This is my second year coaching a Lagrange Town Basketball League. For many who know of the league, you probably remember it being some of the best days. Why? Because it was fun. You played basketball with kids from school, your coach kind of let you do whatever and you got to shoot the rock. For me, I played to win as a kid. I was good, if you gave me the ball I was going to take over and score, why? Because I wanted to win, I was taught to win at all cost. As I have grown from a kid to a young man, I see things differently. I believe winning is good, but as long you are winning small victories for who you are and what you want to be. For me, my small victories are being a good person, always seeing the best in people and always trying to leave my impact. I consider coaching these nine young men a victory through a game of basketball as they help me continue to find my own greatness.
For these guys, we all just met. Some are friends, two are brothers and others are just newly arranged teammates, picked by a newly married man (My buddy Garrett) and a man with a creepy mustache (Me). There is a tryout where coaches get to rate these kids by grade letter, so come draft day, you can have the opportunity to have the best team possible in order to win a championship in a town basketball league in Upstate New York in the United States of America. (HAHA) You would think it’s the NBA and Lebron is trying to recruit guys to his team to win a ring. Seriously, it’s a funny sight to see. Anyways.. Yeah... A+ here, B- there, D there.... They are given a grade letter by their talent.
This year Coach Garrett and I actually attended "Ratings Night” where we got to rate players on our own scales. Talk about funny, if you ever get the chance, go to one. If you want to see a bunch of men go crazy over 8th and 9th graders who are good, it’s a free comedy show. "Just trying to win, thats all.” My question is and was, whose trying to win and why?
Luckily, we picked a pretty skilled team this year. We are already 2-2 and I believe we are going to have a successful team if you are counting wins and losses. We might be able to make a championship run, which is funny because I am almost arguing against it, but c’mon it’s still a game... ;)
For me, a win is nice, but like I said, it’s not everything. Last year we won a total of... one game; we were the worst team in the league because I decided to skip "Ratings Night" and draft by best names. Baylee Forrester, Raymond Okeefe...etc... like c’mon, who wouldn't pick those names... I say those two names because they were two great kids who ended up being a pleasure to coach and became so close, I now cut their hair and continue to build a mentor relationship. Truthfully, if I could of drafted each kid from last years team again, knowing I would only have one win, I would have. They were some of the best kids that I have ever met in my life, and felt connected to each and everyone of them. They individually all got better, and enjoyed the game while doing it. I have had three of my previous players say, "I wish I was playing for you" and I return by saying, “So do I,” but that’s life, everyone has to move on as I am trying to and as Coach Garrett tells me, too... (Sorry G, had too ;)). I believe if I am helping, which I believe I was, then I wanted to continue to impact each of those kids lives because on other teams they might not be given the opportunity to learn the right way. Deep down I know their journey continues and they will learn from their new coaches, new teammates and continue to grow, as players and young men.
This years team, we have nine young men in 8th and 9th grade. I am not going to give names, but I am going to number these nine young men to give a better example.
Each young man is different, each young man has a different background that I honestly have no idea about. I don't know what goes on behind the scenes, but what I do know is that they are individually all great kids and I am happy to find my way apart of their lives as I am happy to have them individually walk into mine.
I coach, and will continue to coach because I feel my impact. I don't know what it is or how or why, I just know I am fully me when I am coaching these guys. I, the over thinker I am, is fully present in the short periods of time our lives cross paths through a game of basketball.
Each kid is uniquely them. Honestly, I am having trouble explaining what that means, but if I had to put it in a broad term, I’d say their personalities—quiet vs outgoing vs shy so on and so forth. I guess you can say it’s who they are, but honestly in my opinion, they are so young they really don't know who they are yet. They are just being and that’s what I love about them. They are all such good kids, with positive intentions who shake my hand after every practice and game. They will get to choose who they are and what they want to be with time. Right now they are just kids that want to play then go home and play video games until two in the morning with their friends on a Saturday night. That’s what I did, and what’s wrong with that? They just want to have fun and be interested in things they may end up loving. And that’s my point right there. As I get older it seems like there are more responsibilities, and less time, but I get to see these kids probably about 2 hours, maybe a little more, a week. In this 120 minute window, I am being me completely and I believe they accept me for who I am. I am trying to teach, while also trying to have fun. It’s a tough balance. I want these kids to learn, I want them to get better and I want them to grow together while being taught the right way. Those are my goals, but they are kids and want to have fun, so I continuously stay conscious of my reactions while Gary is shooting the ball from half court while I am trying to teach... I remind myself they are kids, they are here to play, to laugh and pretty much plain and simple, shoot the rock. I am trying to show them that I understand who they are, I understand what they want, and I am trying to teach them fundamentals, team work, individual skills that all relate to to life off of the court.
A lesson at an early age for me was winning. Like I admitted earlier, winning was everything. I played hard and never took it easy. If I didn't win that time, just wait until next time my mentality was. I remember being that kid, and honestly I learned so much from that kid that I will always be thankful for and cannot bash because it’s apart of who I am today. I strive to be the best Barber I can be. I strive to be the best person I can be. Those are the W's I am striving for today.
Every year it seems to be the same story. There is one kid who is just better, maybe more advanced, and the ball just naturally gravitates to them. Just like in music or art, there is always someone who is more talented, or a little better and it’s not something to get mad at or to show off, but something to bring the others together. It’s a way to create a team, or a band if you suggest because you all help each other. This year, I can honestly say I have a few very talented kids, but this year I have one who is different. I can't tell you why or how, but he is a natural leader and a natural athlete. And if you know me, I have always struggled with defining a natural leader. Like what makes one, why are they natural, why do people gravitate towards them without wanting it? This year, I have one and he is so natural that it almost makes me mad because he doesn't see his greatness just like the other eight kids.
They all shy away from their strengths because they have never been taught to believe in their individual skills properly. And it’s sad because deep down that is truly what each kid needs, what all of us need. Direction.
For example, #25 plays scared and is afraid to use his body and size. #33 is a natural leader and is trying to make everyone happy, so he passes too much in order to make his teammates happy and apart of the game. #77 might be the best player on the floor, but easily gets distracted and gets lost when he is not part of the game. #99 is small, and is afraid to be in control. #76 is new to playing with a team and shoots everytime he touches the ball. #00 is learning basic fundamentals. #39 is a great athlete, but his mentality is negative and it affects the way he plays. #99 is very good at one on one, but struggles passing and trusting his weak hand and teammates. #88 is and can be so good, but has never truly been taught how to play his position or the game of basketball.
After four practices and three games they all have been told what they need to work on. Sometimes I think I am being too tough, but isn't that that point. To be honest, to help them each develop? I make it a point to tell them (not yell) what they need to do to be a better player and teammate from my experience and love of basketball. And honestly they all listen, they want to listen. Yes..... even when Gary is chucking the ball off of the backboard yelling, "Coach watch this" he is suprisingly listening.... Because while it is just a game, it isn't just a game. It’s so much more in a period of their lives where structure, guidance and good people are tough to come by.
As I drift off again, my main focus has been to tell you how each kid on the team seems not to be afraid of their weakness, but their greatness. They are all afraid of being who they are, they are afraid to take that shot, they are afraid to get physical, they are afraid to be a leader, they are afraid to take over and they are afraid to trust. They are already such good teammates who look out for one another and as the ball naturally gravitates towards the best player, I try to remind them that maybe one player has not shot this quarter or one hasn't gotten a rebound to remind them to be conscious of one another on and off of the court. They all want each other to succeed because they understand how it feels not to shoot the ball, or not to be the guy who touches the ball or wins the game. My goal is to individually compliment them on their own little victories. Things they accomplished or have improved in a short period of time, while being stern when they don't live up to what they can do and should be doing. I am not asking them to dunk or to score 50 points, but I do expect them to do what they are capable of. Get better, learn the game and play together.
Quick story of individually learning and getting better. We were winning by 30 points and I scheduled my best 5 to be in for the last quarter and because I knew that would be our best chance to win. (Sounds contradictory but everyone plays and sits evenly) I did not know we would be winning like this so I asked Coach Garrett what to do. Do I play the less talented players another quarter so they could gain more live experience and confidence in their individual weaknesss? After a few minutes of thinking about it, Garrett and I switched a skilled player out for a lesser one to give him more opportunity. Honestly, I was nervous that there was the possibility of blowing the game and LOSING. Whistle blows, quarter starts, it’s our ball and we inbound it. We dribble up the court swing the ball around the arch, pass it down low to the kid I just put in and he scores, it was so natural it was almost unbelievable. It was his first basket of the game other then two free throws he hit. I looked at Garrett and I said "That’s a sign, we did the right thing.” As I look back who was I trying to win for? Me or the kids? Thankfully, I picked the kids this time and hope to continue to do so.
In the end, I know the impact I am making and I hope to continue to by passing it along. My question to you, is, are you? Are you completely being you and leaving a positive impact on others around you? Are you teaching lessons you learned through something you are knowledge about? If not, I say go for it, challenge yourself to be better, challenge yourself to be more. Challenge youself to be the best you, and no longer feel the need to fit in or win for yourself. I say Be You because YOU have something to offer the world and only YOU know it.
From, A kid himself, Sam Loussedes.