When it came time to register our boys for the YMCA youth basketball season, I made the decision I wasn't going to coach them this year. I'd just finished coaching their flag football teams, my work schedule had been hectic, and something was simply pushing me to take a break. I'll be honest, there was nothing challenging about the idea of taking a break from coaching. It was a Starbucks Doubleshot Expresso just thinking about a season off. What was challenging, though, what did make the decision agonizing, was thinking about someone other than me coaching our boys.
After all, I'm the perfect coach for them, right? I'm the only one who knows the strengths they need to build on and the weaknesses they need to overcome. Is there another coach alive who could motivate them to do either? Absolutely not. I'm their dad. I know them best. After spending nearly a decade with both of them, it's pretty clear to me - and the rest of the world I assume - that I'm the secret ingredient both of our boys need to absolutely own the road to success.
No - no matter how badly I needed a break, it would be downright selfish if I allowed someone else to disrupt the progress of my future NBAers.
I wish I was inventing the thoughts above to fit into an entertaining basketball story. But I'm not. Each of those thoughts went through my head at least once as I weighed whether or not to coach Elliott and Ian's basketball teams. Now, lest you think my oversized ego has grabbed hold of the whistle dangling around my neck and drug me off to the coaching hall of fame, I need to tell you I laughed each of those delusions off as quickly as they popped into my head. Still, I can't get around it, I fed myself far more reasons why I needed to coach the boys than possible upsides to me sitting this one out. Mainly because I couldn't think of any.
But that was before the season started.
It only took me watching the first couple of practices of the season to admit both of the boys' coaches knew a lot more about basketball than I did. With me the boys got: have the ball pass it or shoot it, don't have the ball go steal it. And oh yea, always hustle. Without me they were getting crossover dribbles and mutliple zone defensive sets, not to mention set that screen and pick and roll. It may be hard to admit that as 2nd and 4th graders Ian and Elliott have advanced beyond my basketball skills coaching wheelhouse, but it doesn't make it any less true.
It also became pretty clear I wasn't the only one who could root for the boys' success. Ian's coach, Coach Wilcox, knew which boys hadn't scored a basket yet as we approached the end of the season. So a couple of weeks ago he spent the entire practice making those boys shoot the ball as soon as they had it in their hands. Over and over. "You can't score if you don't shoot," he told them. "And if you don't score, you're not going to have fun. So shoot the ball!"
The very next game Ian shot the ball. And he scored. We were out of town at a wedding, but it was pretty cool getting the text message from grandma giving us the good news. I'm also not sure seeing it could have been as exciting as listening to Ian give us a play by play description of the big bucket later that day. I also loved hearing grandma talk about Ian's coach jumping up in the air and pumping his fist after Ian put the ball through the net.
There's a lot of value in our kids seeing other coaches cheer them on.
There was also the moment in one of Elliott's games when one of his teammates knocked the ball out of bounds. The referee made a mistake and awarded the ball back to Elliott's team. Elliott's coach, Coach Tolliver, immediately jumped in and told the referee - quite respectfully - that he'd made a mistake and the ball should actually go to their opponents. The referee nodded and put the ball in the right hands.
I was floored by that. It was the right thing to do. I hope it's the thing I would have done. I know it was the perfect thing for Elliott to see: doing the right thing isn't just something his dad preaches, it's something plenty of other men and women actually do.
Sometimes good things come to people who do good things like that. This past weekend Elliott's team played in the first round of the playoffs. They were the lowest seeded team. They were playing a team that was undefeated and seeded the highest. Long story short - Elliott's team won. I was moved by how emotional Coach Tolliver was on the sidelines. Over and over he kept telling the boys "I believed in you. I just knew you could do it." After the game he told the boys, "I don't even care if we win the championship now. You've already showed me what you're made of and I'm proud of you all."
I've watched Coach Tolliver all season. I know he meant that.
As the season ends, I know both of our boys are better basketball players and they both took steps away from being boys and toward being young men. That's all I can ask for out of a coach. Whether it's me, or someone else.