“Hey, Coach – How many baskets do we have?”
I must get asked that question about 25 times a game. And each time, I always take pause. For starters, it’s an instructional elementary school basketball league made up of 2nd to 4th Graders so there’s no official scoring going on (even though the kids usually have a pretty good ballpark idea of the true tally).
Secondly, every time I hear “Hey Coach” it takes me a moment to realize – “Hey, that kid’s talking to me.”
I kinda’ like it. It fits nice and snug.
Like most adults my age, we all wear different hats – slapping on the personas needed to get whatever job is needed done – and done right. There’s the Dad hat – or Mom bonnet – so sexist of me 😉 that we never retire nor do we want to. The work hat which we gladly toss off the second that clock hits Friday eve. The friend hat we throw on in a moment’s notice. The fearless knight cap when called upon to eradicate whatever errant animal has found its way into your home. The ghostbuster helmet if said home comes down with an unfortunate case of paranormal activity. And the fair princess tiara if your darling daughter demands your appearance at her Invite-Only tea party. Don’t you dare register as Plus One! Not when you might be stealing Hello Kitty’s seat.
You get the point. We’re all mad busy and somehow keep finding time to stretch a few more minutes into the moments that make a life by taking on more and more responsibility.
That’s half the reason I decided to jump aboard and co-coach Colin’s basketball team – after watching my boy give it his all last season.
If you remember way back then, it was a major highlight when Colin sunk a basket after a two-week carefully choreographed routine to get our star player (the coach’s son) the rock so he could hand deliver it to Colin. Of course, that was only half the job – albeit a Herculean and completely selfless act on the part of such a great kid. Once Colin got his mitts on the ball, he had to launch it in pursuit of ‘nothing but net’. That one was on him. That he nailed it made for one of those moments that I shall forever treasure. One that never fails to elicit a tear as I recall the stocked auditorium erupting into cheers the moment Colin’s ball found its way to the hoop. He’s come such a long way from his early beginnings – way back when we worried if he would EVER even speak – and then to be there – on the middle of a bustling court and enjoying the time and being his unique self – albeit an important member of his team – those are the moments we live to share. Those are the moments that I desire to be as close as possible to. To drink in every blessed second of it all and just enjoy the wonders of life.
Anyway, I decided right then and there – on that court last year – as Colin ran down to get in defensive position – sporting a grin two sizes too big – that I wanted to help out. His team last year had two awesome coaches – a husband and wife who introduced two great kids to this world – but there’s only so much they can do. There were other teams in need of a little volunteer guidance as well.
One of them was led by a friend of mine – a fellow Dad I had met way back when our kids were young and his wife and Andi were becoming friendly via the Mom’s Club. After one game, when our team played his, I casually asked him how he got involved – if he had played hoop before or coached or whatnot. Me – I got zero game!!! I mean, I’ve played pick-up half court basketball with friends dozens of times and in a game of H-O-R-S-E, I can usually get to H-O-R-S before some baller with mad skills devours me but never anything remotely close to organized basketball and certainly not coaching unless you count that one year I led Bill & Hillary Clinton to the 1994 Thatcher Dorm Championship in NBA Jam.
Turns out, this guy Todd was cut from the same cloth as me. No formal coaching on his resume. No formal training to speak of. No full-court heroics. No real hoop dreams. He’s just a good Dad who wanted to give his all to help out some kids as they’re building their skills and learning one of the most important life lessons – how to be good team players and how to be a good sport.
Right then and there, he asked me if I was interested in co-coaching with him this year and I immediately tossed my name in the hat.
That was about a year ago – early 2012 – and you all know, 2012 twisted and turned in directions I never saw coming. Not at that time. But that shows how resilient we all are. Life may toss you a curveball. The trick is not to panic. Square your shoulders. Keep your eye on the ball. Wait for it. And swing away.
Seize all new opportunities.
My year went in a new direction but it never went down. Well – maybe a little – but it’s all in taking the high road. That’s all the course correction you need. And as I write this now – things are looking up. Life is moving on. A new normal has become THE normal and that’s starting to feel pretty good. Very promising.
So a couple of months ago, I was happily reminded of my promise to lend a hand and coach some good, young boys as they learn about basketball and what it means to be a team. To support each other. To look for the open man and not just fire away every time they have the ball. To get open and help each other out. To cheer their fellow team on – EVERY SINGLE MEMBER – and respect their opponents.
We’re about halfway through the season and each week rewards us as we see these kids coming along. They’re learning so much from two coaches who may not have been baptized in basketball culture but know enough to lead them down the right path. It’s the least we can do.
And fortunately, the top item on my coach’s “Bucket” list was to insure each player got at least one basket this season – the same marching orders that saw Colin get the ball last year, time after time, until he finally drained his fateful shot.
So – a couple of weeks ago – once we were about 4 games into our 10 game season, I talked to Todd and compared notes on who we thought had not had a basket. We whittled the list down to 4 kids. Colin had actually just hit his shot the week prior, with no intervention on our part at all. He got it organically through the course of the game when one kid fired a pass at him, he pivoted, launched it and it dropped in. At the time, the crowd went wild – a raucous echo of last year’s applause. I’ll say this much about this community. They really GET IT! There are so many parent volunteers in our schools and one thing I’ve learned is Colin – for all of his social delays early on – has become quite the Big Man on Campus over the years… so they all know him and love him and embrace any little quirks. That type of communal spirit is hard to find on a town charter but is the best currency a good community trades in.
Anyway, I was enormously relieved that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting Colin the ball. I’m his Dad. I don’t need that kind of pressure. 😉
But there were 4 boys who had not and that did haunt. Fortunately, we had plenty of time before us.
Last week, during our 5th game – one more boy got a basket bringing us to three with 4 games left on the schedule. So, this past Saturday, I started things off with a quick discussion with Todd as we solidified our game plan for practice. We knew we wanted to work on rebounding and getting the kids to follow their shots. So, that was a must. And we had 3 more boys who had yet to nail the net.
By our 3rd substitution that day – we were down to just one. Two kids, in the first five minutes, had got there first points. Each one, more elated than the last.
But still – there was one remaining.
Just before the final substitution of the day, as I was sitting on the bench with my squad of five boys and Todd was on the court with the other five, I spoke to this boy and told him not to worry. We had many games left and we were going to draw up some plays guaranteed to get him a basket. He seemed real hopeful. More importantly, he said the best thing you ever want to hear. “I just like to play. I’m having fun.”
That’s all that matters in the end. It doesn’t matter what happens so long as you have fun doing it. It’s not the destination but the journey.
Anyway – the final subs were called so I trooped out with my team – knowing we had 8 minutes before the growing throngs of parents and kids assembling at the doorway burst through and grabbed the court for the next session. So, we got out there and got into our defensive scheme as it was the other team’s ball at the moment. We had to defend our hoop.
Things changed very quickly as one of our top players stripped the ball and launched a fast break. The thing is – at this age – all of these kids are fast so within a moment, the “swarm D” that these kids all seem to play was surrounding our player. He looked right. Nothing. He looked left. Nothing. Right again. Nada. Left. And that’s when he saw an open teammate. So he fired a pass.
Right to the our last boy who had yet to score a point on the season.
He grabbed the pass and for a split second looked at it. That’s when I recalled this very moment was a rarity. Outside of practice, he had scarcely got his hands on the ball as he was often staying back along the perimeter, removed from the action. We had been encouraging the boys to play inward. To work rebounds. To help each other out.
And they had. They were progressing. They were getting the message.
And that’s exactly what he had done at this particular instant. I was close enough to him (as we act as the refs too) and I whispered (“Shoot it.“). He turned. He pivoted. His arms raised. He fired.
He drained it!!!
I was literally 3 feet away and when this little boy turned to head down to rejoin our team on defense, he had the widest smile – all aglow. A similar smile I had seen a year ago – from a quite a distance away – when Colin got his first basket.
That feeling of pure elation buoyed by a large cheer throughout the crowd. A crows that truly gets it.
And like that, this boy rejoined his team – getting set and waiting for his man to make his way down so he could deny him the basket that he had just rightfully claimed for himself.
“Hey, Coach – How many baskets do we have?”
Sometimes it’s only one that matters most.