I tend to fall on the under side of coaching and competitive discussions, and I've finally put to words where I stand on a couple of things...the memory of an old friend and my father drew me out to write this today.
I've struggled with the concept of competition for a number of years...which, in discussion we could split a room of little league parents and coaches, resulting in a small cataclysmic event in a short while.
I was a hell of a competitor, and most will still tell you that I still am...This isn't about that competition...its about team competition.
The OKC Thunder slogan is "Team is One"...and a good one at that...I'm not a downer on slogans...but...
Team is something other than a slogan, and Trophies aren't things that just sit on shelves.
Team is about you, a picture of you, either now, or in the past. And what came along with you through the winds of time.
Team to me...well, that's what I've been thinking about. Team is about a time with young men that are gone. They're fat now, most of them, or most of us, anyway...anything but young, and the time has definitely passed us by. Enough, though with my worthless nostalgia, and start with a little story:
You-shoot and Brick were two kids that played recently on a basketball team that I coached. I name them appropriately, and imply no shame to them, only as a descriptive term and leave them nameless. We had a non-competitive league, which I've heard other coaches remark about as developmental, or a feel good league. Personally speaking, I'm a better player and a better coach than any of the men I've ever heard say such things. I'm an aging athlete that has come to realize the value of elevating a human being through sports represents far more attainment than any all-star, or select team ever could.
Out team scored more points than a couple of others, but most days, we were on the struggling end of playing. I was proud of the better kids on our team, because they learned, from me, that our team was about getting shots for everyone, including You-shoot and Brick [something I could have learned at a much younger age]. You-shoot generally wanted to find the most effective solution for the problem, passing to one of the better shooters...tremendously smart kid. You-Shoot even took himself out once, saying he didn't feel well...until his dad made him admit that "the team had a better chance of winning if I sat down". Brick, on the other hand, learned the value system of our society at an early age describing his failure through the words, "I realize I won't score many points, but I want to learn to rebound and play defense". His words betrayed him...he knew his failure would be imminent if he didn't score. Defense and rebounding are concepts above our age group, though I laud his dad for working hard to show him more than scoring. Brick and You-shoot struggled through most every game, but they clocked in, and played the games in practice and I made sure they had fun doing it.
In our final game, we continued our strategy...which drew ire from my assistant from time to time...understandably...I was aiming at a much higher picture, and honestly didn't feel the need to communicate that much about it. We scored as many points as the other team and played hard. We worked the ball around and as you can imagine, You-shoot and Brick both scored a couple of times, by creating their own shots... which helped us come out a few points on top (though we supposedly weren't counting). Both teams and the people in the stands jumped out of their seats each time one of them scored...they knew those kids, it was a small league. That's a trophy. That's a team.
Team is about my high school baseball team... a bunch of guys, some of whom couldn't stand each other, coming together for a common cause. Team was Alan telling coach we were hitting soft tosses, while we were really playing football in the gym, (go figure). Team was Aaron apologizing for something he had done before the whole team to keep from getting kicked off...and Team was us forgiving him and welcoming him back. Team was us learning that our coaches contract hadn't been renewed...and that he'd be leaving at the end of the school year. Team was the guys that didn't really ever get to play much, but when they did...the whole bench wanted to see them hit and score. Team was goofing off on the bus on the way back from games where we lost horribly...or distracting the coach at the quick stop, so one of us could buy tobacco. Team, in a single scene, was a guy who wanted to punch my face in a few days before, talking me under a fly ball that I couldn't see because of the lights...right underneath it. I never saw it until it hit my glove.
You can go see the trophy we won that particular night, a trophy we weren't expected to win. I'm pretty sure it still sits down there somewhere. I don't need to go see it, I lived it. I know what it meant then, and I know what it means now...that together, we can accomplish things that we cannot do alone.
I hope that is what our kids are learning in sports. It doesn't appear that way from the outside. From the outside, it appears that most of the teams I've seen are working very hard to find 5 Kevin Durant's and Russell Westbrook's to fill the court, or 9 Josh Hamilton's, Albert Pujols', or Derek Jeter's to put on the field.
Who do they stand up and cheer for, when there are no Never-shoot's, or Brick's on their team. When each weekend is another weekend tournament for yet another trophy? What exactly are they learning about being on a team with people of different skill levels? Are they learning the value of sacrifice of personal glory to give that light to another?
I learned quite a bit about life in sports...when I was a kid. Some kids need help scoring. Some kids are better than you. Some the same as you...but grew up in a broken home. Some kids had awesome ability, but never had owned a glove before in their life. Some kids I knew borrowed uniforms from kids the year before. Some kids had more expensive gear than our school could afford, and they still stunk.
I grew up as a Warrior, from my high school, and while the school has continued to grow well past the size when I was there...I still keep up with it when I can. I look forward to seeing the people that helped me become better....a better me. Becoming a Warrior was trophy enough for me. I suppose that's the trophy I want for my son for participating....a better him. He doesn't need a ribbon, nor want one...he keeps his little trophies, but doesn't really care for them much.
I suppose I'm not asking for non-competitive sports...I think I'm asking for coaches that compete at coaching their kids...gauging their win / loss record on how far each kid progresses not on games won or lost. Focusing on the kids..asking them, "did they have fun? real fun?" Teaching them to have fun when they lose. Nobody goes undefeated forever..that's rule #1...and every coach should make it their mantra to make sure that no kid ever goes 0 and forever.
I got on this thought from a man known as Old Ben Parker...who once said to me, "Scotty, that boy ain't got much out there, and he's sure funny to watch....but, damn, he gives it all, every shot."
Of course he was talking about a father of four at an old man's alumni game...but I think he was talking more than just basketball....miss you Ben.