Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Coach's gifts

This past Saturday I finished coaching my fourth season of basketball. I've coached the boys through two years of kindergarten basketball and both years of first and second grade ball.

I've never been one of those coaches to take everyone out for pizza or even give them something like a goodie bag (I won't even give out goodie bags at my own children's birthday parties so clearly I won't give them to a team). However, since the boys play baseball and two seasons of soccer (spring and fall) I've been a non-coaching parent enough to know that with every other sports team I've been asked to chip in for a gift for the coaches. The collection usually gets a store gift card but at times has purchased a coach's jacket or other significant item from the team.

I've never gotten a "collection" present. And this year, with embarrassment, I was bothered by that.

In the past I have gotten several sweet single gifts and clearly the cards written in wobbly second grade handwriting is more sincere (even with mom lording over the kid) than a gift card.

This year's team was an interesting bunch. We started with 8 players and ended up with 7 regulars. Two of the second graders had never played basketball and one of those had never played organized sports. The first graders ranged from complete newbies to one of those phenoms that I always seem to have. A kid who just seemed to be born with the innate ability to get a ball in a basket.

Then my two guys. We had a much better season. They were more tolerant of me giving other kids my attention and towards the end started playing the team captain role - setting up plays, encouraging teammates and even intentionally giving the ball to players who didn't always get a pass.

But my struggle was with the second grader who had never played any organized sport. He was tall for his age and just a natural for grabbing those rebounds. But he would stand under the net with only one hand up and not looking at the ball. He wouldn't run down the court. He walked off the court several times in the middle of plays complaining that no one would pass him the ball.

Each time I explained to him that he needed to hustle. If he would only hustle down the court I would yell to the team to pass the ball. I pointed out that the team ball hog got the ball because he was the first down the court. I pointed out that I yelled for the shortest guys to get the ball because he ran. But this player just wouldn't try. Or couldn't.

At one point I asked him if he liked video games and he nodded with a smile. I guessed that he had to work on some levels and would fail to move up but kept trying. I compared that to basketball.

"Yeah, well, video games are fun" was his reply. Clearly saying that basketball wasn't.

I think that was where I was stumped. I am the mom of three kids who will try just about anything. If I sign them up for something they will do it with full gusto and enthusiasm. The world is big and fun and theirs for the taking. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to get this kid to see the world as fun. Not that basketball is the world, or that only athletes have fun, but there were kids who would never be professional ball players but just threw themselves into the joy of running, of jumping, of being a part of something.

Saturday came and Mr Born-to-Play-Ball was sporting a new black headband with the hometown team's emblem. He ran up to me, tossed a green headband still in its wrapper and ran away. His dad rolled his eyes and came up to explain they had gone to his first hometown team basketball game Friday night. He asked his dad if they could get me a headband. His delivery was one of the best gift-giving I ever had.

As we started to warm up the guy who troubled me showed up not in his team jersey. His mom explained he wouldn't be playing today but she handed me a box. A box from Build-A-Bear. The previous Tuesday they had gone to the mall and he made me a Bear in the hometown team's uniform with a little basketball. I leaned down and told him he could be a great player. Try to see it as fun. He smiled and walked off the court and out the door.

As the game ended one mom who had been working on a project handed me a recently finished bracelet in our team colors. Another mom handed me a mug with "My Coach is the M.V.P." full of little chocolates wrapped as basketballs.

The final kid walking off the court came up to me to thank me. He had been our littlest player, always trying to make a basket. With a help from the other coach (he yelled at his team to put their hands down), our little guy made his only basket of the season right before the game ended. That little man gave me a hug.

Those are the gifts that matter. The heartfelt ones. The lifting a kid up after he makes his first ever game basket. The hugs. My sons looking out for other boys.

I hope I never get a collection gift.


Patois said...

I tried to leave you a comment but it hates me. "It" being whatever you want "it" to be.

Anyway, I wanted to say these gifts outweigh any collection one I've ever seen.

Brillig said...


And secondly, those gifts are so sweet, so sincere. What a wonderful experience-- for all of you!