Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Alsip

When your team always loses

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The headlines in my area are about embattled Chicago Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro and embattled Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose tenures might be growing ever shorter because their troubled teams appear to be getting worse by the day. Given my experience so far with my basketball team, I feel their desperation.

No, the Alsip (Ill.) Park District does not have a general manager ready to pull the trigger on me, nor have I appeared on the back of a local tabloid newspaper with someone yelling I have to go, nor has been registered. Yet.

But like Del Negro and Smith, I am dealing with a team that is circling down the dirty toilet drain of losing.

I have coached teams that have lost more than they won — a lot more. But I have never coached a team that seemed so dispirited about it, and I’m not sure what to do. Sure, fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball is not the NBA. I’ve got a lot of kids who have never played organized basketball before, and what I’m afraid of is the losing is sapping any love they might develop for the game. Their body language, increasingly, seems to give that message.

I’ve tried to make the point that the scoreboard doesn’t matter. I’ve tried to make the point that if they play as hard as they’re capable of, if they are good teammates, if they hustle, the scoreboard will take care of itself. But I can see the body language of my team when we start another game down 6-0 or 8-0 in the blink of an eye. For a few games, the kids worked hard to come back, and lost by only a basket. Now, five games in, they don’t have that same spunk to come back, and the losing only gets worse.   On Saturday, we lost to a team by 15 that we had previously only lost to by 2.

Vinny Del Negro and Lovie Smith know what I’m talking about.

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We’re the perfect lodger, the perfect guest.

I don’t mean to keep the focus on winning and losing. But what’s happening is because of their reaction to losing, I feel like I’m failing in my goal — making every kid on that team a better basketball player. I’ve tried cajoling. I’ve tried pushing. I’ve tried being angry. I’ve tried being nice. I’ve tried letting them know how much I care. I’ve tried letting them know how good I think they are and can be. I’ve tried to make it fun. I’ve tried not saying anything. But nothing works to get them motivated to keep their heads up and not feel the strain of losing.

One big difference between myself and Vinny Del Negro is that on my level, it’s not assumed that players are supposed to care about their basketball development. I have a lot of kids for whom this year might be their only year.

I hate to draw big parallels between basketball and this game we call life, but that might be last straw to get them to at least feel better about themselves and give the game, and themselves, a sporting chance. What I want them to know is that no matter what the scoreboard says, they are not losers. Not to me. And that there is a valuable lesson to be learned through this.

When faced with a losing streak — whether it’s in school, with your personal life or in basketball — you have two choices. You can fight, or you can give up. Often, the instinct is to give up, because fighting is too hard. You might still lose. But only one decision GUARANTEES you’ll lose — and that decision is giving up. Sometimes the decision you make to fight something now doesn’t result in winning now — but fight enough, and you will win.

Am I crazy for wanting to tell them this? I just want to make sure they enjoy the rest of the season, and come back for another one.

Then again, if the issue is that a lot of them, in the end, just don’t care that much about basketball, then there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. As a youth coach, the guilty feeling you always have is that you’re the reason they don’t care.

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Not what you want as the official post-practice song.

Written by rkcookjr

December 13, 2009 at 11:34 pm

My kids want to join a dodgeball league

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2433367818_f220ac594eThe park district where I coach my daughter’s basketball team has another offering for the winter: a youth dodgeball league for fourth- to eighth-graders. My seventh-grade son and my fifth-grade daughter are chomping at the bit (whatever that bit might be) to join, as are my eighth-grade and fifth-grade nephews (not pictured in the Joe W. Sorenson photo above, taken from Flickr.)

But wait, you say. Isn’t dodgeball, as the great Patches O’Houlihan put it, a game of violence, exclusion and degradation? Isn’t this the sport being banned from gym classes because it causes so much bullying and pain? Are my kids and nephews oversized sadists because they want to chuck rubber balls with full force at kids to hear that satisfying “poonk” sound when ball meets flesh? Well, yes, yes, and let me get back to you on that last one.

I am not one of those parents who believes that there’s direct line of pussification between banning dodgeball and our president bowing before other world leaders. It turns out that while some of us have horrible memories of oversized pieces of beef bouncing balls off our heads at 150 mph at a 10-foot distance, a lot of kids happens to like that game. Yes, dodgeball leagues aren’t just for nostalgic adults anymore.

A dirty little secret of dodgeball is that some schools still play it in gym class, such as the one my kids attend. It turns out, my kids, no behemoths, love the game. So much so, my backyard in the summer is turned into an ersatz league. My kids have their friends over, line up every ball they can find in the middle of the yard, and have at it. My first-grade son plays with the big kids, too (though they do take care not to save their hardest shots for him). The 2004 Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller epic “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” is frequently played in my house, which is why I know of Patches O’Houlihan, seven-time American Dodgeball Association of America all-star.

The appeal of dodgeball is its simplicity — take a ball and chuck it. Well, maybe the satisfaction of violence, too. But as a sport, it’s hardly more violent than, say, football. As of yet, no one is doing studies on the alarming rate of dodgeball concussions, though I think Todd Brammer in ninth grade nearly gave me one when he hit me in the head, which then bounced off the back wall. (I wasn’t decapitated. I went back to grab a ball and learned a valuable lesson in keeping your head up. Anyway, in high school we also played the far more violent wallball, which involved two teams of about 30 sophomore boys running on their needs in a small area of the wrestling gym to try to press a ball against a small square in the wall for a goal, and you could do anything — I mean, anything — to stop the movement of the ball or players. I ended up having my right, nonthrowing wrist broken when a guy followed through with his head after I followed through on a throw. To add insult to injury, the school nurse twisted my wrist in a circle to find out if it hurt — um, yes — and then sent to me lunch, as if salisbury steak and gravy had magical healing powers.)

(Sorry for the long parenthetical. Back to dodgeball.)

For the league in question — only $25 a head, cheap to join a team — the kids will spend the first three weeks learning rules and practices before teams are picked, and games begin. Three weeks of rules and practice? I don’t remember dodgeball being that complicated. Maybe it takes time to absorb the five D’s of Dodgeball, or maybe the coach will throw a wrench at the kids and tell them that if they can dodge a wrench, they can dodge a ball. (Dodgeball movie references, if you hadn’t guessed.)

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Say it with me kids: the five D’s of dodgeball are dodge, dive, dip, duck and dodge.

While I think my kids and nephews will enjoy the league, I hope the sport doesn’t get too formalized and ruin the fun everyone has in my back yard. Unfortunately, I have to impress upon my kids that the chances of going pro are slim, because there is a professional dodgeball league. I’ll look for the National Dodgeball League on ESPN8: The Ocho.

Written by rkcookjr

December 11, 2009 at 9:53 pm

For my birthday, I got rushed by an angry basketball parent

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Yesterday (Nov. 28) was my 40th birthday. Thank you, thank you very much.2843766094_6020f8c97f

On my birthday, I got the present of not being kicked in the balls by an angry parent as I coached my daughter’s basketball game. No, the angry parent was not my wife.

In the second quarter, out of the corner of my eye I see one of my assistants rushing to push back what appeared to be an angry mother who rushed from the other side of court, around the north basket and in the direction of your humble blogger.

All I heard was: “I didn’t pay $80 to have my kid sit on the bench!” Then I saw one of my assistants restraining and pushing this mom back.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“That was my daughter,” he said.

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Not what actually happened.

What happened was, I took one of my players out of the game. To rest. To give other players time because this is a fifth- and sixth-grade coed league where everyone is supposed to get equal time. And apparently his mother got ticked, particularly because, in her view, she was tired of seeing our team lose (we’re now 0-4, with two close losses and two blowouts, including one on my birthday) while other, suckier players than her son were on the floor.

I’ve been fortunate in my youth coaching career that I’ve overwhelmingly dealt with parents who are friendly and supportive. I guess this woman’s birthday present was to show me a little bit of all the horror stories you hear about from other coaches. Gift accepted!

Written by rkcookjr

November 29, 2009 at 4:42 pm

You always remember your first…

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…sports injury. Below is my 11-year-old son, pictured (thanks to my cruddy cellphone camera) at the Palos Immediate Care in Palos Heights, Ill., about 90 minutes after he rolled his foot off another player’s foot in the third quarter of the consolation game of the Alsip Park District 7th-8th grade coed league playoffs. (My son got in on a special 6th-graders-allowed exemption.) He made sure to tell everyone here that he misdirected the shot he defended as he got hurt, and that his team won. (And he even wondered about getting back in the game. Given we had no trainer with a cortisone needle, no.) Diagnosis: sprained right foot.