Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I Said Hustle Not Hush

After our game last week, the girls and I hugged and cheered and talked about how much fun we had, me watching them, and them playing. I was paying less attention to the parents than the girls. I assumed they were just as happy as we were. I noticed one girl who had played that night had already left without sharing a snack with the team, but I just figured they were in a hurry. Now I suspect her parents were disappointed that our team "lost," if you're into that whole score-keeping thing.

I'm not. At one point during the game, one of the girls who was sitting on the bench while her teammates were on court asked me what the score was.

"I have no idea. I'm just making sure everyone is doing her best and having fun," I said.

The girl beamed. I mean, shooting starstuff coming out of her eyes. Like she was saying oh good, you're one of us.

I get that look from kids a lot. Kids at Katie's school. Kids at the public library where I work. Kids in Sunday School. Now kids on the basketball team I'm coaching. People think I like to work with kids because I'm so giving and loving and kind. It's really so I can leech off their inner energy. Kids are so full of wisdom and understanding and love if you let them speak their minds and be who they are. And really, really listen to them.

Since last week's game, a couple of parents have emailed me, offering their help during practice. They want to drill the girls and teach them the basics of offense and defense and, you know, like, teach them how to play the game in a very straight-forward way. But straight-forward is not my way. And while I'm grateful for their assistance, and I want the girls to learn the fundamentals in their own time, I'm a tad insulted.

I know this is my first time coaching youth basketball. I know I haven't played on a basketball team in thirty years. I know I'm old, and short, and fat, and obviously too sensitive. But I'm the one who volunteered when the league asked for help, not you, and I'm trying. Just as the girls are trying too. Give us a chance. Believe it or not, I have a plan. It might look different than yours, but it's the best way I know how to build a strong team: through fun and encouragement. If you want to coach the girls another way, you should have volunteered at the beginning of the season when the league was foolish enough to accept my offer when no one else said yes.

As a coach of 3rd grade girls, my most important job is to encourage them and let the girls have fun. When I spoke to the girls during our first practice, I asked them what they want to get out of this season. The overwhelming majority said, "to have fun". The others said things like "to make friends" and "to do my best". When I asked them what kind of coach they want me to be, they said, "funny" and "nice" and "encouraging."

So that's my goal for the year. I'm going to let these girls have fun and learn how to play a game at their own speed and to their best abilities. I'm not going to focus on winning or obtaining high scores. That's cool and all, but I primarily want these girls to feel confident about using their muscles and being a part of a team and learning to help each other shine.

So, I want to be clear. I absolutely would love some help coaching. But only if the help is positive and uplifting. I don't want parents hollering at the girls or pushing them too hard. I want them to love to play the game because it feels good and they enjoy it, not because they feel pressured to please us.

Since I'm the one who volunteered to coach our team, I have the honor of defining what approach to coaching our team gets. Will has been helping me at practice, and a couple of times I've had to ask him to calm down. No, the girls don't need to run ten laps around the gym. I understand wanting to push them to excel. It's easy to get caught up in the feelings of pride we have when we watch our children play well together. Basketball is a game of balance, coordination, and agility. I want to make sure the kids feel well balanced, both physically and emotionally.