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Modern coaching in real time

Basketball season had begun: my son came home from practice somewhat unsure of the team bonding drills that Coach Moran had incorporated on the court.

“Mom, he made us stand in a circle and hold hands.”

I was both impressed with this choice of activity [considering this is a volunteer position and most adults would have avoided pushing kids out of their comfort zones] and understanding that my son was not seeing the bigger picture.

I responded, “Coaches sometimes do things like that, when they want the team to unite.” I knew he was listening when in return, I received an eye-roll.

As a parent, I thought, even if my son was not seeing the big picture yet, it was helpful that his coach did. I trusted in the vision of the coach. His actions were in the best interest of the kids and what they could learn from the practices and the process. I have realized more often than not, when the eyes of both parents and coaches, are focused in the right direction, really cool things on the court can happen. Below is a truly great example.

Without the bitter, there can be no sweet. Without risk, there is no appreciation in achieving the reward. It’s these contrasts in our collective experiences which gives rise and meaning to life’s joys and sorrows. For without the contrasts, we can never truly understand the context and therefore significance of life’s greatest moments. And perhaps no greater microcosm of this exists than in the world of sports where the joys of Winning are the yin to the agony of Defeat’s yang.

It’s why youth sports, when experienced with the proper perspective, can be instrumental in developing the life tools necessary to fully appreciate the peaks while learning to cope with the valleys in between.

I’m in my fourth-year coaching youth basketball for Mason and his fellow friends in our town. It’s been an amazingly fun ride for me personally. Being around a game that I love, spending time with Mason and watching this group of boys grow into a true team has been a fantastic experience. Sure, we’ve lost our fair share of games, but over the last couple years the boys have started to learn how to compete more, play smarter and never stop trying.

Which is why our game tonight (actually yesterday as I write this) was a tough one to watch (and coach) from the sidelines. We were the #3 seed playing on the home court of the #2 seed in the Semi-Finals. A win, and this core team of boys who went 1-15 their first season together, would have a chance to play for the right to be crowned 7th Grade League Champions.

The game started out with two quick turnovers by our team which turned into an even quicker 4 points scored by the other team. 30 seconds into the game and it’s already 4-0.

Enough of that. Quick timeout, settle their nerves and get my team back out there. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.

We kept turning the ball over…8-0…Our turnovers kept turning into points for the other team…12-0…When we could get shots off, we couldn’t make anything…14-0…And when I say anything, I mean literally ANYTHING. By the end of the 1st Quarter, the score was Readington 21, Long Hill 0.

Now, for those of you reading this (and thanks for getting this far :-) ) and not familiar with youth basketball, being outscored 21-0 over the span of an 8-minute quarter is the equivalent of a good ol’ fashion butt-whoopin’. Heck, scoring 21 points in a Quarter is a feat in itself when you consider average scores are in the 40s/50s for an entire game at this level!

Needless to say, I was feeling a bit shell-shocked. We had played this team twice already in the regular season – beating them by 9 points at home and losing by 1 on a last second layup on this very same court a couple weeks back. I didn’t think a win for us was a sure thing by any means, but I certainly expected this to be a competitive game and it was anything but that at the end of 1.

But what can you do? Sometimes it’s just not your day and you need to tip your cap and say good game. But we weren’t going quit and go home. There were still 3 Quarters left to play, so these boys did just that – they played.

2nd Quarter picked up right where we left off…turnover (we were being consistent, if nothing else)….layup for Readington…23-0. Oh, boy.

Finally, after 9+ minutes of game time had passed, we had that rare moment where a shot that left the hands of one of our players found its way through the net…23-2. Hallelujah!! Well, at least I knew we weren’t going to be shut out.

But then, this group of boys, this TEAM of boys, did something truly amazing. I wish you all could have been there to see it firsthand!

It started with a defensive stop, a turnover for Readington this time followed by a quick transition basket for us….23-4. Then more defensive pressure, more missed shots and more turnovers for Readington. By the end of the 2nd Quarter, we had outscored them 15-6 and at halftime, it was Readington 27, Long Hill 15. Down 12 after being down by as many as 23…not ideal, but I’ll take it.

3rd Quarter starts and we pick up right where we left off. This group of 6th and 7th grade Long Hill Boys simply out-willed, out-hustled and outworked Readington. When there was a loose ball on the ground, we got it. When there was a rebound to grab, we grabbed it. We outscored them again in the 3rd, 14-9 cutting their lead down to 7 - Readington 36, Long Hill 29.

By the start of the 4th Quarter, the teams waiting to play the game following us had begun to gather around the court. The tension in the gymnasium was palpable – everyone knew this game was going to come down to the end and as the growing crowd learned of the deficit we were slowly, but surely erasing, the buzz grew louder with each point we put on the scoreboard.

When we needed a steal, we got it! When we needed a basket, we got it! When Readington answered with a layup, we answered with a 3! These Long Hill boys took everything Readington could throw at them and stood their ground. And when the opportunity presented itself, we came right back at Readington but harder.

With 47 seconds left, it was Readington 50, Long Hill 49. Readington had the ball. I called a timeout so we could go over how we were going to handle the end of the game. Both teams were in the Bonus, so any foul was going to stop the clock. I asked the boys to give me one more defensive stand. Full court press, see if we could get the steal. If not, foul and let’s see if we can extend the game and get another score or two.

And as the boys broke the huddle, being down 1 point…the crowd, by this time numbering well over 150 people, full of Long Hill parents, siblings and relatives had been joined by a chorus of parents and siblings and relatives from the teams waiting to play and gave the loudest set of cheers and applause and encouragement for a youth basketball game I had ever heard. It was truly special and the jolt of adrenaline that it sparked in our team is what makes sports so great.

Readington inbounded the ball under their own basket, but our pressure was relentless. An errant pass across half court was quickly stolen by our team followed by a streak to the basket and a perfect lead pass…beating two defenders down the court, we made the layup and took the lead: Long Hill 51, Readington 50.

With 30 seconds left our defense finally broke their will. Another steal followed by a foul gave us an opportunity to extend the lead to 2, which is where it stood when the final buzzer sounded. Long Hill 52, Readington 50.

And as I watched my team mob each other in a state of euphoria at mid-court while the crowd cheered around them, I just took it all in. I was so proud of the boys in that moment. To be down 23 points but never give up. Never stop competing. And to WIN!!

They deserved it and I’m just glad I was there to witness it.

Coach Joe Moran

Modern coaching and mentoring