The Big Kid and Basketball Part XII … Body Image

[Continued from The Big Kid and Basketball Part XI … Chest Day!]

Building a Team

By the time Tommy was in 8th grade I had become the head coach for this middle school rec basketball team with Pete Sampras and Doug Norgaard (another boy’s father) as my two volunteer assistant coaches.

As mentioned previously, I had learned a great deal from Coach Smith and was now leveraging and evolving this learning in an effort to position all of these boys (and girls in the case of Haylee who continues to join our practices and now has become team manager, ball girl, and emergency scoreboard keeper when needed) to learn and grow.


Each year, prior to the season, we have an assessment of all the children interested in playing rec basketball in Gorham.  The assessment includes all the boys running drills and scrimmaging while the coaches of each of the Gorham rec teams watch and assess each child to determine who they want on their team.  (Unlike a draft every child who wants play makes a team).

Tommy, continuing his passion for the game, was aching to be on the court for the assessment.

“Come on, Dad. We are going to be late!”

“The assessment is at 8:00am. It’s only 6:30am.”

“But Dad, I want to warm up.”

Well, you know the rest.

So, we arrive on time and I make my usual trek to the men’s room prior to joining the assessment process.

At the beginning of the assessment each coach is handed a worksheet with each child’s name, contact information, and the number they will be wearing (for easier identification).

The Gorham Rec Director explains the “how to’s” to us coaches and then calls all the boys together and explains the drills to each of them as well.

Then the whistle blows and the boys are off. First running a “weave” and then lay ups, passing, short jumpers, and lastly two simultaneous scrimmages (to ensure each child has the opportunity to play under game conditions and be assessed).

As this is going on I (being the introvert and living mostly in my head) walk away from all the other coaches and begin a slow circle of the gym.  As I am walking I am seeking players who I want on my team. Who is hustling? Who is following directions? Who is “finding the open man” and playing as part of a team during the scrimmage? Who is boxing out and rebounding? (Well … I know at least one boy who is). Who is hustling on both ends of the court? Who is finding joy in the game?  Yes, pure God-given talent stands out for sure.  And yes there was some of that displayed.  And yet, I sought out boys that I believed I could also help.  And as I circled and watched I made notations as to who I wanted on my team and when (which round) I hoped to select that boy for the team.

Soon the scrimmages are over and the Rec Director explains to the boys the rest of the process and dismisses them. He then calls us coaches into a room set up with a number of tables and chairs for us to “draft” (to select) our team.  Because Tommy is my son and Coach Sampras and Coach Norgaard also have sons wanting to play, my team already had these three players automatically assigned to it.  Other Coaches also had sons playing but at this time no more than two so my team had the last selection in each round.

The other coaches selected very talented players with their first couple of picks.  And yet I was thrilled that the boys I had prioritized for my team were still “on the board” (as they say during the NFL draft … or perhaps during your Fantasy Football team draft).  And over the next 45 minutes or so our team was created.

The team was comprised of … HEART. Each boy I selected was selected because I saw their heart either on the court or in brief discussions, or previously during the baseball season or other.  Some were extremely talented. Some were there because they wanted to play on a team. All had heart.

That evening I sent out an email to all the players and their parents letting them know that they were selected to be on this team and let them know who else was on the team, who the coaches were, contact information, when and where we will have practices, when games will be played, and also at a high-level my coaching philosophy and expectations for the players and families.

And this was the beginning of me (as a head coach) coaching my son and his friends and doing so with two dedicated, caring fathers volunteering as assistant coaches (and of course Haylee as team manager).


Going into a new season (and especially as a new head coach) I made many assumptions.  Many spot on … one in particular way off.

Our team continued to practice at the Village School (an older small gym with bright fluorescent lights and slippery floors). And on some occasions pinnies (mesh type practice vests used to distinguish one team from another during scrimmages) were not available at this location.

So, as I planned for the first practice of this new season I made sure I wrote and rehearsed an initial short speech for the team (learning from my first practice as an assistant coach that just saying my name accurately and with confidence is quite important) …

“Bring it in! Hold on to the basketballs. There is no dribbling when I say ‘bring it in!’ nor when any of us three coaches are speaking.

I am Coach Dahlborg. This is Coach Sampras and Coach Norgaard. And this is your team.  This is OUR team.  Let’s go around and introduce ourselves. Tommy please start … (it is tough to be the coach’s son) …

I said this is our TEAM. By definition we are a team. But we have much work to do to truly live up to that word. I selected each of you for this team for specific reasons. I expect much and the bar is high. We are here to support one another and do our best to help each of us get better and succeed. And if we each succeed the team succeeds and we are successful.

We will learn together.  We will grow together.  We will get better together.  We will exercise together and we will have fun.

Are we ready to play basketball?!?!”


“Let’s go! Two lines!”

(Lay up drill)

I also developed new and (hopefully) interesting drills and plays meant to both teach and help to improve the game of each of these boys. And from day one with much help from Coaches Sampras and Norgaard we instituted these drills and plays.

Back to the assumption

As I mentioned, at the Village School pinnies were not always available and at this time our team did not have those cool reversible jerseys where one side was white and the other a color to make it easy to split up into two teams to scrimmage.

“You boys are on the white team … You boys are on the blue team.  Flip your jerseys and let’s go.”

No. We did not have these jerseys … yet. And with pinnies being in question … I made assumptions prior to our first practice.

I reviewed my roster and identified (based on my assumptions) which children might have a concern with playing  “shirts versus skins”.

[Shirts vs Skins – means one group of boys is wearing their t-shirts and the other group of boys is not wearing a jersey (done so that during the heat of action of a scrimmage each team can easily see who is on their own team and who is not)].

Knowing Tommy (and having discussed with him prior) I knew he would be uncomfortable at this age playing on the ‘skins’ team. I then looked at the rest of the roster and made assumptions. Who else would more likely be uncomfortable playing without a jersey? And after much thought I made a list. If the pinnies are not available for our practice I will divide the team up this way for the scrimmage.

So along with my short speech, philosophy, rules, roster, and the list of drills and plays I had developed, I also documented and placed in my back pocket the list of boys who will be on the ‘shirts’ team and the boys who will be on the ‘skins’ team … just in case.

So here we go again …

Okay, it is the evening of our first practice which begins at 7:00pm at the Village School.

Tommy is pumped and ready to go as always. So am I … even as I feel my nerves and the hollow of my enlarged grumbling gut.

“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!”

God I love his passion and enthusiasm!

We arrive at the Village School and after my usual stop in the men’s room I seek out coaches Sampras and Norgaard and thank them for coaching with me … and then begin the search for the elusive pinnies.

Lo and behold there are no pinnies to be found.

We have a solid first practice and as we get to the 15 minute mark left in practice I blow my whistle and yell “who wants to scrimmage?!”

Have you ever seen sharks “smell” blood in the water (I am not sure if sharks actually smell … will need to ask my daughter Sammy (the shark expert)) and they go into a frenzy around whatever was bleeding.  Well … that doesn’t compare to eighth grade boys hearing that magic word “SCRIMMAGE!” They came from everywhere. Those on the court already … came running, jumping, yelling, smiling.  Those at the water bubbler did 180’s and sprinted to midcourt. Even those in the boys bathroom came running (hopefully after washing their hands first).

“Okay boys. This is our first scrimmage.  We will be playing shirts verses skins. Those on the ‘shirts’ team are Tommy,____, ____, ____ and those on the ‘skins’ team will be ____, ____, ____,____ .

Body Image

Despite public perception, body image issues and eating disorders are not exclusively female problems. The oft-cited figure is that about 1 in 10 eating disorders occur in males, but latest research shows this number to be closer to 1 in 4. Male or female the issues with body image is a challenge we need to first be aware of and second determine how best to manage.

In this case, my assumption was wrong.

As soon as I said the name of one particular boy he immediately yelled … “No! I will not be on the ‘skins’ team!” and ran out of the gymnasium.

My criteria to determine who I believed would be least likely to have a body image issue was wrong. I screwed up. And I screwed up big.  Thank God Coach Sampras (who was close to this young man) was there.

As I focused on the other 11 players (focused is a tough word because my heart was out the door with Coach Sampras and this boy) … Pete sat with this boy, talked with this boy, and encouraged him to return to practice.

When this boy came back into the gymnasium I handed over the rest of the team to Coaches Norgaard and Sampras and then I sat with this boy and (as I had learned from Coach Smith’s demeanor when I raised an issue with him) softly and calmly let this boy know that I had made a mistake, I was sorry, and that he indeed was on the ‘shirts’ team.

To my astonishment this boy immediately jumped up and ran over to the ‘shirts’ team and proceeded to dominate the scrimmage with his jumping, rebounding, blocking shots, and hustle (all the reasons I wanted him on this team in the first place).

Body Image Issues are a Big Deal

Studies have found that the desire to bulk up by boys with body image issues was linked to future abuse of drugs, alcohol, muscle-enhancing supplements and steroids. And those boys seeking to be thinner were more likely to develop depression.

I screwed up, in doing so I adversely impacted a child … and I learned.

As a coach these are the MOST important things …

  • Being aware of these issues (check),
  • Developing authentic relationships with players and families so that challenging conversations can take place with honesty and while balancing heart and mind (I believe we ended up getting there),
  • Talking with your team proactively about issues such as this (BIG missed opportunity),
  • With your team or the individual or (if appropriate) the family determining how best to manage (check but only after initial mistake),
  • and NEVER making these types of assumptions,

… again these are the things that are most important. These are the things coaches of boys and girls must understand (yes, even more so than the X’s and O’s).

Perhaps the lesson I learned about assumptions and body image will serve to help another coach.

I hope so.


Next “The Big Kid and Basketball Part XIII … Superman



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