SIMPLE SATURDAY – For years, we’ve reached out to our network of basketball friends in Harlem, and extended offers to do merged clinics, training, team play, anything and everything to help teach kids how to train, play, and hoop. We’ve offered so many times at no charge at all. We’ve offered our coaching staff of former college and pro players free of charge to coach all kids. We’ve had no takers to clinics. Games? Of course they said sure. Everyone loves to game up. But signing up for regulary hard work? Hours of drills and reps and stuff most don’t want to do? We had maybe a few kids or parents here and there. But no one group with a strong leader or leaders has showed up with their kids more than once.
It only took us about six years.
I don’t want to get ahead of my wishful thinking, so I won’t mention the name of the boys’ program just yet. We are in the start of our trial period with a respectful, old-school, well-run program that’s been on the NYC hoops scene for several years. The director said that his kids, teams, and experience were much better pre-AAU. He says he doesn’t even want to be called AAU. I said, “Thank you, Jesus.” He said he wants to bring the training back, and stop losing his kids to other programs that aren’t helping them at all as players or young people, but he doesn’t have much access to gym time. His growing base is the grades 6-10 boys’ segment. I said, “Great. Our base often drops around that age, but the serious ones stick. Let’s give this a go. Trial basis. Minimal fee per player just so the parents know we only want those who will keep coming back for more. Let’s use our space. Let’s take good kids and teach them how to work on the court and in life.”
Today was our first official joint practice after a clinic in the winter, and after giving them some gym time at little-to-no cost. Four coaches showed up. Two from our program and two from the new program. I ran the session after consulting with the lead from the new program. During every break, we all picked what we wanted to teach and pulled the themes through until the scrimmage time at the end, which the boys loved.
The assistant coach from the other program came up to me afterwards and I almost fell over when he said, “I know how to coach games and coach general things, but I don’t know the details like you do. How can I learn from you? Can I watch you coach or meet with you or watch videos you recommend?”
Coach has no idea what that meant to me. I said I’d be happy to advise on the details I like to teach, and I would be thrilled if we all divided up the work. I like it when coaches pick what they love to teach, so we’ll divide up the press, defense, rebounding, the details of spacing on offense, and we’ll show these kids what it means to work like a team.
A total of 30 boys showed up today – white kids, African-American kids, Latino kids – all listening, eager to learn, all in our huge gym, with a basketball in almost everyone’s hands, tons of reps, skills and hard work for two hours. We easily could have gone for another hour. Not one player ever interrupted a coach or did not do what he was told.
The director of the program signs all his emails and texts he sends me with an inspirational line: A rising tide lifts all boats. The idiom, coined by John F. Kennedy, describes the idea that when an economy is performing well, all people will benefit from it. When I first read his signature, I thought of the powerful poem by Maya Angelou, Still I Rise.
We believe that together we can share our space, share our coaches, share in each other’s lives, and in the end, work as a unit to provide more opportunities to positively impact young lives. It seems like our tide here includes only people who want to go old-school with our approach to hoops, young people, and respect for the game.
All of us huddled up the boys today. The kids called out, “Hard work” and “Family” to end practice. Several kids and parents walked up to all of the coaches and said thank you.
I don’t want to think too far into the future but it seems bright, hopeful, and exciting. I just want to focus on today. It was one of the best days in the history of our program, and I cannot wait to see the kids, coaches, and parents again tomorrow.