[Continued from The Big Kid and Basketball Part X … Letting My Daughter Down]
So how did we go from “the worst coach ever” to being requested to coach by both my daughter (most importantly) and by the author of the infamous E-mail?
Perhaps it began with … for those who tend to hit the weights … “chest day!”
Or something like that.
At the beginning of my second season assisting Coach Smith I made a mental note of something I respectfully disagreed with in his coaching repertoire. (Again, noting that Jim is an excellent coach.)
During practices, one of the drills he would lead is to have the boys split up into two lines. Each line at half court, each line along the sideline, and each line facing the opposite basket. Each child has a basketball and at the sound of the whistle each child one by one runs and dribbles toward the hoop in front of them, shoots a short jump shot, gets their own rebound and then runs while dribbling to get in the back of the other line until its their turn to go again this time at the opposite hoop.
Well, that is the typical approach.
Coach Smith added a twist to this. He believed it would be beneficial to provide an opportunity for these boys to also get physically stronger as part of this drill. So, when a child missed their shot he would instruct them to hit the floor and complete 10 push ups. (Yes, chest day! … or at least that is what I would have said back in 1987 when I was hitting the gym 7 days a week and it was “chest day!” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. (So much for smart training … said with my Boston accent.))
But in the scenario above I struggled with this concept. Noting that at first I did not understanding why and second I was not sure what to do with this struggle.
So as an extreme introvert (an ‘I’ in the Myers-Briggs framework) I processed this struggle. A lot.
Why does this seemingly innocuous addition to a standard drill bother me?
– Coach Smith has the best intentions.
– The boys are getting stronger.
– I love chest day. (At least I did.)
So why is this bothering me and what am I going to do with this information?
So as the season kicked off at practice each week we would run this drill. And as with most teams the boys missed more shots than they made and thus they were hitting the floor and doing many many push ups.
And I continued to be nagged by the feeling that “this is not right”; along with the “what do I know?”; “who am I to second guess Coach Smith?”; “I should just keep my mouth shut and do my little part”; “it’s not a big deal anyway”.
But then it hit me.
It was not about push ups. It was not about getting the boys stronger. My concern was about how do we best position these boys to improve their shooting. Yes, repetition is important and yet as Michael Jordan noted …
“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way.”
And was the boys’ technique wrong … yes. But they are still quite young and still learning under the tutelage of Coach Smith, Coaches Wright and Sampras, and under me the physical aspects of technique.
What I had been struggling with was the mental aspect of the game. And quite frankly what I had witnessed was the fact that during this drill many of the boys were beginning to focus more on the push ups (and not wanting to do them) then on taking a quality shot with proper technique. Their EQ (emotional quotient) … or in other words their ability to control their emotion regardless of changing circumstances … had not developed yet as their focus went from practicing “J’s” (jump shots) to seeking to avoid push ups. And because of this (based on my rudimentary analysis of shots made … done without the benefits of an excel spreadsheet this time) their shooting percentage was actually going down.
There it is. After three weeks of processing (they say we “I’s” live in our head a great deal … and I tend to do so more than others according to reliable sources … yes, my bride being one of them) I arrived at what was triggering me and now it was time to determine what I was going to do with this information.
On one hand we have a great coach (Coach Smith) leading a team of young men who are having fun, exercising, learning a sport, playing a game they love, and doing so as they learn how to become a team. And on the other hand, as an assistant coach isn’t it my responsibility to bring concerns I make note of to the head coach and to discuss as adults these differing philosophies? And wouldn’t I be shirking my responsibility if I did not?
The week between the practice when it all came together for me and the following practice I decided that yes it was indeed my responsibility to share my concern with Coach Smith (with Jim). And for those 6 days I ran the conversation through my mind over and over and over. (Of course based on my history the scenarios usually did not play out well. Either Jim totally dismissed my feedback (and thus me) or he actually became angry for his philosophy and process being questioned by a rookie (a second year volunteer assistant coach)).
So here we go again …
Okay, it is the evening of the next practice which begins at 7:00pm at the Village School.
I can feel my nerves. The pit of my stomach is both hollow and enlarged at the same time and grumbling nonstop.
Tommy on the other hand is pumped and ready to go as always. The lion is ready to roar again.
“Come on dad…we are going to be late.”
It is 6:30pm.
“Let’s go dad!”
It takes less than 5 minutes to get there.
“Dad, where are you? Come on … I don’t want to be late! Come on!”
Okay, we are eventually in the car and on our way to practice. Tommy pumped and ready to practice. Me dreading the conversation I am about to have.
We arrive and I head to the men’s room as always as Tommy heads to the gym.
By the time Tommy has changed his sneakers and is shooting around with the other boys prior to practice I have arrived in the gym and locate Coach Smith. He is as always full of energy, running, jumping, shooting, and laughing with the boys.
“Jim!” I say forcefully with my deep rich James Earl Jones voice.
Actually … I say “jim” with what sounds more like Barney Fife yelling for Andy Taylor … as I walk not-so-confidently toward him.
“Hey Tom!” Jim says with great vigor and joy.
“Jim, I wanted to talk to you prior to the start of practice.”
“Of course, what’s up?”
“I have a concern. A … um … c-concern with something we are having the boys do in practice.”
“Really?!?! What do you know and who are you to say anything. Go sit on the sideline and continue to humiliate yourself with “great” suggestions like that “step out of bounds to stop baseline” recommendation. Pathetic!”
Okay … that is what was said in my head.
This is what really happened after I expressed my concern and recommendation. (Which was essentially let’s separate the strength building from the shooting drill so that the boys can focus more on the physical technique of shooting during the shooting drill and no longer worry about push ups as a penalty of missing. Thus freeing their minds a bit. The strength training would be done separately as it is still very important.)
And Jim’s response …
“Tom, I see what you are saying. Let’s make the change starting today.”
No big deal. No offense taken. No ego. Just “let’s make the change”.
And so we did.
Coach Smith has taught me much about coaching. And he has done so in the best possible way … in action. I learned that day (and many days after) how to coach from Jim. I also learned in many ways how to be a better teammate, employee, leader, father, husband and member of the community.
I have never told Jim what his tutelage of me has meant to me and how it has impacted not only me but many others that I have been blessed to serve.
Perhaps I should.
TO BE CONTINUED …