FAMILY SUNDAY – I could write an anecdote about a parent-child observation every day. Let’s call today’s story that of the New Kid. I don’t know much about this child and his background, but I have a very strong sense that he is going to grow up to be a kind, respectful and thoughtful man who will lift the energy of any room he enters.
Going into our first weekend of hoops, I skim a few lists and see that there’s a new kid on the list for Friday night. Someone has fully signed him up online and paid the nominal partnership fee. It’s Friday night after a long week, and I pop in the gym because that’s what you do if you have a high bar. New Kid is on time and ready to go. He comes up to me, and introduces himself with a handshake. I smile and ask a few questions. He’s 14 years old, and he names his school in the Bronx. We get started, and I note that from a distance, his serious-looking father is on the sideline watching every move. For a second, I wonder if he’s one of those dads, yet I also want the new parents to watch and see what they are getting. They have the right to see it, and they also need to be sure that their child is safe in a new environment. I usually ask the parents of young kids to step out, but these kids are older, so I think it’s okay. I also am sure that the vast majority of parents haven’t seen a female coach their sons, so they may want to play it extra safe. I catch the dad in the background of a drill, and his eyes are still totally on us. I actually think he’s paying attention more than the kids. Yet I don’t have much time to wonder whether or not he’s one of those parents because I am obsessed with telling the kids the riveting story of How To Shoot A Jumpshot.
Right away I love New Kid. He’s listening, nodding his head, and saying thank you. He is athletic, hard-working, and receptive to my feedback on his mechanics. He’s good and positive to all those around him. I spend about an hour with the kids, and New Kid says thank you again. I ask if he will be at the other workouts this weekend and he said, “Yes. All of them.”
As I leave the workout with two other coaches and put on my coat, I say hi to his father on the way out. Dad of New Kid is a little shy considering how focused he was on the drills. He smiles, says thank you, and I try to make some small talk. I ask if he played basketball as a kid and he says no. Soccer was his sport. I ask if I can practice my Spanish with him. He says sure. I start speaking to him about how great our coaches are as I point to Andy and Geri, and I’ve now officially scared the poor man. I switch back to English and ask what he does. The noise kicked up for a drill, so I think he said he’s in the polishing and tile business. He seems proud of what he does. Then he looks out at his son, and there stands his life’s work.
I watch the Dad of New Kid show up for the next two days of practice. His eyes are on his son the entire practice, but they are not filled with judgment. There’s no stern look of pressure. He’s not calling out anything. I can see how grateful his son is for his father, for his coaches, for his teammates, and for anyone who will teach him or play with him. The New Kid works his can off for three days straight. He says hello, good-bye, thank you and he never leaves without a handshake. His father comes up to me, and smiles big today as we end the last of three workouts. He says he loves watching the workouts – every minute of them – and he cannot thank me and the coaches enough.
Many fathers and sons today came up to either me or one of the other coaches, and they said thank you after they watched their son say thank you. Sometimes it’s a truly happy thank you like New Kid. Other times it’s a mixed-feeling thank you after a practice or game that didn’t go so well. But it is a thank you, and it is a non-negotiable habit and family rule. I often hear it and feel they don’t have to thank me because I am just doing my job. Yet I need to pause more and say, “You’re welcome,” just so they know the message was received, and then I can give them my own thank you. None of what we as coaches do would be possible without parents who trust teachers, and more importantly, without parents who trust their sons.