As coach, it's easy to drop, or forget, ball

July 16, 2002|By SUSAN REIMER

IN MY PREVIOUS life as a sportswriter, I watched dozens of high school basketball games every March while covering the state playoffs. And I mean dozens.

By the end of those long weekends at the courtside press table, I felt like I had absorbed the muscle memory of the high school players so completely that I could step out on the court and play the game at least as well as they.

Until, that is, I played in a mother-daughter game and realized that I did not know how to run and dribble the ball, let alone pump-fake an opponent out of his britches and go by him in the lane for an easy layup.

It was an important lesson on the difference between watching and doing, but not one that stuck with me, apparently.

All these years later, I have watched my daughter play in hundreds of basketball games - and I mean hundreds - and, as I did years ago, I have left the gym thinking any idiot can coach the game of basketball.

Until, that is, I had to do it.

My daughter plays on a summer league team coached by a 6-foot-4 post player of considerable strength and skill just two years away from his high school championship team and who continues to play in a men's summer league.

Nick is a heck of a player and an excellent teacher, but occasionally his playing and his coaching schedules conflict and, because of the rules governing summer basketball, a grown-up of some description is needed to stand in as coach until he arrives.

That would be me.

Not because of my years covering sports, I am sure, but because my phone number was probably the first to come to mind.

All I had to do was "roll the ball out," as we like to say in coaching circles, and I could not even manage that.

I did not know to bring a basketball, so we had none and had to ask the other team to borrow one of theirs for warm-ups.

I do not own a whistle, and I could not find a clipboard. (My friend, Jane, comforted me by saying that diagramming plays during timeouts is an overrated coaching technique since the players are not looking at what you are drawing, are not listening to what you are saying and will do what they want anyway.)

All I was able to bring to the task was a series of cliches and inspirational quotes I had accumulated over a career of listening to athletes and coaches babble.

My daughter found these remarks humiliating, and her teammates found them baffling, especially when I said, "They put their pants on one leg at a time, too."

When the referee blew the whistle for the start of the game, I realized I had no idea which players to start, who should take the tip-off, how they should match up, who should take the ball out of bounds and what defense they should play.

I smiled wanly and said, "I'm sure you ladies can work this out among yourselves."

As the game began, the uncertainties of my new authority washed over me, and I felt incredibly indecisive, which didn't matter because I was too nervous to even call out encouragement, let alone plays, defensive sets or complaints to the referee. (This was in stark contrast to the stuff I often feel compelled to yell from the bleachers while playing the role of parent.)

I was afraid even to applaud the players on my team because I thought I might hurt another player's feelings.

It was awful. I was awful.

I have never felt so helplessly stupid. (Although I would like to mention that we were leading in both games when Nick arrived to retake the reins as coach.)

I hope you will see the lesson in my humiliation.

From recreational leagues to Division I college sports, parents are convinced they can do a better job than whoever is coaching their little athlete.

Whether that coach is a volunteer parent or somebody with a $2 million deal, parents are certain that only they know the secret to unlocking their child's physical prowess so that he or she can lead the team to a championship season.

Take it from me. You don't.

I don't care whether you used to play pickup ball with Wes Unseld or you were an all-county quarterback in high school or you regularly win your Rotisserie baseball league. Bite your tongue when you think about criticizing your kid's coach, lest the fates call your bluff.

If you could coach, you would be coaching. You are not, so assume divine intervention and let the players play, let the coaches coach, and let the officials officiate (another job you would be doing if you were as good at it as you think you are). Sit back and enjoy watching your child do something they love.

Learn from me.

I covered sports for 14 years, and I know more than enough to make me obnoxious. High school coaches walk the other way when they see me coming. But when it was my turn to carry the clipboard, I couldn't find one.

I forgot to bring the ball.

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