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May 22, 2016

Signs are a Good Thing

Signs are a Good Thing

FAMILY SUNDAY – While spending the weekend in Hillburn, NY for a tournament, we came across this entertaining reminder to parents about proper behavior while spectating. Not everyone followed, which helped us understand why the sign need to be posted. Yet overall, energy was high in the community center with the kids spread across three big courts.

My biggest takeaway after watching so many kids who just handled the ball better than our kids is that they have to make better use of the concrete jungle we live in. They have to find a basement or go to a safe concrete area nearby – no hoop needed – and pound the ball solo – and then add defense. If they have more control of the ball, there’s less anxiety in the gym for coaches. I guess parents may feel anxious either way, but for me, the control, toughness and IQ factors played such a huge role.

The control factor they can work on – and it will be their top assignment over the summer and moving forward. Parents and coaches cannot do their homework or it will show come test time.

The toughness factor – well, I guess that’s sort of like IQ to an extent – do you have physical, mental and emotional toughness or do you not? Are you born with a natural propensity to be tougher and grittier than others? Is it birth order? Is it cultural (kids with nannies taking care of their every ache and pain – not as tough as those who have to figure it out on their own)? And if it doesn’t come naturally, what else are you doing to show your coach and teammates what you stand for as a player and person? After a point, you are only a talented player if you bring toughness to the table because the entire pool is tough – it’s a given – so the earlier you can figure this out, the easier the game is to handle against players, most of whom don’t have much beyond toughness at the youth level. I’d say in 80-90 percent of the cases where there’s evidence of lack of toughness, I’m not sure it can be learned or acquired down the road, but there is an occasional kids who proves me wrong. Toughness trumps it all at this age. Brick a shot? Shoot like it’s a shot put? Go off the wrong foot? Dribble with your head down? Foul too much? Who cares if the kids on one the team will mow down other kids on the floor to get the ball back. The tougher team always wins at this age. Always. I’d say that’s by far the #1 most frustrating factor for coaches like me and Andy because we never had to anyone begging it out of us. The IQ factor is what tournaments like this help gauge where you are verses where you need to be. These games verses new and hungry blood each you about how important every single possession is in a very physical game where 10 fouls are allowed before the double bonus and refs are told to not stop the game often. We had five to give with one minute to go and our girls were afraid to hurt the feelings of a team that was mauling us. Our mostly grade 8 girls needed to go for some hard steals, but our girls failed to do so and we ended up losing by one point to a bigger, faster, stronger group of players grade 9. A girl on the team failed to contest a runner at the half – not even putting her hand up – and the girl hit the three to end the half. I said to her, what you don’t get now, but will probably get at the end of this weekend is that that failed effort to put your hand up may end up costing us the game. I unfortunately was right. She knew it, and so did the girls who didn’t know how to foul hard or the ones who didn’t run the out of bounds play to perfection like they just had over and over. But they know now. They walked away from that annoying one-point loss to bigger, faster and stronger team saying 1) we could have beaten them in their own house and 2) I learned more by that stinging loss than if we had won that game because the little things would have been lost.

As the sign says (see below), kids are not the Knicks (not a bad thing). The refs, parents and kids are human. Coaches sometimes get too intense, parents sometimes get a little too into it, kids often make glaring mistakes even after you beg them not to several times over and give them every explanation as to why and how to avoid. Then they do the same mistake seconds later, and all you can do is hope that they recognize it, and try not to repeat it again. And they will repeat it. So at this point, you simply ask for a decreasing frequency.

All parents, coaches and players can walk out of the gyms after a long weekend of travel hoops, asking themselves not about the outcome, but what did we learn from the experience?