Thomas McKenzie
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The Basketball Diary, part two: Whose Ball Is It?


In order to fully appreciate this post, I strongly suggest you read part one.

In response to requests, I have ditched my old school use of first initials. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty.

Like a teenage girl before the Big Date, I looked in my drawers and closet and came to a sickening conclusion: I had nothing to wear.

It was after church, and we had a practice in less than one hour. I had just received the ridiculous news that I was the new head coach. And I had no idea how to dress myself for the event.

Not being what one would call "sporty," I have no sports clothes. I have a Dallas Cowboys Emmitt Smith jersey, and about five Cowboys baseball caps. And I have t-shirts, lots of t-shirts. But no sweats, no sport shorts (unless khaki shorts count), and no athletic shoes. I have walking shoes, sort of hiking boots, but nothing for the court.

I put on a t-shirt, a pair of baggy shorts that I sleep in, and my hiking shoes. I looked like a beach bum. With less style. Everything I had on was blue. The shoes are brown.

I arrived at the gym with my two daughters in tow. At least they looked good. When I got there I met two people who will be important to our story. The less important is G--. He is a dad of one of the girls. A thin and trim sort of man, it was quickly obvious that he had some basketball skills. He told me he was "here to help, whatever I can do." I liked the sound of that.

The more important character is C--. I had never seen her before. It turns out she is the mom of one of the girls who doesn't go to our little school. Her daughter, L--, got placed on our team by the league gods. The story goes something like this.

For the past three years, L-- has played with girls from her school. Most of them are on another league team together. However, L-- signed up too late and got placed on a team that wasn't "full." Seems that her old team practices three times a week, has played two "seasons" a year, and basically kicks tail. And her old team is not the only one. It seems several of the teams in this league are of similar caliber.

C-- let me know (not really in a bragging way) that she had been on her high school state champion basketball team. And while she could only come to some of the games and practices, she wanted to help. And she had suggestions. She suggested we start with "fundamentals." As a coach, I am all about the fundamentals. All about them.

C-- took the less-excellent players and showed them how to dribble. G-- took the other girls and started shooting drills. I walked back and forth between the two groups and . . . coached. You know, "good shot." "That's it." "All right, all right." That sort of thing. Is that what you are supposed to do?

My big moment came just before we went from the drills into a little offence/defence. I gathered the girls together and gave them a little speech.

Girls, the number one purpose of basketball is to have fun. The next most important thing is to put the ball in the basket. That is the reason to get the ball--to get it in the basket. To do that, we have to dribble, get in position, pass, and shoot. Next, to get the ball in the basket you have to get the ball. Do you all have brothers and sisters? You do? If your little brother comes into your room and takes something from you, do you say 'oh, that's OK'? No, you don't. You say 'that's mine.' (I hold up the ball.) Whose ball is this? Its your ball. Not the other team's ball. They are your little brother, and this is your ball. We are going to take the ball from our little brother, and we are going to put it in the basket.



L-- looked at her mom and said "that is a good point." I thought so, too.

Full disclosure: the part about the reason to get the ball is to put it in the basket comes fully from Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings." Except, in his case, he says the only reason to draw the sword is to cut. As in "cut someone's head off." That's wisdom.

I thought the practice went well. My two assistants were awesome. I went home vaguely satisfied. I had gotten through it, and the kids seemed to be doing a good job. Thanks to watching C-- and G--, I could kind of see what I was supposed to do. And I figured I could beat a third grade girl one-on-one if I needed to.

There was one really important thing I realized I had to do before the next practice. Quit? No. Get a rulebook? Maybe. Get some cool coach clothes? Absolutely.

A couple of days later, I went to Target. I walked out with cool black sporty pants (including white racing stripes), black basketball shoes, a black warm-up jacket, and (of course) a whistle. After putting it all over a t-shirt and adding a Texas Longhorn hat, I looked like I'd been coaching all my . . . week.

The next practice went well. C-- showed up, and we scrimmaged the whole time. I ran up and down the court yelling "get between your girl and the goal." Stuff like that. C-- taught all of us what a "point guard" is, and I found out about the importance of rebounds. It is now one of my favorite things to yell. "Rebound, come on, rebound!"

My little brother image stayed with the girls. One kid would be dribbling, and I would say to the defender "whose ball is it?" She would say "mine!", and then steal the ball. I am not sure, but I think I'm teaching my kids to play aggressive street style. I might be teaching them to foul. But how would I know, I don't even know the rules.

Which brings up a point of internal turmoil. What should I be teaching these kids? To win? To play aggressively? To do their best? To love their enemies? To be gentle? I spoke with one of the parents at the practice. She said that she is always telling her daughter to be nice to her little sisters, and to share their toys. Now, though, she wants her daughter to grab the ball and drive down the court. The best I could do was to say "they have to learn the appropriate place to work out their aggression. This game is perfect for that. Get mad at your sister, forgive her, and then take it out on the court." Sounds good, I guess. But I don't know.

After practice, I reminded the girls that our next real game was coming on Saturday. I told them that the most important thing was to have fun. Of course, I was thinking "and winning wouldn't be too bad, either."

Stay tuned for my next post: Part Three: The Big Game. And they are all Big Games.


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