In Choking/Fears/Slumps and Blocks, Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair

Good coaching is NOT a one-way street where info just simply flows to the athlete and nothing ever returns to the coach! The most effective coaches intuitively understand that they too are learners and that when they are truly honest with themselves and therefore open to feedback from their students/athletes and colleagues, they stand to become better educators and better people! The following is a true story about the wisdom and character that comes from young athletes and the potential for coaches to truly learn about what’s important in sports. It is told from the perspective of Team G’s coach:

The setting is a middle school gym and the action is a “playoff” basketball game. A 7th/8th grade girls team, Team “G,” is playing against the undefeated, #1 seeded team, Team “A.”

Our girls, Team “G,” were inferior to team “A” at every match-up except for one girl, Amanda, an incredibly gifted 7th grader who is about 5′ 7,” has great hands and feet, and handles the ball like a true point guard. Amanda has amazing court vision and presence. She has a great shot, can finish with either hand and can score at will. However, Amanda is one of those kids who is much more interested in elevating her teammates and getting them involved in the action than she is with her own stats.

All season long Amanda has had to carry us while basically playing every position on the floor! She rebounds, defends, brings the ball up-court and breaks pressure, scores and does it all with a quiet dignity that would make any coach proud to have her on his/her team! She never calls attention to herself and, in fact, her body language and demeanor do the exact opposite, they deflect attention in much the same way that a stealth bomber’s skin deflects enemy radar. Simply put, Amanda is a class act!!

The opposing team’s “coach” is a screamer, an intimidating woman who’s only interest lies in winning games rather than teaching her girls how to play basketball with character and class. In essence, coaches like this who make winning their main priority are selfish because they make the games more about them and their needs, than about the athletes and what’s in their best interests. Team A’s coach continually yells at her players and when they make mistakes, which is a given for 7th grade girls because you can’t properly learn without making a lot of mistakes, she is demeaning and emotionally abusive to them.

During the game, “A” ‘s coach put 3 players on Amanda, covering her from baseline to baseline in an attempt to shut her down and get the ball out of her hands so she couldn’t exert as much control over the game. This was only minimally effective because whenever Amanda came down with a rebound, she’d immediately kick it into high gear, going coast-to-coast, either scoring or assisting one of her teammates in the process.

The game stayed tight well into the second half until Team “A” started to really “attack” us. And “attack” is truly the operative word here. Apparently Team A’s coach felt it was so important that they win this game that she encouraged her players to become overly physical. As a result, they began pushing, grabbing and intentionally elbowing our girls, sometimes in the head, and most of this aggression was directed right at Amanda. Because the refs didn’t maintain control of the game, this overly aggressive play had the intended effect and Amanda and her teammates became worn down as their opponents pushed their lead into double figures, eventually “winning” the game.

Amanda was battered, scratched and bruised, and at one point she had been knocked down so hard that she was barely able to get her hands down to protect herself from the impact. As a result, her right cheekbone bounced off of the court. I ran out and helped her up and off the floor and as I administered ice, she was in tears. However, seconds later she was back in the game ready to keep going!

After the game, Amanda bent over and cried, wept really, because she was so spent and she felt that she hadn’t scored enough points to help her team. She had expended so much energy on defense, rebounding and breaking the relentless full-court pressure put on her that she had what she considered to be an “off” night offensively by her high standards.

What happened next is, to me, what sports can be and should be all about. Amanda spontaneously went up to Team A’s coach, hugged her and told her “Congratulations, Coach. Good luck!” This gruff, intimidating coach, a woman in her 40’s, was so caught off guard and moved by Amanda’s act of sportsmanship, that she broke down and cried! Amanda, a 7thgrade girl, had taught this grown woman, and everyone witnessing it, what true sportsmanship is all about! Although I doubt if the lesson will have any lasting effect and change this coach’s behavior, it was a beautiful thing to see and it moved everyone who had the good fortune to see it.

Postscript: Amanda told her mother after the game, “Momma, they beat us but I wouldn’t ever want to play for that woman.” Amen to that ! No child would and no child should ever have to play for this kind of a “coach!”


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