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Copyright 2017 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


"Good luck."

That was my introduction to basketball coaching. That and the gym keys. It took awhile to achieve a winning percentage.

But in the 15 or so years since, I've coached kids from second-graders at the YMCA through middle school and now high school CYM Catholic league. I've learned many lessons along the way - mostly the hard way. For those just starting on coaching journeys, here are a few thoughts.

You're not Bobby Knight - don't act like him. The middle and high school years are hard on kids - grades, jobs, driving, dates, bullies and oh yeah, hormones. The last thing they need is some fool screaming his head off at them because of: A) His ego; or B)He expects to eventually get the head coaching position at Georgetown. Further, kids are impressionable (I still blame my high school cross country coach for much of my misbehavior.) If you play the jerk, you're likely creating at least two more jerks in the world, and then it grows exponentially after that. Be insistent, but be controlled.

You think they're going to play your way; the reality is just the opposite. You need to figure out, fast, what they're good at and set up your plans to take advantage of that. Know what they're not so good at, too, and stay away from it.

You need to show them enough wins to build their confidence. Back to that coping thing: confidence is a great way to create well-adjusted kids. Further, they're only going to trust you if you can show them how to win. So find a way to get them a few. If they're young and taking their lumps, tell them that: We're going to have a good team next year.

Ride the best players just enough in a close game. As soon as a sizable lead opens, either way, give the others the bulk of the time.

Don't pull a kid for making a mistake. You'll only make the nervous ones more nervous. But have some rules. I pull kids if they're throwing up garbage or walking down the court.

Do pull a kid if he or she loses control. When they get visibly ruffled, get testy with other players or start digging at the ref, tell them to sit down and settle down. You can't let the situation escalate. Besides, once they get rocked, kids play terribly. But no benching is ever final.

Lay off the refs. I tell my kids that if a game comes down to one call, we can think of 50 mistakes we made in that game, 50 things we could have done better. Don't blame somebody else. Most of the refs want to see players do well; they'll stop by after the game and say "Wow, you've got some good shooters," or such. Encourage that. In a way, they're teachers, too. Yes, there are bad ones, and if they're very bad, maybe the league needs to know. Otherwise, shut up and play.

Make it fun. Maybe 25 boys in a class - nationwide - are playing for the NBA. For the rest of us, it's fun. Let them know that it's something they can do for life, for conditioning's sake and social involvement. Let them play a little along the way.

Thinking back on all the teams I've had, I think coaching the little ones was most fun. At times I'd look around and say, "Hey, why do I have only three players on the court?" Well, one would be off hugging his mommy, and another would be over at the drinking fountain. The focus just wasn't there. But the laughs were.

Keep it that way.

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December 13, 2017


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