Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I spent a basketball season coaching a first year, fifth grade, girls team. It was the first time the girls had participated in structured league play, and it was the first time I had ever coached a sports team. Oh. And I didn’t particularly like playing or watching basketball, but they desperately needed a coach and I … well … I thought, “Why not?”

The other teams in the league were seasoned and accustomed to the rigors of competitive practice and play, their ultimate goal to beat every other team and win the trophy in the end. My team, not so much.

I didn’t know the difference between a point guard and a power forward. Curl cut versus a back screen? Couldn’t tell you. A double-post motion offense versus a zone defense? No idea which is better or why, or even what they truly mean.

I did have two rules for practices and games.

One: Have fun.

Two: Think it in.

We did a lot of running and blocking and shooting and laughing and talking. I’m sure a few of them had doubts about my ability to coach them to a winning season, and frankly, that wasn’t my main goal as their coach.

And so the season started.

Game one – won.

Game two – won.

Game three – won.

And so it went through the thirteen games of the season. Win after win. Whether the opponents drilled and played hard or soft, or their coaches screamed loudly or softly, we always ended up winning. Sometimes by only a couple of points, sometimes by quite a margin.

Through it all, I kept telling my girls, “Have fun” and “Think the ball in.”

They did both.

Our first season was a perfect season.

The next year, the girls were excited for the new season to begin. Because of the success we enjoyed, a few more fathers were willing to volunteer to help coaching. One, a big basketball fan offered to be the assistant coach in charge of strategies and plays. I thought, “Well, why not? I don’t have any.”

The girls learned a lot of different plays and specific strategies for offense and defense.

Me? I kept telling them to “Have fun” and “Think it in.”

Unfortunately, the assistant coach didn’t think too highly of my two rules. Instead he focused a lot more on his X’s and O’s, half-court and full-court diagrams, and practicing and playing specific plays for specific situations in the game.

The girls stopped having as much fun. They also stopped thinking their shots in the basket, and relied more on “shooting” the ball in the hoop.

The second season, not so perfect. In fact, more imperfect than perfect. It was a losing season.

Some of the girls instinctively knew why they lost. As one of them profoundly said, “Different mindset, different results.”

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