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?
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Well, we finally got the monkey off our backs. That's right folks, The Panthers finally won a game!!!
Officially devoid of new ideas, my assistant ANewP and I decided to keep Friday's practice light. Instead of killing the kids with more reps of the offense that was never gonna work, we just focused on tightening up the defense and scrimmaged the rest of the time. After more than 20 practices, if the kids didn't have it yet, they'd never get it.
So when we showed up to today's game, I didn't bother putting too much thought into preparation or the typical pregame speech. I simply told the guys that they knew what to do by now, and to just go out and do it. I also told them to abandon the Princeton offense and just wing it. As long as they played solid defense, I'd be happy with whatever the end result was.
Oddly, we were 2 kids short today. Our most athletic, yet erratic kid, De'Andre, was out of town for a family function. Paul, son of Junie The Tyrant, wasn't anywhere to be seen at tipoff. This meant two of our arguably most talented, if not necessarily productive, players were missing. We'd have to make due with hustle and smart play from the 8 kids who did show. If there was a silver lining, it was that we could freely substitute, as our dearth of players meant we could disregard the standard "play 2 full quarters" rule.
As we lined up, I had a good feeling that we had a chance to win. Our opponents, like most of the teams in our league, were a bunch of rich, snotty, inner-burbs trust fund babies. But unlike the other opponents, these kids had no height, and as we assembled for tip-off, were visibly intimidated by my team of burb-ghetto Benetton ad rejects.
We raced out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first quarter, but the warning signs were there. We were playing hard, and smart, but could not buy a basket. Our big man, Jose, literally had dozens of second and third looks as he cleaned the offensive glass, but could not convert the easiest of putbacks. Had he put a fraction of those shots in the basket, the game would have been over. As-was, we lead 14-10 at intermission, our first halftime advantage all season long.
As the kids swilled Gatorade and caught their breaths, I repeatedly told them to not let up. We could play better, but so could the opposing team, which meant the game was still very much in question. They needed to maintain intensity or else.
And what happens when the second half starts? The other team scores a couple of easy baskets to tighten the game back up. I called a timeout and implored the kids to get tougher. And then, something clicked. The boys finally realized they had an intimidation factor.
The next thing you know, my kids were hacking like Bill Laimbeer! They were grabbing at loose balls, tying up picked-up dribbles, and clobbering players to short-circuit fastbreak layups. And on no fewer than 5 occasions, play had to be stopped as some kid from the opposing team laid out, sprawling on the court as tears flowed like water. My boys had finally "gotten ghetto". I cried a little bit inside.
Just to clear things up, I didn't tell the boys to play dirty, only to not keep giving up easy baskets. The tactic worked, as we shut the Rockets down, the jumpers started falling, and we walked away with a hard fought 23-16 win.
I wish I could see this as validation that everything we'd been doing finally worked. That the kids finally saw the value of playing as a unit rather than individuals. That the secrets of winning basketball were finally unlocked. But none of that's really true. Reality is, we beat the crap out of a horrible team that we had no business evar losing to.
And reality is, that's what winning is all about.
Season Record: 1 Win - 6 Losses
Next (and final) Opponent: Team Proctor
Question: Was this hard-fought win evidence that everything AB and ANewP have done finally sunk in, or merely a predictable victory over an even worse team? Does winning truly cure all ails, or merely lull one into a false sense of security?
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
There comes a time in every man's life, when he has to stop dwelling in a world of starry idealism and face reality. I've come to accept the fact that I'll never play in an actual NBA game. I'll never see Michael Jackson live in concert. I'll never... ahem... "hook up" with Halle Berry. And unfortunately, the basketball team I'm coaching this year will never be good.
These are the rules. Live with em'.
I came to this realization today as I watched my young Panthers get walloped, 31-9, in a game that was even worse than its final score indicates. After over 20 practices and 14 games, it is finally sinking in that this particular set of kids simply can't play the game. Period. Today we hit rock bottom, or at least what I fear to be rock bottom. We can't possibly go any lower. I pray not.
We've spent 5 weeks practicing our offense. The kids have yet to execute it properly in a game. Not a single time. Turnovers piled up. Uncontested layups set the scoreboard on fire. We couldn't hit the broadside of a barn on offense. We couldn't rebound with an eHarmony.com account.
I found myself in Stuart Smalley mode after the game. I'm 35 years old. I understand the game. I know how to coach it. I've been successful before. Losing doesn't make me a loser. But it's becoming patently obvious that despite my best intentions, if you have kids who don't listen, aren't disciplined, have no level of talent, no pride, and don't know how to play the game despite hours of instruction, you simply aren't going to win.
I'd be kidding you guys if I said this wasn't souring me on coaching and working with kids in the future, period. Losing takes a toll on you. You think about the sacrifices made, the weekends blown, the time spent away from your own family, and it all feels like a colossal waste of time and energy.
Some of you are probably saying, "But AB, this isn't all about winning, it's about working with the kids!" That would be true, and on that issue, I also have to deem this experiment a failure of sorts. The kids haven't shown any greater level of preparation or professionalism. They still show up 3 mins before the game and mosey into the gym. They haven't shown any greater understanding of the game. If they did, common mistakes wouldn't be repeated so often. They haven't shown any greater respect for authority. We still spend an inordinate amount of time each practice making the kids run because they're not focused on drills and instruction. So, in the end, I'm wondering exactly what good has come of this.
For anyone else considering working with kids in any capacity, consider this a case study. You'll seldom see the fruits of your labor immediately. Sometimes the whole thing will feel like a colossal waste of time. You'll prolly never be told thank you.
But do it anyway.
Season Record: 0 Wins and 6 Losses
Next Opponent: The Rockets
Question: Is it time to throw in the towel? Can the Panthers win either of the two remaining games or is this season a wash?
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Well, another week, another loss. But the progress we've been demanding finally showed today. The guys ran the offense just as planned. They didn't give up any fastbreak baskets. They stayed in their 2-3 zone. They rebounded well.
Our problem today was shooting. The kids took good shots out of the offense, they just couldn't hit them. After trailing 12-0 at the half, we finally got some shots to fall, but not enough to dig ourselves out of the hole. We just came up short, 17-10, in a game far closer than the score would indicate.
Still, I walked away feeling good. The kids played the way we asked them to. They listened. We didn't get the win, but you get the sense that it's right around the corner.
Juney continues to be a problem, but thanks to AverageOlderBrother (who helps out with practice), he's a problem I don't personally have to deal with. At Friday's practice, Juney tried to hijack a drill, and my brother personally pulled him to the side and gave him the 9th degree. He was silent the rest of the night. At today's game, he started disrupting us again, sending the kids (especially his son Paul) directions from the stands that contradicted what we as coaches were telling them in the huddle. And wouldn't you know it, on a day when we couldn't throw it in the ocean, Paul prolly shot 0 for 15. Late in the 4th, when the game was tight, Juney tried to give Paul another instruction, and without even turning around, I calmly said "One Coach". He shut up.
I'm hoping this issue doesn't persist, but knowing Juney, it will. Thank God for big brothers, because if I had to address the issue, it might get real ugly. As is, Juney needs to work with his own kid on shooting, and drink a nice tall can of you-know-what. If your own kid ain't ballin', you have no right criticizing his teammates.
Thankfully, we can't lose next week because we're not playing. It's our only bye week, and it comes at the best of times. I'm personally getting burned out with giving up Fridays and Sundays, and two of the kids were out sick today. So, a break's a good thing. We'll be back at it, looking for that first win in two weeks.
Season Record: 0 Wins - 5 Losses.
Next Game: Vs Team Hunter in 2 Weeks.
Question: Will the Panthers win a game this season? Should I beat the tracks off Juney or just keep ignoring him?
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
We're officially in "wait till next year" mode now. At some point, you dial back your expectations and start dealing with reality. We're there.
Our local NBA team finally decided to throw in the towel and start tanking games so they can win the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes next Summer. Sometimes, for your own sanity, you have to start looking forward. Next year, assuming I coach again, we'll get an all new set of kids, and hopefully some talent. This year, we're just playing out the string.
Practice is becoming more predictable and more efficient. Now that we're working solely on perfecting the Princeton Offense (although our version is so scaled back, maybe I should call it the DeVry Offense), the kids know what to do every week when they arrive. We meet as a team, run, then go directly into halfcourt drills.
One surprise arrived last night, in the word that our pudgy wingman, Carlos, would no longer be playing. Of course he didn't call to tell me this, preferring to relay the message via Lucas. The explanation was that he wasn't doing well in school, but honestly, I think he just quit. Last week, he was sucking air and blowing defensive rotations. Not having him on the team leaves us with 9 players, which is actually better. All kids must play at least two uninterrupted quarters. With fewer than 10 players, we don't have to platoon lineups and can substitute more freely. So, while I'll miss Carlos sunny demeanor, this probably helps us in the longterm.
Last week's biggest problem returned tonight, in the form of Paul's Dad. Last week, you'll recall, was Paul's first practice with the team, and his Dad, instead of sitting his old ass on the side and watching, found a way to insert himself into each and every drill, barking out orders that usually contradicted what ANewP and I were telling the kids. Most of his advice was good pointers: protect your dribble, don't pick up your dribble, split the defense if the look is there. But what he doesn't understand is that those nuances are things you tell kids who are at a Level 8 (of 10) in understanding basic concepts. Our kids as a whole are a negative 3 right now. These pointers only confuse them.
Last night, Paul (who missed last week's game) returned, and this time, his Dad (who, again, hasn't seen a game and is only at his 2nd practice) decided to interject himself into the drills even more. While we're trying to get the kids to understand the bare essentials of running the triangle, this guy is getting caught up with nuances yet again, and can't allow us to run the drill 15 seconds without interjecting. Again, his advice is sound, but if the kids can't pickup the basics, advanced techniques are only going to add to the confusion.
I (nicely, might I add) inform him of this repeatedly, but this guy (I'll call him Juney) just keeps right on. When we finally start scrimmaging, he is literally barking orders like a Drill Sergeant, and telling the kids things that completely contradict what I'm saying. This just makes the offense stagnate, because the kids are hearing 2 different things and instead of playing, they are overthinking. It's like driving on the Autobahn and having 20 folks in the backseat offering their opinions on when to change lanes and downshift.
A 90 minute practice ends, and honestly, I still don't think the kids understand the offense. We'll find out Sunday. But one thing is for certain, Juney is going to get his f*ckin' chin checked if he don't get in line. We (again) discussed the necessity of the kids only hearing one voice at a time, he says he understands better now, but we will see. If he is barking out orders from the stands during play tomorrow, there will be some damn consequences and repercussions.
I've tried it the nice, diplomatic way. Next time, I'm going full blown C.Y.I.N.
Get down, or lay down. Juney.
Another week, another loss. What's new?
I smelled a win in the air this morning. I even went to the basement closet and pulled out my lucky Nupe gear, the vaunted Jared Jeffries #1 Hoosier jawn, to wear on the sideline. If the sight of their coach in a Krimson and Kreme Indiana jersey didn't motivate these kids, what could?
The kids did actually try and run the offense today, but they just did it in the laziest and most predicatable of manners. Passes were telegraphed. Dribbles were picked up. Turnovers were abundant. We only trailed by one after the first quarter, and 5 at half. We felt good going into the second half. So good that ANewP and I made a fatal mistake.
Carlos decided to come back after all. He had been suspended from school because his teacher didn't allow him to "go take a piss" (his words, not mine) when he felt like it. His mom allowed him to play Sunday anyway. This meant we had a full roster of 10, which also meant we had to platoon squads, not freely substitute (it's complicated) as we could if we had only 9 kids. So, we decided to put our 2nd team back in for the 3rd quarter, and "save" the starters for the 4th. Bad idea.
The opposing team (which only had 6 kids might I add) switched into high gear and started pick and rolling, screening, backdooring, and otherwise emasculating the poor Panthers. Before I knew it, the deficit was 9, then 15, then 24. The game was effectively over in the 3rd. We made the final score respectable in the 4th, but it was too little too late. 36-18 loss.
So, we learned to put the best team on the floor in the 3rd, not "save them" for a 4th quarter anymore. I'd rather blow a lead in the 4th than get blown out in the 3rd. It's gonna be a loss either way, but at least it could be dramatic. As is, this sh*t is just getting old.
There was silver lining, however. Paul (who played with the 2nd unit) didn't play very well in his first game. In fact, the stunk on toast. Loudmouth a$$ed Junie just sat there in the stands, quiet as a church mouse. Perhaps he now understands that it ain't nearly as easy as it looks. If he doesn't bring his kid back on Friday, I will be relieved. Besides, he can't pop sh*t, his kid isn't even technically registered yet. If he wants to backseat coach, he can pony up the $75 like the other parents did. Otherwise, come to practice, sit down, and drink your tall icy can of STFU.
Sorry, was than uncoach-like? Who cares? We're winless.
Season Record: 0 Wins - 4 Losses.
Next Opponent: Team Wise.
Question: Got any magic bullets? Can you believe the gall of Junie showing up at only his 2nd practice and assuming he's the head coach? How do you deal with such delusional individuals? Should I send some goons to his parking lot, or is this merely the sort of thing that happens when you're coaching a losing team?
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Well, practice is tomorrow, and honestly, with everything going on this week, I haven't thought about the team since Sunday's game. I think this is good.
After last week's edition of TBD, a commenter told me that if I consider myself more of a positive influence on these kids' lives than a basketball coach, then I shouldn't gauge their progress on wins and losses. This actually made a lot of sense, and I am taking it to heart.
My main goal is getting these guys disciplined, having them respect authority, push themselves to the limit, work well with others, and not give up when things get hard. My goal isn't teaching them how to defend the pick and roll. 10 years from now, the former will matter far more than the latter, cause lets face it, none of these kids likely has a future in hoops. But they all will have futures that entail academic achievement, continued education, career growth, long term relationships, and family building. The intangible lessons we're trying to convey will matter far more than a flex offense. So, I'll keep my eyes on the prize from now on.
That said, I am going to run them into the ground tomorrow night at practice.
Funny things happen when you change your perspective on a situation, rather than waiting for the situation itself to change. Earlier this week, I decided to just go with the flow and stop focusing so much on wins and losses. As long as these guys are listening, focusing more, and showing discipline, the record is secondary. After all, my real goal is making these kids better people, not better players.
So, anyway, you guys know Pedro quit last week, leaving us with only 8 players. You can add players up until Week 3 (this Sunday), so last week I told the parents and kids to invite a friend to fill out the roster. Well, tonight at practice, we get not one, but two new players, both of whom are coachable and, here's the kicker... are actually pretty good players. It's like Christmas in January. Sure, De'Andre gave me some more headaches tonight, even tossing a basketball (absentmindedly and without malice, but still intentionally) at an assistant coach. Needless to say, he ran. A lot. But the other kids focused well, and allowed me to install a watered down variation of the Princeton offense.
The offense is very basic, but it borrows some fundamentals from Pete Carril's legendary sets that involve the wings moving and rotating the ball in a triangular motion, while the bigs constantly switch sides in the lane. The whole point is to keep the ball moving and the defense on its toes, then read situations quickly and make pass/shoot/drive decisions on the fly. If you can't make a play, simply dribble the ball back up top and reset the offense. It sounds complicated, but it really isn't. We'll add additional wrinkles like give and go's, dribble handoffs, and backdoor cuts as we go along.
While it took awhile to work out the kinks, we had an extra 30 minutes of practice tonight and the kids finally seemed to get it. We'll see what happens Sunday, but I feel good about things thus far.
Now that we're four chapters in, and the roster is set, I suppose it makes sense to introduce the kids.
Mark (F/C) - Four eyed, and lacking in even the basic fundamentals, but very coachable and plays hard at all times. His tenacity makes up for his lack of size and skill. He's the kind of player every coach needs.So, those are your 2009 Panthers. We'll see what happens when the whole squad hits the court together Sunday.
Effi (C) - Our sluggish, new-to-hoops Ethiopian big man. Assertiveness is an issue, as seems to often be the case with kids of this (and Somali) culture. He's very coachable, yet reserved and shy. If he doesn't call for the ball (and he doesn't) he'll never get it. But surprisingly, when he gets it, it's an automatic deuce because he has an uncannily soft touch around the basket. If we can toughen him up, we might be onto something. Either way, more assertiveness is going to take him lots of places in life.
De'Andre (G/F) - The best untapped talent on the team, and also the biggest headache. Impossible to keep focused, which is directly tied to this ADD issues. If it's properly medicated, he'll listen. If not, expect lots of running in practice.
Lucas (PG) - Our point guard and the only white guy on the team. The most talented, polished player on the team. Volatile, but listens and always plays hard. The team's leader on-court and off.
Colby (SG) - A jitterbug guard who has never met a shot he couldn't pass up and even fewer that he could actually make. Wouldn't pass if you tossed him a grenade. If we can get him to take smarter shots, he could easily be our leading scorer because of his speed and aggressiveness. But as is, he's just a selfish jacker who doesn't care if we win or lose so long as he gets his shots off.
Jose (C) - Just joined the team. Tall and gangly. Not incredibly skilled, but very persistent and coachable. Good rebounder. Will push Effi for playing time. Apparently a nightmare to teachers in school where's he's been suspended for yelling sexist comments, but I've seen no such issues thus far.
Juan (SG) - Meek and mild, yet sharpshooting guard. Cultural and language issues make getting him to understand instruction difficult at times, but needs to be more assertive. Easily our purest shooter, but too unselfish to demand the ball.
Carlos (G/F) - Poorly conditioned and easily winded, but reasonably tough swingman. Hard to gauge talent level since he's always tired. Suffers defensively and in transition.
Chase (F) - Completely devoid of any ballhandling skills, and always antsy with the basketball. Tries hard, but just isn't well coordinated. Coachable, but will occasionally slip an under-the-breath insult at coaches when frustrated.
Paul (F) - Just joined the team. Very skilled and coachable. Has the ability and poise to be the best player on the team. One problem: His Dad knows the game and has good input. But he gives so much advice during practice that he disrupts the drills. We'll need to iron out this kink before it becomes a distraction.
Another week, another loss. This time, we lost 24-11 to a team we should have beaten. We lead after one, trailed by one at the half, and I could smell blood in the water. Too bad the other team was the sharks and my guys were merely chum.
We spent over 90 minutes the other night practicing the Princeton offense. It took the kids less than 9 seconds to completely forget everything we'd worked on and turn the ball over for an easy score by the opposition. Why did I even bother? Why do I even bother?
In the 3rd quarter, I put my second team in versus the other squad's "1st team". Bear in mind, their "1st team" did jack squat in the first quarter vs my starters. The idea was to save the starters until the 4th quarter. By then, I figured we'd be either ahead or only slightly behind and our best players would close the deal. No such luck.
The kids turned the ball over and failed to get back on offense, ceding easy layups and essentially sealing our fate just moments into the second half. The rest of the game was a mere formality.
I'm officially at a loss for solutions now. We've tried being nice. We've tried being patient. We've tried super discipline. We're tried running them into the ground. We've tried to simplify the offense. We've tried to simplify the defense. We've tried questioning their heart and pride.
The only thing we've yet to try is the ole "My Mom Is Sick" story. CJames, feel free to tell the fine folks of AverageNation™ all about this. I don't have the energy to do so.
Outside of wondering if I'm cut out to coach a set of kids who simply won't listen, I'm beginning to wonder if this experiment in live blogging might also be scaring away those I'm begging to take on The AverageBro Challenge™. After all, if I'm the guy who's supposed to be telling you how great it is working with kids, but I want to lock my own team in a custodian's closet, what sorta example am I setting for ya'll?
Either way, I'm officially in "playing for next year" mode. As in, I'll recieve a new set of 4th graders next year. I hope the luck of the draw gives me some kids with talent, discipline, and drive. Because the Panthers, well, they just have none of that stuff.
0-8 is lookin' real possible, which is just turrible. Think about it. The kids could not practice at all and not be coached at all and go 0-8. Any set of random kids could show up at the gym every Sunday and go 0-8.
Losing sucks. Sorry.
Season Record: 0 Wins - 3 Losses
Next Opponent: Team Jackson
Question: Am I "keepin' it too real" with this series and possibly scaring off folks who might otherwise Take The AverageBro Challenge™? Got any fresh ideas on how to turn this thing around? You ever gone winless in anything?
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
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.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.
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.
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 北京体彩网官方网站.
We'll see how this plays out Sunday, but win or lose, I like the attitude adjustment already.
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?
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
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 北京体彩网官方网站 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?
Friday, January 9, 2009
It is, and has long been, my sincere opinion that the best way to reverse the negative course that Black America's been on for decades is one child at a time. Adults are pretty much who they're gonna be by age 21. So, if you're 21 and effed' the eff' up, why bother? I prefer to spend the limited time I've got to help out the chill'rens. Cause we all know the chill'rens are our future.
I advocate working with kids, especially middle schoolers, because they're at an age where they're still somewhat pliable and might even listen. Over the years I have mentored and tutored middle schoolers, but nothing is more rewarding and fun than coaching basketball. I started this in college at the YMCA across the street from my
The county assigns you players if you're starting a new team, so unless you personally know some kids who can ball (which I didn't when I started), your talent level is really the luck of the draw. The first set of kids I had 5 years ago (The Blazers) happened to have an abundance of talent. We had kids who could already play (including one who will most certainly get a D-1 scholarship in a few years) and just needed some guidance. Over the 3 years that I coached them, The Blazers went 22-2, losing the only two games (badly might I add) to an AAU squad that was the 12-and-Under national champions. I foolishly thought this meant I could actually coach.
Boy was I wrong.
Last year, me and my buddy/assistant coach ANewP (who comments here every now and then) got a new batch of kids (The Panthers), and well, let's just say the talent level isn't what it was with the Blazers. Not even close. We finished the season 2-6, with one of our wins coming at the expense of a team that really should have chosen to play lacrosse instead. We beat those kids like a pack of rented mules (30 point win), but our other losses (all by 20+ points) were humbling to say the least. My confidence as a ooach, as well as my dedication to volunteering waned, but when we won our final game (versus a team that murdered us the first time), I felt like we were turning the corner.
Uhhh, not so much.
[Editor's Note: The names of the kids and parents have been changed for very obvious reasons.]
This year, the Panthers are back, and the same lazy practice habits that haunted us last year have returned. They arrive late to practice, are always distracted during drills, and just don't seem to take the whole concept of "focus" very seriously. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking we're prolly gonna go 0-8 this season unless something gets into these kids pronto. The first game is this Sunday afternoon. Wish us luck. We'll need it, and then some.
Will the Panthers improve upon last year's 2-6 record or regress? Will the parents stage a mutiny? Will ANewP and Coach AB get Sprewelled before all is said and done? Stay tuned to The Basketball Diaries this season and watch the drama unfold.