Coaching kids? Start with jelly donuts

Going downtown for a hail Mary pass into the bucket.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very athletic. I made this realization in the third grade, when I was knocked unconscious 32 times playing dodge ball. After that first game, I remember waking up in the nurse’s office and being told of a special program for “gifted” athletes who were so special they got to wear a football helmet during recess.

Of course, I eventually figured out there was no “special program,” and openly expressed my feelings of betrayal when I slammed my helmet on the desk of my high school counselor.

After which I was taken to the hospital with a broken finger.

I live with the memory of being an unathletic child on a daily basis. Particularly when I look in the mirror and see a man whose head still fits into a third-grade football helmet. For this reason, when my daughter asked me to coach her fourth-grade basketball team, I smiled, took her hand, and began faking a seizure. I panicked at the thought of providing guidance to a team of fourth-grade girls, any one of whom could “take me to the hole.”

This includes my daughter, who has inherited a recessive “athletic” gene I call the “monkey factor” because, apparently, it leaps entire family trees.

You see, neither side of our family is particularly athletic. This is officially documented in video of my Dad and me playing one-on-one basketball. To the outside observer, it appears to be footage of two heavily-medicated adults trying to catch the Wal-Mart happy face.

Of course, none of this mattered to my daughter; she just wanted Dad to coach her team. Knowing this attitude would eventually change (possibly by the end of our first practice), I made the decision to put aside my own petty fears and be her team’s coach. In addition, I also put aside some petty cash for psychological treatment later.

To prepare myself as coach, I read books about fundamental basketball skills. I talked with other coaches. I installed a tiny basketball hoop over the trash can in my office. Before long, I had gained confidence knowing that with hard work and determination, someone would be able to undo the damage I was doing.

For our first practice, we worked on free throws and lay-ups. I chose these areas because, as everyone knows, they are the most common — and easiest ways — of scoring a basket.

Unless you are me.

As it turns out, repeatedly sending a wad of paper through a six-inch hoop over your trash can doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sink a regulation basketball from the free throw line.

Particularly if your entire team and most of its parents are watching, in some cases using phone cameras to send live images to friends while laughing hysterically. Confident that I had taught my team an important lesson in determination, humility, and the value of having a “shared minutes” plan, we moved on to lay-ups. It was at this point I asked parents to please put their phone cameras away. In addition to the distraction it was causing, there were also safety issues to consider since many parents had now moved under the backboard to get a better angle.

When practice ended a week later (okay, but it felt like a week) we joined hands and reached an important understanding as a team:

The coach has no “game.”

Apparently, my players don’t see this as a problem. What matters to them most is if I can be trusted, as their coach, to coordinate the snack rotation. I assured them I could, and things have gone well ever since.

They bring “game,” I bring jelly donuts.

My daughter and I are both happy with this arrangement, which has nothing to do with sugary baked goods.

The fact is, we don’t even like jelly donuts.

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2 thoughts on “Coaching kids? Start with jelly donuts

  1. “What matters to them most is if I can be trusted, as their coach, to coordinate the snack rotation.”

    Because winning doesn’t matter. Nor does fashionably coordinated matching footwear. It’s the polyunsaturated fats that count. 😛

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