Taking cues from others' playbooks, wardrobes

March 28, 1998|By Rob Kasper

BASEBALL practice for one of my kids starts today and I say, "It is about time." Maybe dodging all those swinging bats and flying baseballs will get my mind off the recently completed basketball season.

In the cycle of coaching your kid's team, you have your occasional championship season. That is when your team gets big trophies. You have your "surprise" season. That is when your team wins a game or two more than you expected.

You have your "rebuilding" season. That is when your team starts off playing poorly but gets better. And you have your "Titanic" season. That is when your team starts off looking unsinkable, but then gets a dent in its armor and, before you know it, you are neck deep in water and headed for the bottom.

That is what happened to the basketball team I coached this year. Our team of 11- to 12-year-old boys began the season with three straight wins and finished with six straight losses. Other teams got better, we got worse. It had to be the coach.

Back when our team was undefeated, I considered myself a coaching whiz. When we started sinking, I considered abandoning ship. I experienced mood swings. I was a changed man.

I began rooting for bad weather -- a losing coach's best friend. When your team is winning, you can't wait to play the next game. But when your team is losing, you find yourself hoping that some kind of storm -- a snowstorm, a hailstorm, a sandstorm -- rolls into town and postpones the next game.

You fantasize that during the delay, things will change for the better. Maybe the kids on your team will hit a spectacular growth spurt. Maybe the star players on the opposing team will get the flu or have to travel out of town. These aren't noble thoughts. But it is hard to display magnanimity of character when your behind is getting stomped every weekend.

During this season of my discontent, I noticed that my sympathies shifted when I listened to the debates raging on the area's sports-talk radio shows. Back when I was the coach of a winning team I was feeling smug. I readily agreed with callers who criticized the coaches of the Orioles, the Ravens, the Terps or the Wizards when those team suffered a loss.

But when I became the coach of a losing team, I started siding with the callers who defended coaches, who saw them as talented men trying to do a difficult job.

Instead of being a simple game, a contest becomes a multifaceted challenge. Instead of an unthinking bonehead, a coach becomes a victim of fate, of bad karma or, in my case, a victim of good weather. This winter, for the first time in the five years that I have coached kids' basketball, no game was snowed out.

In retrospect, I realize I should have paid more attention to the advice offered by my assistant coaches. One assistant, Jack "The-Full-Armani" Kieley kept telling me that the coaching staff should dress better. Instead of jeans and sweatpants, he thought our coaching staff should adopt the designer-suit style favored by big-time, successful coaches.

Meanwhile, my other assistant coach, Jeff "Box-and-One" Corden, kept suggesting that our team should play "trick" defenses, part zone and part man-to-man. I didn't follow these suggestions and the team suffered.

I noticed the two teams that ended up battling for the title of our league -- the Towsontowne boys 10-12 -- used the coaching tactics my assistants had suggested. One of the contending teams was coached by George P. Stamas, who always showed up at Monday night practice sessions wearing a well-tailored, dark suit.

At first I thought Stamas dressed this way because he had come to the gym straight from work. But now I see his dark-suit splendor was a motivational, dress-for-success tactic. It worked. Late in the season, his team caught fire and made it to the title game.

The Stamas team ended up playing a team directed by John Stout and Angel Mata, coaches who employed a trick defense -- a triangle and two -- to get their lads to the finals. In the end, the trick-defense camp triumphed over the best-dressed.

Now the coaching season has shifted. Today, like a lot of guys, I will be out on a baseball field, doing the assistant-coach routine, reminding kids of the early-season fundamentals: Go easy on your throwing arm and put your initials in your baseball cap.

But tonight I will be in front of a television watching the semifinal games of the men's college basketball tournament.

I will note how Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who seems to favor the full-Armani approach to coaching, fares in his team's battle -- against Stanford. And I will see if Utah coach Rick Majerus, comfortable in the full-sweatpants look, will use the triangle-and-two trick defense. This defense got his team to its semifinal match-up with North Carolina.

These are the kinds of coaching tips that dads at home -- regardless of what sport we coach -- look for when we watch professional sporting events. We want to know if we should work on our "Xs and Os," or if we should concentrate on our Beau Brum-

mel imitation. I like to wear sweatpants, so I am rooting for "Xs and Os." Then again, I had a losing season.

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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