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February 1, 2016

Is Coach Always Right?

Is Coach Always Right?

FAMILY SUNDAY – There was an age when the teacher was always right, but it seems now that times have changed. So where does that leave the coach in the spectrum of right and wrong from a parent’s subjective viewpoint?

First, parents who come in convinced that their child is 1) special and 2) the victim of an injustice aren’t going to actually get to a resolution that is a) valuable to them as a problem-solving parent and b) beneficial for their child.

I’m going to admit that I’ve made several mistakes in my coaching career. I am also going to admit that it is very hard for me to go watch some of our kids play high school basketball because of the poor to decent quality of coaching and the lack of skill work. I am also going to admit that I still make mistakes, yet I am never afraid to say when I’ve made one. Not all coaches are the same.

But there is one thing that we know as teachers and coaches. Here it is: While I may teach man-to-man and a motion offense and an insane amount of skill work verses a coach who teaches a 2-3 and sits on his or her butt for the five minutes of alleged skill work and one who plays games, games and more games, the truth is usually the assessment of your child is the same whether it comes from me or the game-up coach.

Assessment means work ethic, attitude, attendance, ability to work with others and true measurement of skills. So while some coaches lack the capacity to teach fourth graders how to be most productive in fourth grade (which is not junior high, JV, varsity or college or pro ball), I am usually in alignment with that coach on the assessment of a player in terms of attitude, effort, attendance, work ethic and coachability.

So a mother told me last year that her son wasn’t happy with his playing time. “What? I said. “You’re not serious?”

I had a rotation. I always check how sweaty they are on the bench. In our program, we usually have 7-9 players maximum and it’s usually 7 or 8. We’ve only had four-five games – maybe six because sometimes we play two games in one day (more playing time for the kids). This kid had just joined the team in the fall. He’d gotten into foul trouble for two of those games and he missed a few mandatory practices (but, mom said, “he goes for the optional ones.”) I loved this players’ hustle and heart and the way he busted things up, but he still struggled to shoot left hand-lay-ups, he refused to listen to me when I ask him to and he would not fix his broken jump shot. I damn near begged him to do it for about 10 weeks. He had little to no handle of the ball and he dropped a lot of passes. But I still liked the kid because of the energy he gives and guess what – I really try to believe as often and as long as possible. I would not have put him on my team if I hadn’t felt like the kid could develop if he wanted to. Yet the truth is, he does not.

But mom said she knows skill work and his skills were on a par or better than the others on the team. I said you are not at practice. You don’t see him ignoring me or missing his lay-ups on the left side when every other kid is able to do more advanced moves because they can make weak-hand lay-ups. You also must have missed the foul trouble he’s been in for two games – and there was a back injury where he fell on his butt and I did not want to play him for the rest of the game in fear he really hurt himself. He lay on the floor for the rest of the game. I told her he refused to listen to me on the mechanics of his jump shot to the point where I said I can’t keep spending time on someone who is ignoring me. I said this no lie – at least 10 times, which means I tried that many times after the point of no return.

Now I’m going to take an example of one of our more successful players – nameless, of course. One has excellent skills, he works hard, he is a great kid, he is unselfish and he loves to play great D. He’s even got good foot speed. Yet he’s type B, meaning he’s not going to be outwardly insane over not getting playing time or wanting the ball that badly or if the coach totally tries to break him into pieces. It is why several people aren’t sure he will do as well as some think. I think it’s a fair read of the kid – I get the assessment of others – and now it’s up to the kid to decide what he wants. He’s a big boy. The great part is that the parents know it – it’s his life, not theirs. If he doesn’t get the ball or if he rides the bench, never is it the fault of the coach or other players.

Last example is an example of a mistake I did make back in my hometown when I coached JV girls basketball for one year. I enjoyed my team. Most of them were close to the same age level, but honestly, the team works better when there is an order to it – five starters or maybe possible six players or even seven who could start, then some role players. The issue many times is aggression and toughness if all things are equal. I had a younger sister of a varsity player on JV – a sweet kid, like the rest of the girls. She was playing about one-third to one-half of the game. She was definitely in the rotation. And she was sobbing after each game and then during one half time. So I lit into her for all the sobbing and being selfish. I said you’re playing, what’s the problem?

She wanted to be playing more.

Her parents wanted her to be playing more as do most parents.

And I said she is already playing plenty.

But their kid was showing up to all the practices and crying herself to sleep at night and not eating. When they told me this, I stopped. It was time to listen and work with the parents, who were not begging for any favors. They just didn’t know what to do.

My assessment of the kid was this – at 95 lbs. and no chance she would put on any more weight, she saw the writing on the wall – this JV run was her last hurrah. She was too think and small and slow and didn’t like contact (could you blame her) – and she was mourning the loss before it was over. I wished I’d seen it sooner. The good thing is that we evened out the ship and I didn’t let her crying affect me as much and she stopped. I think the recognition of the full truth helped the situation.

But it did not change the fact that she was not talented or skilled or deserved more.

I believe her parents were with me on this – and the issue was how to do the best we could with the fact that playing varsity ball at her size may never be a reality. I’m not sure if she ended up playing or riding the bench or being the manager because I moved to NYC the following year. All I know is that I think of that player regularly, and I do everything I can to say sometimes you are 1) wrong or 2) you are missing the bigger issue.

I guess my takeaway is that I’m sure in all three examples, any coach would see the same as I did in terms as the honest answer to how good the kid is, and how good the kid COULD be – and that’s an operative word – could means the kid decides, and could also means at a point, if the player is physically able to do more in addition to put in the time, effort and work. Or if the player is just not capable or willing.

And to be honest maybe the kid on my team didn’t want to work or shoot the ball right or double his moves by being able to score from both sides of the basket. Maybe he was perfectly fine telling mom to overlook the two games of foul trouble and the back injury and all the minutes he did play. Maybe he just wanted to go play with some friends in a league that lets him do whatever he wants, even if they use him as a big man to the point where he gets cut from JV because he has no real skills.

All I know to be true is this—if a parent believes his or her kid 100 percent without getting another viewpoint for the coach, assistant coach, other witnesses to a child’s habits including other teachers—it is the wrong situation for me as a coach. I’ll never be able to have a true, positive impact on the player because mom and dad believed their kid and not someone who was trying to help.