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February 25, 2016

Win the Half

Win the Half

TEAM TUESDAY – They started laughing at my team of seventh grade boys. My blood boiled, of course. It was because I run the league and if I was watching this happen, I would go right over to the coach and tell him to get them to stop. Now. Or else I will. But when you’re coach, you’re not the commissioner. And when you coach, you can’t play.

All I could do was direct, muster, point to a goal, and hope that the boys understood why it was so important to dig deep and win the second half.

When our opponents continued to laugh at us throughout the second half and towards the end of the game, I kept yelling, “They are laughing at us. I know what I would do.”

Now to most this would sound threatening. It would sound like I’d go out there and tackle my opponents until I fouled out. Granted, I would not be shy about getting that ball by any means necessary – even if they laughed at me more – but I wanted to win each moment. Winning the game was lost, but winning each possession by just giving more than our stronger opponents were giving. They had hit the snooze button. And what button did our kids hit?

They don’t have a button. That’s the problem.

The boys are kind and respectful and all to often they associate hard-core toughness and pride with being less of a person.

The kids on the sideline started keeping track of how many we were down – it was about 5-10 going into the last five minutes. The coach of the other team didn’t seem to do what other coaches in our league do when kids are laughing. They didn’t do what Milbank does.

About a month ago, Milbank was beating us so badly that I thought it would be a 70 point margin. It could have been a 70-point margin if they hadn’t fallen back. I went over to coach and said, “I don’t care if you press full court or half-court. I want your kids to play all out to be an example to my kids, but I don’t want them laughing at my kids. I don’t want anyone laughing at any kids in the league.”

The Milbank coach played every kid on the team and there were 12 of them. Any time a kid laughed from the bench, he was told to stop immediately. The laughter thing is normal behavior for boys this age who love to see their buddies excelling or messing up or a weaker kid trying to make the most of the weak opponent. I get it. Yet what the coach did was the best – he simply stayed on them about self-discipline and class. We lost that game by 55 points. It easily could have been 70. I was not mad at our kids.

As for this past Sunday, I ended up being laughed at the most and maybe I deserved it. As our opponents turned it on and off and smiled quite a bit in the last 5-10 minutes of the game, I reminded our boys of what they were doing to us.

“They are laughing at us.”

“Win the half.”

“They are still laughing at us.”

“Win the half.”

With about ten seconds left in the game, a boy on the other team was handling the 10 second count-down smiling and goofing off with the ball, knowing we needed it to win the half. We were down two points according to our count. My boys didn’t do much to go after him, even with me screaming to get the ball. The kid laughed and carried the ball. The ref blew the whistle with about two seconds left. Then he called the game.

“You cannot call the game,” I yelled.

“It’s over,” he said.

“I said no, it’s not. I’m not letting my kids give up. We are finishing what we started.”

I was not gentle or nurturing or patient or kind. I was emphatic and within the rules.

The ref started at me blankly.

“As a matter of fact, we’ll take a time out. Full.

Now seriously, that was over the line. Two second left, and we’re down by 31 points. And I call a full time out.

But how else were we supposed to win the half? My boys could not do it alone. But if their nannies were there, they certainly would have helped. Maybe if I told them I was taking all of their cell phones if we did not win the half, they’d maybe think of going for ball or taking a charge that would make me feel like I’d gotten through.

Then our skinny, young point guard who shows up to almost every practice – even the optional ones – saw a lane, took it against two bigs, and hit the free throw for the three-point play. I was so happy for him. And I was happy that he saved me.

Yet collectively from the start to end of the game, we just did not care enough about the loss or the embarrassment. Maybe our kids just didn’t know what exactly they could do physically to make a difference. They’re nice kids. And maybe they were a little afraid given the other team was bigger, faster, older, stronger and more coordinated. I actually think it would have been easier for the boys to play against a team mowing them down then against a team that was slowing down the game and playing in spurts, hitting the snooze button on and off.

None of them seemed to know how to act until we huddled up and one of them realized, “Oh, wait. One of us is going to have to shoot a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win the half.”

“Let’s win the half!” Harry said.

This is how 13-year-old boys think. Make that most boys. Most men. I actually think the boys on the other team were hoping that we’d hit that final three.

I took it as a small victory.

I set up the play. Bobby and Jake got Nate open in the corner for the 3 and he launched it as I’d hoped. Hit the side of the rim and the buzzer sounded.

We missed the shot.

We lost the half.

We also lost the game by 31 points.

As we walked through the high five lines at the end of the game, the coach made the biggest offender apologize to me. The kid, who I’ve watched develop for a few years, was laughing as he apologized. I’m not sure what he said beyond, “I’m sorry.”

I told the two male coaches who were not happy with me that I want his tough kids to be an example for us. I said it loud enough for all the kids to hear. I left it at that.

I wanted my kids to be a whole lot tougher. I wanted the other team to be far more respectful. I wanted this team to beat us the way Milbank has for years. Straight-up, hard-core effort and class every play, minute and half.

But you can’t always get what you coach. You already learned the lesson several years ago. You found your way of dealing with it. It’s not your turn anymore. You have to settle at the end of the game, hoping that somebody walked away with a lesson learned, a take-away that they’ll tuck away and be stronger someday because of it.