My teams on the floor! (Part II of III)

2 Jul

This is Part II of a III-part blog post.  Part I precedes this. if you have not read Part I in strongly encourage you to scroll down and read part I before continuing.  The message will be far more powerful if you read the story in it complete form. With that said I now present Part II of our story!

PART II -“My teams on the floor!”

So there we sat, the three of us, sipping our diet Cokes and talking about Coach Phillip and his team. I began to offer some advice….

“Coach,” I said, “what if I told you that the problem was not the kids but, rather, the problem is with you…would that upset or surprise you”? No”, he said, I may be the problem… but either way I still don’t know how to fix it”. No worries, I said,…”I can help you but before I go on let me tell you a story I think will illustrate things in a way that will be very enlightening…do you mind?” I asked. “Not at all…please do,” he said…so I went on.

“Coach, years back I heard a story about a basketball coach that changed my life. In fact, the story was the bases for a movie called Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman that came out about twenty-five years ago…have you seen it?” I asked.  No”, he said, “I’ve heard of it but I’ve never seen it…should I”, he asked? “Right away” I said…“In fact, when we’re done here today I recommend you go right out and rent it and watch it tonight….I think you’ll be amazed. In the meantime, let me tell you about one specific moment in the movie that I believe will reach you in the same manner it did me”.  He perked up in his chair “I’m ready….go ahead,” he said with a slight smile…”tell me…..

The story goes like this:

Basketball in Indiana is king. In the small towns, like the one where the story takes place, basketball is everything. Sports bind these towns together and everyone is involved one way or another. The players themselves are superstars and winning the State title is the most coveted award possible. Some years back, in the 1950’s, there was a small town that had a basketball team with only seven players on it. One of the boys was exceptionally talented but, by-in-large, the rest of the boys were good kids but average basketball players, at best, and as a team they had little real prospect of ever winning the title against the bigger schools in the State.  Nonetheless, every year the entire town got behind the team and in years past the team was competitive and did well. The coach was beloved by everyone in the town. He was the coach for more than twenty-five years but, unfortunately, he’d fallen ill that spring and unexpectedly passed away just before the start of the new season, leaving the team without a coach. When the coach passed everyone mourned the loss and also wondered who would replace him. Rumors were rampant and word spread that the principal had hired an old friend to take the job… but no one knew who he was, where he was from or what he had done in the past. Needless to say, the town was on edge and the entire place was abuzz …and worried…about what a new coach might mean and bring to the school. Small towns do not like change…that’s why people live there.

So, on the first day of the season as the new coach arrived at the gym for practice one of the previous coaching assistants had started practice, running it the way they had for some twenty-plus years. Seeing this, the new coach instantly stopped practice and told the assistant coach that “his services would no longer be needed”.  Stunned, the assistant didn’t know what to say and again the coach asked him to leave the gym. It was clear that the new coach was not there to make friends and that he was nothing like the beloved old coach.  After the assistant left the coach gathered the boys and began to introduce himself. As he did, two of the boys started chatting just out of ear-shot under their breaths. Immediately the coach stopped and ordered the two boys off the court and told them not to return until they could be quiet when he was talking. By this time the remaining boys were stone silent…and in shock. In less than three minutes the new coach had fired the only assistant and kicked two of the boys off the team, leaving just five. It all seemed crazy and it was most certainly not the start anyone had hoped for.

With the five remaining boys the coach put them through drills and began preaching his philosophy to them. Order, discipline and “TEAM” were the order of every practice.  The coach was ridged, hard and demanding and as practices went on the boys discovered that among the coaches “unique” philosophies about basketball was his absolute insistence that no shot EVER be taken unless the ball had been passed at least four times before taking ANY shot.  Four passes before any shot…there were no expectations…it was the law and no one seemed to understand exactly why.

So day-after-day and week-after-week the coach drilled them on the fundamentals and order, discipline, TEAM. Practice was grueling and tedious. Day-after-day they repeated the same drills over and over while the coach continually demanded they pass the ball four times before any shot was taken. They practiced it so much they could count to four in their sleep.

On the night of the first game it seemed like everyone in town was there. The gym was packed and there was an air of excitement and anticipation in the room.  What would the new coach be like? How would the team do? Who was this man and are the rumors true about his crazy philosophies and this “four pass rule” they’d all been hearing about? By this time one of the boys who the coach had originally kicked off the team that first day of practice had apologized and returned leaving them with six players. After the coach spoke to them in the locker room one last time, the team headed down the hallway leading to the gym. With each step the crowd noise grew louder and louder and when the boys broke through the double-doors and entered the gym the crowd rose to its feet and the entire place went wild. The pressure was on!

Interestingly, one of the unique things about the gym and what made the atmosphere feel so intense was that the gym was constructed in such a way that the stands were very close to the floor but elevated above the gym court so as to almost allow onlookers to look down on the court. This gave the feeling the crowd was bearing down right on top of the players giving a very loud and intimidating feeling to the place….if you know what I mean. It felt very intimate.

Right from the get-go it was clear that the boys were struggling. A new coach, a new system and, especially, his strange four pass rule. The boys fell behind from the first tip-off and as the game wore on it wasn’t getting any better.

By halftime, the team had fallen behind by a large margin. As the buzzer for halftime sounded and the boys ran off the court towards the locker room, the towns folk booed and it was clear the new coach and his philosophies were not sitting well with them. In the locker room the players were confused and losing faith in their new coach and his ideas. Yet, the coach implored them, “stick to the fundamentals, remember what we’ve practiced” and then holding up his fingers he said, “how many times will we pass the ball before we shoot…”4” said the boys. “How many” said the coach “4” said the boys? Then let’s do it and the boys headed back out for the second half.

Part III tomorrow

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