Youth team in need of a hoops coach? Just whistle

November 14, 1998|By Rob Kasper

SURE, THE LEAVES need to be raked and the gutters needed to be cleaned, but there are more important things to do at this time of year. It is time to head to the gym for the beginning of the recreational basketball season. There, as the kids dribble, pass and shoot, a group of adults, many known as "dad," get to pretend to be real basketball coaches.

I have been one of those guys for the past several years, and by now I am beginning to see certain patterns in my early-season coaching behavior.

First, there is that fateful moment when I ponder the question at the bottom of my kid's registration form: "I am interested in helping with this program." I know if I check the "No" reply, I might actually be in control of how I spend my time on the coming weekends. However, I also know that if I check "Yes," I will have an excuse to carry a whistle and a clipboard and will have a chance to try out my pet theories on how the game of basketball should be played.

I know that shortly after I send in the form checked "Yes," I will get a phone call from a senior coach, welcoming me to the fold. I will tell him that I only want to be an assistant coach, that I can't make every practice or game, that this year I want to limit my commitment. He will say, "sure, no problem." He has heard this before. Like a skilled fisherman with a nibble on his line, he doesn't want to scare a catch away. Instead, he lets spout some theory -- my belief, for instance, that the trouble with the game today is that kids don't know how to dribble with their left hands -- and then, once he has me hooked, he reels me in. Show up at the gym on Saturday, he tells me, for talent evaluation.

The general idea behind these first, get-acquainted sessions in the gym is to give the coaches a general understanding of which kids are the superior players, the average players, and the beginners. The idea behind these sessions is that when it comes time to pick teams, the coaches will be able to divide the talent pool into balanced teams.

For me, these get-acquainted sessions have been overwhelming. The kids run up and down the court while I stand on the sidelines with a list of 60 or so names, trying to figure out which flying body belongs to which name. Sometimes I don't even recognize kids I have coached in previous years. They have grown, sometimes out, sometimes up, sometimes both.

Invariably I spot a kid who would be ideal for our team and pull him aside only to discover I can't have him. He turns out to be the son of another coach, who, I notice, is standing on the other side of the gym, talking to my son.

In my league, Towsontowne, the child of the coach is automatically on the coach's team. This has led to some interesting role reversals when the basketballs stop bouncing and the coaches meet in private to rate the players. As a dad, you feel flattered when an opposing coach wants to give your kid a high rating. But as a coach, you argue against it. You want your kid to have a low rating. If you succumb to the flattery and let your kid be ranked as a top-flight player, you give up a shot at getting more highly ranked players on your team.

So when kids are rated, the wily coach doesn't tout his kid as the next Michael Jordan. Instead, he tries to pass the kid off as "just average." Instead of behaving like an agent, the dad/coach becomes a critic.

Various coaches have various strategies on how to pick a kids basketball team. Some go for height. Some go for speed. Some go for car pool arrangements. I try to figure all those factors in my picks. But like many coaching endeavors, I often end up feeling less in control of the situation than I had planned.

Things have a way of happening. Your team can be wiped out by the flu bug, by malaise, by three-day skiing trips. And I have heard that when you are dealing with older players, like the 13-to-15-year-old boys I am coaching this year, you might have to contend with a new nemesis to a successful season, the love bug. A coach with long experience in this age group told me that a few years ago he had to forfeit a big game because on the night of a scheduled contest, "everybody on the team had a date."

I have a clipboard and a fistful of theories on how to beat a zone defense. But if I have to battle romance this basketball season, it may be time to hang up my whistle.

Pub Date: 11/14/98

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