went 22-2 over 3 years, going 3-13 with these kids has been humbling.

3) Know why you're coaching - I realized this year that I'm not really coaching because I'm "trying to teach kids how to play the right way". I'm also not coaching because "I want to impart life lessons on these kids through sport". Nope. I keep coming back for more abuse each Winter because I just plain like coaching. It is who I am, and what I do. Simple as that.

4) Do what you like - One word of advice to anyone taking on The AverageBro Challenge™, and working with kids: Choose an activity that interests you naturally. Becoming a tutor if you don't enjoy teaching rudimentary concepts is silly. Being a mentor if you have problems with establishing relationships is a waste of time. Coaching a sport if you don't enjoy said sport is beyond stoopid. Find something you naturally like already, and try to find a way to work youth outreach into this.

5) Don't expect anything in return - Don't expect the kids to ever say thank you. Nor the parents. If you get it, great. If you don't, realize that being unappreciated is more of less part and parcel when you're dealing with someone else's kids. Chances are, those kids don't tell their own parents "thank you" either. Don't take it personal.

After 9 Chapters, I really hope you guys have enjoyed this experiment in "reality blogging". I would have loved to go 8-0 and fool you guys into thinking all kids are great, and that lollipops and grape Kool Aid will pour from the heavens upon your decision to coach. That likely would have encouraged far more people to do so than a miserable 1-7 record.

But that's not reality. Reality is, kids can be real a-holes sometimes, and their parents can be even worse. Reality is, the best laid practice plans can do to waste. Reality is, you don't win em all.

But you won't know unless you try.


Question: Will you take The AverageBro Challenge™ and work with our next generation of leaders? If not, why not?

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