From The Bench

By: T.W. Winslow

When there was a lack of people interested in coaching my son's 5th and 6th grade city recreation basketball team this season, my wife volunteered me. As a kid, I wasn't the greatest player to have ever graced the basketball court, so I was a bit apprehensive about serving as a coach. However, as there seemed to be no one else available, I agreed.

One thing I promised myself at the beginning of the season was that every child would be given equal playing time, no matter their ability, and each would be allowed to play every position. I did this because I remembered how disappointing it was as a player to sit on the bench while the kids with more ability and experience got to play.

This philosophy worked fairly well for the first several games. We weren't the most successful team in the league, but the kids all seemed to be having fun and were improving with each passing game. However, there was one player, I'll call him Brian, who just didn't seem to get it. Nomatter how hard he worked, he continued to struggle with even the most basic skills.

As the season progressed, the only player who hadn't had a chance to play point guard was Brian. For those who don't follow basketball, the point guard is a key position. This is the person who brings the ball down court and sets up the plays. Knowing Brian would have difficulty playing this position, I spent a lot of time working with him during the final practice before that game. Unfortunately, Brian continued to struggle.

As I watched Brian practice, it occurred to me that perhaps Brian's problem wasn't that he lacked the basic knowledge and skill to be a good player, but that he was simply putting too much pressure on himself to perform. I pulled Brian aside and had a long talk with him. I explained that it didn't matter to me if he made mistakes - we all make mistakes. I told him I didn't care if the other team stole the ball from him or if he missed every shot. The only thing I cared about was that he did the best he could and had fun.

When the next game rolled around I could see Brian was nervous about playing point guard. The horn sounded for the players to take their positions and our team ran out onto the court - all except for Brian that is. He walked up to me and said, "I don't know if I can do it, coach." Iknelt down and looked into his frightened eyes and said simply, "I have faith in you. Just do your best. If you do that, no matter what happens,I'll be proud of you." He stared at me for a second without expression, then a grin crossed his face. He turned and ran out onto the court to jointhe rest of his team.

Up to this point, Brian hadn't scored a single point all season. In thepast when he had the ball he made bad passes or otherwise caused aturnover. But this game, things would be different. Suddenly Brian was adifferent player. He called the plays and moved the ball well. When theopportunity presented itself, Brain would drive for the basket, showingconfidence and skill. He still made a few mistakes, and maybe he wasn'tthe best player on the court that day, but when he scored his first basketof the season we all cheered as though he was. He went on to scoreseveral more points that day and each time he did he'd look over to mesitting on the bench and flash me a big smile.

When the final buzzer sounded, we had lost by three points. Brain walkedoff the court and said, "Sorry coach, I guess I let you down." I put myarm around him and said, "If we had won by 100 points, I wouldn't be anymore proud of you than I am at this moment." Leaving the gym that day Icould hear the excitement in his voice as Brian recalled each play of thegame for his parents. As he was walking out the door, Brian paused. Heturned and looked around the room. When he saw me, he gave me the thumbsup sign and mouthed the words, "Thanks, coach."

When I agreed to volunteer as a coach, I assumed it would be only the kidswho would learn the lessons and experience the thrills... I was wrong.

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