I’m tired. Very, very tired. We’ve reached the end of our junior high basketball season, a grueling road that started back in November and has finished off 22 games and numerous practices later.
I knew I wanted to coach when I logged all those hours on the bench back in my varsity sports days. I learned so much by watching the games from that vantage point and listening to my coaches discuss strategy. Interacting with various coaches while in college only added to my budding knowledge base.
By the time I hung up my whistle this year, I had coached basketball for a total of 20 seasons. I had three different teams in college, spent 11 years coaching junior high at NRHEG before stepping back for a couple years, worked with my daughter’s grade for four years of elementary basketball, and have now finished off two more years in junior high as Jayna and her teammates get ready to move on to high school basketball.
And I’m done. I still love the coaching experience, but it’s becoming more and more exhausting the older I get. Every coach I know puts all of himself or herself into the job, and I’m no exception. My sleeping habits during the season probably mimic other coaches as well; they’re not very consistent, depending on how the game went that night or what’s coming up the next day.
Even though I had figured this would be it before the season began, my decision was confirmed by seeing the excellent job Kate Quam did in her first year of coaching with me. It’s rare to see someone with such a natural gift to relate to kids in conjunction with the knowledge and skills to push those kids to a new level in that sport. I know that the girls I coached this season will be in good hands next year, as well as other girls moving their way up through the program.
The program is the key. We’ve built a basketball program here at NRHEG that is envied around the area. I actually had a rival coach ask me how much pressure we have as coaches to win. I was a little shocked by the question because the answer is none. The only pressure with wins and losses comes from me and my players, who are motivated to succeed.
I like to look at the program in three-year chunks. For example, when I look at my daughter’s group, I also look at the team ahead and the team behind them and try to envision who will remain on varsity and how that combined group will look. That’s a little difficult at times because you’re never quite sure who will still be there, but there are some kids that you feel you can count on all the way through.
And that future is bright. I see the talent in these three-year groupings that, if they continue to work on their games, will be very competitive for years to come, going all the way down to our youngest levels. Success begets success, and when younger kids see the teams ahead of them having fun and winning ballgames, they are motivated to do the same.
I’ve poured my heart and soul into our girls’ basketball program over all these years. I used to think I would want to coach varsity at some point, but that idea left my head long ago. Working with the younger levels has been so rewarding without all the outside pressure that goes with a high school job. Whatever my legacy is remains unimportant to me. Over these 20 seasons, I’ve coached around 200 unique individuals. I hope that most of those kids have found those seasons to be a good experience; you never get 100% satisfaction, but hope for a high number.
Those coach/player relationships can be special. It’s so different from the teacher/student relationship because you have kids going into battle for you. When you get players to really buy into what you’re asking of them, it’s a great feeling. I’ve had so many seasons where my players will pop in most mornings just to talk hoops… and then they keep stopping by when the season is over.
It’s very cool that two of my former players are coaching in the system: Kate and our varsity coach, Onika Peterson. Every season I have given awards for defense and hustle players; it’s no coincidence that those two ladies are both former hustle award winners. Those are the kids who buy in and really get it. They give their all every moment of every practice and every game. They’re not always the most talented players, but they provide the intangibles that are associated with winning teams.
And I’ve been able to finish off with a team that has shown me those intangibles. Every game was difficult to pick out hustle winners because all my girls gave their all. If there’s a happy ending to coaching, it’s having a team like that. And I’m a pretty happy guy right now.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is Addisonian, which means having clarity and elegance, as in, “The coach was quite Addisonian during the game; the players understood everything he said and admired his confident stride along the sideline.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!