This year, for the first time in my life, I coached 7th grade girls basketball. I was the 7th grade girls coach for both the “A” and “B” teams at Homedale Middle School and had a total of 14 young women between the two teams that I had the honor of coaching and spending time with the last 2 months. Our season finished yesterday, the “A” team took second in our conference tournament, and as I have reflected over the season the past few days, I thought I would share some thoughts.
First for some statistics, the “A” team finished the season with a record of 9-3, and like I have already shared we finished 2nd place in the season ending tournament. As a team we averaged 23.33 points per games, while holding our opponents to an average of 18.41 points per game. Only once did an opponent score 30 or more points on our defense. We didn’t keep any other measurable basketball statistics, but from observation I can assure you that these girls improved in every facet of the game over the course of the year.
The “B” team finished the season with a record of 3-7, but this record does not reflect how much they grew as individual players and as a team. Six of the eight girls on this team had never played competitive basketball before and their understanding of the game grew tremendously over the course of the year. Observing them all season, from the first day of practice to the last game, it was incredible to see how much they improved in such a short amount of time. Some of them even fell in love with the game, which warms my heart greatly. A statistical observation I did make to track their progress was the margin of defeat, or victory, the second time we played each team. The margin of defeat was way less the second time we played teams, and in one case we turned a 30 point loss the first time we played in to a victory the second time around. Each of the girls on this team greatly improved as basketball players.
Not important but possibly of interest, my winning percentage as a coach is now at 78%.
Now for some other, more relevant, thoughts, as they pertain to coaching, coaching like Jesus, and working with young people.
As I drove away from the middle school gym last night I was struggling with our defeat. Usually, I shake losses pretty easy, but this one was lingering. I went through my thoughts to try and figure out why. Was it because I don’t like to lose? Yes this is true. To quote my good friend, Mike Matteson, “I love to win, but I hate to lose.” Was it because we loss to Fruitland? Yes absolutely, sorry to all of my Fruitland friends who might be reading this, I hate losing to Fruitland. While these two reasons impacted how I felt I think the real reason I was struggling to get over the loss was because I felt bad for the girls. They worked so hard all year, and I wanted them to come out on top.
I was also struggling with more than just losing the game. I always dislike the end of the season because the end of the season always ends so abruptly and the season ending means I don’t get to spend time every day with my players anymore. I was sad because I knew my routine would now change, and I wouldn’t get to see these girls every day anymore. This is one of the reasons I focus on loving the players and developing a relationship with them so that even though the season may end the relationship with the players does not end. The way I see it, if I coach a player once at any point in their life, I am their coach for life. I will always see them as my player, I will always be there for them, and I will always try to encourage and love on them.
I always get emotional during the last game and in the locker room afterwards. Usually at the end of season awards banquet as well. I get too attached, I love the boys and girls I have the honor of coaching as my own, and I want what is best for them. After the last game, in the locker room, I always try to say a few words, and last night those words were hard to get out.
Last night, I even started crying during the game. I always have something to say to my players when they foul out. Usually I say something along the lines of “congratulations, you used all five of your fouls, good job.” Last night, two of my players fouled out, and I don’t really remember what I said to them I just remember that I choked up while I was saying it.
I think this is what happens when coaching is about more than just the game. You get attached. You love the players. You care about the players. You want what is best for them. Kind of like being a parent, I guess.
As a father I only have sons, 3 of them. Heidi, my wife, says it is good that I coach girls, because coaching them helps me be a better person. In many ways they become like daughters to me, at least that’s how I see them. I also recognize that it is a good thing that I don’t have my own biological daughters I would be way to over protective with them. I have coached girls in track the last 4 years and have had a cool opportunity to connect with them they indeed are part of my family. I guess I just gained 14 more family members.
At the beginning of the season I told the girls, as I do with all of my basketball teams, that they were to work hard, have fun, and love and respect each other. They did a good job of all three. As a coach I told them my job was to love them. I’ve gotten a lot better at expressing this love verbally to my players over the years. I have no problem saying I love you to my wife or sons, but when I first started coaching didn’t know how that would come across to my players. Now, I don’t care. Now I just tell the young people I coach that I love them, because I just don’t want them to know, I want them to hear it too. Sometimes I tell the whole team at once, and sometimes I tell them on an individual basis. The cool thing is when they say it back.
In my mind loving my players and telling them I love them has to do with coaching with love as the foundation as opposed to fear. I would rather coach from a place of love and mutual respect, and I have seen over the last 5 seasons and in the research that I have done that players would rather play for a coach who loves them in a team environment based on love and family, instead of playing for a coach who uses fear as his or her foundation for motivation. Players play harder for themselves, each other, and the coach in a loving team environment.
My final reflections. I was impressed by how hard these young ladies worked. They worked hard in practice and they worked hard in games. They never backed down from any challenge I put in front of them, and they embraced the style of basketball I wanted them to play and thought would give us the best chance at being successful. I’ve been around basketball for a while and I would put this team up there with anyone team I’ve played on or coached in regards to their toughness, determination, and grit. One of the girls is the toughest and most determined player I’ve ever coached, and her teammates are right up there with her.
Like I said I’ve been around the game of basketball for a while. I started playing competitively in the 3rd grade, and played every year through elementary, middle, and high school, before playing three years of college basketball. I have to say this one of the more enjoyable basketball experiences of my life. I didn’t know what to expect going in, and I was a bummed about not coaching at the high school this year, but I can safely say that this is just what I needed as a person and as a coach. These girls helped me be a better coach, and I will always take with me the lessons they taught me this year.
Now, I move on to 8th grade boys. Our season starts after Christmas, and I get to coach my son. I’m excited.
I might have some more reflections later, but this is good for now.