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Last year I wrote a couple of columns regarding my coaching philosophy and how it has changed over time. As you read this, I am approaching the final tournament of my four-year career as an elementary basketball coach. It has been quite the ride!

When I started coaching Jayna’s class, I had no intention of doing this beyond the four years of the elementary program. However, I’ve had so much fun watching this fine group of girls grow and develop, not just in their basketball skills, but in their personalities as well, that I plan to apply to continue coaching them in junior high.

With that in sight, and by the request of many of the girls, Todd Born, our other coach, and I signed them up to play in two spring basketball tournaments. We always felt that we didn’t want to overdo the amount of tournaments, and at the end of each season, the girls have wanted more. That was a good sign to us that we had hit the right number of games on the head. Thus, we’ve gone from one to four to five to six tournaments over the years, now adding an additional two as a buffer before junior high.

This has all been part of a carefully-crafted plan, with this end in sight, back in third grade. The plan has adjusted at times to meet the needs of the large number of girls we have playing, which is currently twenty.

And now is when the truly difficult part begins. I mentioned in my musings last year about my firm belief in giving people opportunities, and I stand by that. However, those opportunities now include giving all players chances to play in different groups than they’ve had the chance to in recent years. We always had four groups, divided equally, and rotated girls so that half of them played in one location and the other half in another. We’ve never put together “A” and “B” teams. Now the time has come to be able to allow the combinations that we didn’t get to use due to the splitting of teams.

I really think we did things the right way, and Todd and I have seen some kids become much better players, which might not have happened if they had been on a “B” team. Had we divided that way, our “B” team might have been throttled routinely since all the best ball-handlers would have been on the “A” team. Instead, by dividing equally, we’ve had some success, placing second, third, or fourth in many of the tournaments. That’s pretty good when you don’t have all your players.

However, we now need to give the opportunity to the kids who have progressed to a higher level to all be on the court at the same time, at least for portions of games. This leads to us merging into one team only, and it might cause some hard feelings. While girls have gotten many chances to play more regularly in the past, during this year, we’ve tended to reward those who are working hard and understanding the concepts better with more playing time. If you still can’t run our basic offense after four years in the system and still don’t know where your person is on defense, you won’t see the floor as much.

By playing in Pacesetter tournaments this spring, we will face a higher level of competition, and players need to be ready for it. Every girl that plays will continue to receive chances to prove herself, but in the end, playing time will be limited for some, especially if most of the girls continue to play.

If a girl loves the sport and is willing to work hard and understand her role on the team, she’s always got a place on a team I coach. It’s the “understanding her role” portion that becomes difficult for some to swallow. Not everybody can be a starter and not everybody can be the first people off the bench. When I played varsity basketball, I understood my role to be the person who pushed the starters in practice and worked hard to get better; I simply did not have the talent to play much.

Todd and I still love the enthusiastic interest in the sport and appreciate the efforts of the girls, as well as the tremendous group of parents we get to work with; they have been awesome in their support. We hope the players can understand their roles, but also know that some will begin to drift away in the next couple of years. In the end, we hope to have a competitive group of girls left at the varsity level to keep up the strong tradition that is being built and should continue for years to come.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is bumfuzzle, which means to confuse, as in, “The zone defense seemed to bumfuzzle the players, who had only seen man-to-man defense previously.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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