SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

A Boy's Best Birthday Present

I've coached my son's team in the rec league for going on five years now, and we've won many more than we've lost. I can joke that it's because of superior coaching, but truth be told we get a bunch of kids who come eager to learn and to play hard. We also have gotten "older" kids who encourage the younger ones, and, yes, I'm sure that the friend with whom I coach and I have something to do with it. But mostly it's the kids who try so hard that make it all happen.

One of the kids we coach asked me before the season began what he could do to improve. I told him that while he's aggressive on defense, we need him to shoot and score more. So, in the second quarter of our first game (the first quarter in which this player saw action), what did he do? He took four shots from fifteen feet or beyond, making only one, and that came when he shot from between the foul line and the top of the key and he banked it in. And, no, he didn't "call" it.

We were up big at halftime, so when he and his unit came off the floor I observed that when I advised him to shoot more during the season, I didn't recommend that he take a season's worth of shots in his first quarter of play. (We all got a chuckle out of that.) I told him and a teammate that there was room to drive and shoot from closer, and, to this player's credit, when he got a pass at the foul line in the fourth quarter he drove the lane and made a layup, a much higher percentage shot. That's a great feeling for a coach, when your kids take the feedback quickly and improve upon their play. It doesn't happen all that often, but when it does, you smile.

Of course, later in that game he was on the baseline and a long rebound made its way to this same player. But instead of driving the baseline (akin to driving toward the basket from the foul line as he did earlier in the game), he opted to put up a fifteen footer -- which missed badly. After the game I said that if he were to see a wide open lane to the basket again, he'd need to take the ball to the hoop. He nodded in agreement.

On Saturday we played our second game of the season, against a tougher and more aggressive opponent. It was a close game -- well-defended -- and we found ourselves trailing by four at the half. The younger players then went out in the third quarter and left it all on the floor and made it closer, but with 30 seconds to go we were down one and got a rebound. I called timeout.

I have a clipboard with a basketball court on it, and I took my marker and drew a play, getting nods from each kid after asking him what he was to do. I designed a "picket fence" of a triple pick for our leading scorer, with the inbound passer to loop behind him for a handoff and shot if our leading scorer was over-defended. The inbound passer was the kid I wrote of earlier, aggressive on defense but sometimes reluctant on offense.

The play broke down immediately. Our big fellah went the wrong way, our leading scorer was hounded, and another would-be screener bumped into the ballhandler. Bedlam. But then, suddenly, a sense of calm and purpose set in, and the ball made its way to the inbound passer, who found himself on the baseline with pretty much was an open lane to the basket. Without hesitation (and unlike just a week earlier), he put the ball on the floor, drove to the hoop, laid the ball up on the rim where it took a soft bounce and dropped through the hoop. We were up by one! Our leading scorer then forced a turnover, and the game was over.

As I wrote, we have won over the years many more than we have lost, but coming from behind and winning that close a game is about as satisfying as it gets. Parents from both teams acknowledged how exciting it was and how hard the kids played. The kid who hit the game-winning bucket -- who has tried hard over the years and received some kudos and missed out on some others -- was all smiles. That morning he turned 12, and he got a few things for his birthday that made him smile widely.

But, perhaps, not as widely as this, because there are times in life when the best gifts are the ones that you work hardest for to earn -- because you've failed before, because you've learned from an error, and because you've picked yourself back up and mastered a skill, in this case, finishing a play properly.

As a coach, this type of situation is a great thing to see.

Especially when that player is your son.

He got many gifts that day, but saved the best one of all for his coach and, more importantly, himself.

It was a great day in many ways.

1 Comments:

Blogger Phil L said...

Prof

What a great story. You tell that young man he has one of the most important skills any human being can have: the ability the let go of a behaviour that isn't working and replace it with a better one.

Some of us, much older and supposedly wiser, still can't seem to nail that one down.

Happy birthday.

PS The ability to give feedback clearly and sensitively enough to be acted upon is a hell of a skill too, coach.

5:14 AM  

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