Coaching dad has no experience, no control

SATURDAY'S HERO

March 05, 1994|By ROB KASPER

At aromatic gyms all around the state the kids recreational basketball season is rambling to a close. I'll be at one of those gyms this morning with a clipboard, a water bottle, and maybe a strategy. I am the rookie coach of my older son's team.

Our team has made it to the semifinals of the Towsontowne 11- and 12-year-old boys tournament. We are called the blue team because blue is the color of the T-shirts we wear. In what I regard as one of the big accomplishments of my coaching career, the team has lost only one shirt all season. A few Saturdays back we had a wet shirt, one that had been washed a little too close to game time. But after a drying session on a gym radiator, the shirt was ready for game action.

We play the red team today, I think. The red team was ahead of the green team the last time anybody from our team looked. We were supposed to play the winner of the red-green game last Wednesday night, but the snowstorm delayed that game to today. Snow has been a major component of my coaching strategy. During the season when we were scheduled to have a tough game, such as a match up with the undefeated gray team, a snowstorm would cancel the contest.

Another trademark of my coaching style has been water bottles. Every time the nine guys on our team gathered around me on the sidelines to hear some insight into the game, I would tell them to be sure to drink lots of water during the break. When you combine the snow and the water bottles, I would say the key to the blue team's winning record has been "moisture."

I got the head coaching job by default. Last fall when I registered my two boys for two different basketball leagues, I had answered "yes" to that weighty question that appears at the bottom of every registration form for kids' sporting endeavors, namely "Would you be willing to help coach a team?" I hoped to begin my career as an assistant in the low-pressure league my younger son would play in.

But the commissioner of the older boys league, Roger Novak, needed a body. He had more teams than coaches. One weekend when I was out of town, Novak worked a deal with the ruling powers of the little boys league, where I was signed as an assistant coach. Before you could say "Red Auerbach," I was a coach in the "big" league where they keep score, use a clock, and employ real referees.

I prepared for my new duties. For Christmas I got a set of videotapes showing members of the old Los Angeles Lakers team demonstrating basketball fundamentals. I watched the tape repeatedly and took notes. My plan was to incorporate these vital points of the game into a crisp, well-organized, 45-minute practice session. That is not what happened.

Many of our weekly practice sessions were canceled by storms. And when I did demonstrate one of the Lakers' points, the artful use of the posterior in securing a rebound, my team snickered at me. My son later told me I was gross.

During the games the kids did what experienced coaches know kids will do. They surprised me. Sometimes the surprise was a good play, such as a beautiful bounce pass to a guy who was actually running toward the basket. And sometimes the surprise was a mental lapse, like a kid forgetting what position he was playing. But one of the beauties of the game of basketball is that it is fast-paced. When you foul, you just keep going.

At the beginning of the season when the teams were being picked, the veteran coaches, Jim Fabian, Ed Muth, Dick Reid, David Novak, and Tom Guarnier gave me and the other rookie coach, Mike Camiel, advice on how to put together a team. Go for height, they said and be leery of kids who go on skiing vacations and miss large parts of the basketball season. I tried to take their advice and I added one more facet, I picked players who liked to car pool. When I arrived at the gym I usually had three players, more than half a team, in the car with me. On cold winter mornings you never know how many players will make it.

Today I will rotate Matthew, Cameron, Chisom, Robert, Kieron, Ben, Andrew, Mac -- and maybe Alec if he gets back from skiing -- in and out of the game. I will offer vague advice. I will try to give them some encouragement -- kids this age seem to be their worst critics. And I will give them lots of water. I have little idea what will happen. Because as my rookie season has taught me, you may be the coach, but you are not in control.

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