Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winning at the Game of Life

** All posts in 2016 can be found at my website The Coaching Wife **

Youth basketball season is in its third week here. Honestly, I dread it every year in the weeks leading up to it. The phone calls, messages, forms to be sorted, info to input, money to collect, gym times to schedule, finding coaches, yada yada yada. It's time consuming and I'm always trying to find a way to get to the youth stuff without sacrificing my own kids' games and activities. Wouldn't you know It always seems to work out just fine. And that first week of practices and games are some of the most entertaining, fun-filled days of my January. The kids want to learn. You see the progress from week to week. The fake-outs, traveling violations, the hilarity of little kids playing basketball and imitating the big kids. I go home each week with my sides aching from the sheer enjoyment of watching the little ones grow their game skills.
I've spent a good deal of time this fall and winter researching youth development. Our program needs some tweaks; it's been done the same way for a good number of years and it's not necessarily working. All of the older teams, grades 3-12 have experienced some level of disfunction, be it qualms about playing time, coaches, venues, you name it. We've heard it. It goes with the territory. But here's the thing- youth sports are about learning the fundamentals of the game and, most importantly, having fun!
Every single article I've read talks about 4 things- sharing passion & enjoyment of the game, being willing to spend the time, knowledge of the game, exercising patience, and emotional maturity.
  1. Sharing the passion & enjoyment of the game- This means have fun! The littles should be having fun while learning. The coaches should also be having fun. We're not solving the world's problems here. We're teaching kids to play a game. It should be fun, for goodness sake! Especially when we're dealing with the littles (grades K-6) the focus should not be on the wins and losses, but learning and improving. Middle school ball should also be fun, but focuses even more on skill and player development. Our middle school coaches are intense but they love those boys and it shows in their interactions with them on and off the court.
  2. Willingness to give their time & learn- I don't care if you're coaching kindergarteners or seniors; there's a time commitment involved. It doesn't matter how long you've played/coached/watched a sport, you never stop learning more about it and how to teach it. I cannot tell you the hours Coach spends in front of games or game film each week, on and off season, sketching out plays, learning new drills for team camp, ideas for our youth camp. If he's not working on the farm, or grading papers for school, he's probably studying the game he loves. His passion lives in how he learns to teach the game to his players. He is willing to ride out the storm and reap the benefits of what we have developed in our younger grades that was lacking so badly in the past.
  3. Patience- I'm a teacher, a mom, and a wife of a coach. Patience is HARD. Practice for the littles is more like herding cats than practicing actual basketball. You have to get over it. Confession time: I have more patience for the littles now than when I was coaching my kids at that age. I don't know what it is but I really do enjoy them more now. They're a hoot! It could be because I'm not leading the charge and only sitting in the wings watching the chaos. They're kids. Let them have fun in a structured, fundamental setting. Teach them boundaries. Teach them how to dribble a ball while following the lines of the court, or, my favorite, jump-stop pivot races. Make it fun and it will be much easier to remain patient with them.
  4. Emotional Maturity- This is one I'm guilty of struggling with as my kids have grown. Your kids will model what you show them. If you yell at the refs like a raving lunatic, your kids will too (Raises hand sheepishly). Yelling at the kids isn't always the best way to get their attention and get them work hard. Laughing & playing with them wins big trust points. Since I've begun working girls high school exposure tournaments, I've spent a good deal of time talking to college coaches. I have asked them what they look for in a recruit. #1 thing they look at while scouting is the parent of the recruit. They've got the data via stats and film. They want to see what the kid is made of. If the parent is yelling like an idiot at missed calls, other players, pretty much anything that makes them look like they're crazy, that recruit gets crossed off the list. Those are the parents calling to ask about what the kid did wrong to get pulled at such and such point in the game, show up at practice to talk to people, and generally just cause problems. Yes, parents do this at the college level. Imagine how the kid feels seeing mom or dad questioning their coach! How can a coach ever lead the kids if the kids question everything being taught because mom or dad said the coach doesn't know what she/he's talking about? We need to be adults and grow up. Cheer positives for the team, not just the kid. Coaching kids from the stands puts more pressure on them. What does emotionally mature look like? It's not living vicariously through the kiddos. It's kissing them and hugging them and tell them how proud you are after EVERY SINGLE GAME. That's the job of a parent. When my kid got a technical foul and sat the bench the rest of the game, I still told him I loved him and was proud of him. I let him know I was disappointed with his actions, but I was proud of what he accomplished before he decided to say whatever he said to earn that T. He earned it. He paid for it. He didn't complain about it. He apologized to his team. He moved on. I moved on. It was int he past. Over. No changing it. That's the lesson we teach as parents.
Our kids need to learn how to deal with adversity; how to grow and develop as people and students, not just as a player of a sport. If kids never experience failure, how do they learn to set goals and improve skills? Confidence comes from learning and doing, not from being bailed out to avoid an uncomfortable consequence. Let's do our kids a favor and let them grow up. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. Yes, it's incredibly hard to see them fall down. Yes, I want to reach out and save them from skinning their knees or busting that lip. Think of all they learn from that experience! The truth is a select handful of kids go on to college to play collegiate sports. Even fewer go on to play at the next level. That's not to say one of the littles in K-1-2 ball won't go on to be a division 1 recruit and make it to the Euro League or NBA someday. I would rather they look back at these years as being the fun times they spent in the tiny elementary gym running around and having that awesome guy or lady as his/her coach. That's what it's all about.

More information about Youth Basketball Development can be found at USA Basketball Youth Development.