The Coaching Bag/Backpack/Satchel

In the next several months it will travel to Texas, Washington D.C., Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, and every county in North Carolina that lacks decent cell phone service.  It will be forgotten on team benches, left in hotel rooms and various convention centers, and abandoned on a bus after a 7-hour ride.  It will narrowly avoid coffee spills, be unceremoniously dropped into Gatorade puddles under the bench, and probably knock an iPad out of the hands of an unsuspecting mom standing between courts 184 and 185.

Oh, the stories my coaching backpack would be able to tell … if it could only talk.  Come to think of it, if it could talk I’d ask it where it put 84 clipboards, about $52.14 in loose change, and every favorite pen I’ve ever owned.

I might joke with my wife about her shoulder-strapped Bermuda Triangle, as she searches for a 20% off Bed Bath & Beyond coupon, spilling an assortment of restaurant mints, sunglasses and old Target receipts in front of an increasingly agitated line of shoppers who are resignedly looking for a register line without anyone holding a purse.  She doesn’t always see the humor in it, and luckily she doesn’t know that my coaching backpack is 10 times worse …

See, I put a lot of things in my coaching backpack but I rarely take anything out of it, which is understandable after stumbling home late Sunday night after 4 days of the convention center pressure cooker.  As the season reaches its midpoint, my backpack accumulates an overwhelming assortment of coaching accoutrement.  To open it would risk a stretch of bad luck (don’t change anything during a winning streak) or, after a difficult day of pool play, a cloud of coaching demons emerging to melt my face (à la Raiders of the Lost Ark).

My backpack only gets cleaned out when it surpasses the 100-lb threshold.  I know it’s there when I struggle to lift it off the bench when switching sides, and eventually decide to leave it there “in case we go to three.”  Yeah, I’m that coach.  Sorry.

I’ve found many unusual things in my coaching backpack, but the low point was the discovery of a several-month old banana last season.  It’s a testament to the space-age sealing power of a Ziploc that it had escaped undetected, but I handled the extrication of this potential environmental disaster with the delicate precision of a hazmat/bomb squad.  In case you’re wondering, a banana that is several months past banana bread stage is well into the fermentation process, but unfortunately does NOT turn into a banana daiquiri. (Or anything that tastes remotely like alcohol. Yes, I tested it. Scientific discovery requires personal sacrifice.)

The following items allegedly may have been recovered during my recent backpack exorcism:

  • Lineups for last year’s team, apparently just in case any of them want to come back and rejoin this year’s team. This is akin to keeping notes from an old flame – I’m constantly in fear of this year’s team finding them and turning on me in a fit of jealous rage, however, throwing them into a trash can just seems wrong.
  • 3 laptop chargers, all for the same laptop, all carried along with the hopes of getting some work done during tournament downtime … yeah, right.
  • The 2009 USAV Rules Book, with the Beach rules ripped out. (Sorry, but does anybody actually read the Beach rules? Don’t we just roll with local custom and folklore?)  For old-timers, we recognize that the 2008 version of the rules are probably more accurate than last year’s book.  I mean, our blockers’ relationship with the net has experienced more on-again, off-again drama than Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.  I’m guessing we’ll be reinstating the serving zone again next year, and my 1995 rule book will be a hot commodity.
  • Over 40 “collectible” ink pens from purveyors of distinguished writing implements such as Embassy Suites and Marriott. Little known fact: hotel pens immediately stop working when you remove them from your hotel room, but you only discover this when you have 12 seconds to enter your lineup.
  • 5 bags of goldfish. I don’t know when I got them, but they tasted just fine.  Much better, in fact, than a 3-month old banana.

There is one sacred space in my backpack that never gets cleaned out: the mysterious “grab bag” pouch of whatever was in my pocket at the end of the day and transferred to my backpack in case of emergency.  Therein lies a coaching treasure chest of hotel key cards, mints, tissues, spare change, pre-wrap and athletic tape, lineup cards, old-school stopwatch, cough drops, wristbands and luggage tags, Starbucks gift cards with $.34 remaining on them, Gatorade chews (yes, I know they’re “just for the athletes”), loose pieces of gum, college coaches’ business cards, hand sanitizer, old broken whistles, long-expired Excedrin migraine pills, miscellaneous lanyards, medals, Eastbay discount coupons, Chapstick, and random pieces of candy.

Protecting this treasure is a variety of handshake gift pins from over the years (thank you Munciana and Borinquen Coquí) that have long ago lost their backings and lie in sharp, pointy anticipation for any unsuspecting hand looking to steal a spiral mint from a Chevy’s restaurant in Texas that closed in the early 2000s.  Luckily, if you fight through the pain and keep digging there are probably Band-Aids in there too.

I’d ask that if you find the above-described backpack during the season please return it to me when we switch benches.  It’d be great if you can clean it out first … but save me the goldfish, just in case we have to stay late for our pool’s 3-way tie.

-Jason Curtis

The Gear

Laid out on my bed, it was almost too beautiful to imagine that it was all mine for the season: white jersey with a major league baseball logo, matching baseball pants with a real, navy-blue belt, and … most important of all … the stirrups.

It was a far cry from my “Caps” level uniform the previous year: red t-shirt with white trim with “JACK IN THE BOX” in white letters ironed-on at a comical angle by a well-intentioned mom, matching trucker hat, and BYOP (Bring Your Own Pants).  Although we lived in shorts year-round in sunny Southern California, one ambitious slide into second on our gravel-strewn basepaths convinced us that pants would prolong our playing careers.  One raspberry on the back of your leg was a badge of courage, a second raspberry was stupidity. For me, my only option was a dependable pair of Sears-bought Toughskins jeans, knees reinforced with at least three layers of stiff patches rendering the pants both completely inflexible, yet bulletproof.

But now, playing in the “Minors” I would finally look like a professional baseball player.  The stretchy pants had a back pocket big enough to fit a batting glove, a full pack of Big League Chew gum (grape flavor), and whatever candy I could get from the snack shack after the game.  The jersey looked like one that a real big-leaguer would wear, not like a craft-store project.  But best of all, there were real, navy-blue stirrups.

For youngsters not schooled in baseball fashion history: players used to wear colored stirrups over their white sanitary socks (poorly named – there’s nothing “sanitary” about athletic socks).  In the late 1970s, major leaguers yanked their stirrups up above their calves with guitar-string tension, and my baseball cards were a glorious assemblage of baseball gods sporting moustaches and knee-high stirrups.  My 9-year-old face might not be able to host a mustache that would make pitchers tremble and 4th grade girls swoon, but my stirrups were clearly ready for prime time.

Everyone in the neighborhood had to know that there was a big-leaguer in their midst.  And so I rode my Huffy to my first game in full uniform, baseball mitt hanging from the handlebars and trying to keep my cleats on the bike pedals and my stirrups out of the chain.  I arrived at the fields with my white socks dotted with black grease marks, but my precious stirrups escaped unscathed.  Undaunted, I continued to wear that uniform every possible moment until the league mercilessly pried it from my fingers at the end of the season.

If you’re complaining about professional athletes who appear not to care about commitment to a franchise or its city, or who have apparently lost the innocent joy of playing sports, there exists in our midst a bunch of young athletes who are thrilled just to wear the jersey.  Let’s cheer for them, and celebrate how excited they are just to get the gear.

Parents: force your child to pose for a super-awkward picture on the front steps in their uniform – you’ll treasure that picture forever.  Coaches: treat the distribution of gear like a medal ceremony, calling up each athlete one at a time and bestowing upon them the incredible privilege of looking like a real, big-time athlete.

And finally, players: it’s totally normal to sleep in your uniform the night before your first game. It’s absolutely acceptable to keep your uniform on as you go get a celebratory milkshake at McDonald’s after the game. It’s even appropriate to keep your jersey and cleats on as you follow your parents through Home Depot while they start on the home improvement projects they delayed while watching your game that morning.  Wear that jersey until you’re sure that everyone knows that you had a game today.

Yes, that jersey means you’re big time.  Enjoy it.

-Jason Curtis

Out?

The stakes were high.  Trophies lined a 6-foot portable folding table outside of the third base line.  The pitch of the crowd suggested the score was close and the inning was late.  A kid–an 8 or a 9 year-old–on the grey team blooped a pop up toward second base.  The green team’s shortstop dove.  There was a cloud of dust and maybe a catch.  The base umpire thought so and signaled “out.”  The home plate umpire had a different angle; he signaled safe.  From my spot beyond the centerfield fence watching a game on an adjacent field, I sided with the home plate umpire.  There was no catch.  It was a great effort, but the shortstop clearly did not catch it.

The umpires met, and I hoped.  This is what I really hoped–that the umpire would go over to the kid shortstop and ask, “Hey, did you catch it?”  And I hoped that the kid would say, “No, I didn’t get it.”  And I hoped that the umpire would say, “Thanks for your honesty. I couldn’t tell from where I was standing.  That’s pretty impressive that you would be truthful even though it didn’t get your team an out.”  Then I hoped that the umpire would signal out and that everyone there–the players, the coaches, the fans–would understand.  That’s what I hoped.

Instead, the umpires talked.  They got the call right even without asking the kid.  And, from what I gathered, the play was not reviewed by the people in New York.  But despite the correct call, the kid’s coach was livid.  I watched in mute being out of earshot.  I saw the coach’s arms flail.  I saw him tear off his hat in frustration.  I saw his anger.  And worse yet, so did the kids.  All of this because the umpires got the call right, just not the way he had wanted.  And not the way I had hoped.

But I hope that when I’m in the situation that I can keep my perspective, my sense of fairness, and my honesty.  And I hope that you will too.

-Dan Schall

The Time in Between

We all experience the “time in between.”  It’s that time spent in your doctor’s office waiting room, stuck in a long line at the DMV, or waiting at a gate for your flight.

It’s the time after you were doing something that mattered, but not quite yet when you’ll start doing something that matters again.

It doesn’t matter if we’re waiting for something dreadful or exciting – people waiting in line for a roller coaster have the same look as those in line at the DMV – because the “time in between” is still considered a waste of time.

We have ways of filling the time in between.  We check our phone, zone out, and check our social media. We people-watch, play a game on our phones, look at our reflection in a window, and check our phone until we finally start worrying about our battery level.  (*Generation gap moment: in the days before cell phones we only had “Hi-lights” magazines in the doctor’s office, and I’m sorry this generation won’t ever know the thrill of finding all of the 10 hidden objects.)

Even though we may fill the time in between, we’re really not doing anything useful with that time.

We have the “time in between” at school and in athletics too.  This is that time at school where we’re waiting for AP and final exams, end-of-year events, and graduation.  Waiting for summer vacation, waiting to go to college, waiting for the weather to change.  Waiting.

Your team may be waiting too.  Both teams in most contests at this time of the year are waiting: the successful team is waiting for the regular season to end so they can get to something meaningful (the playoffs), and the team with a losing record is just simply waiting for the season to end.  Waiting for the “time in between” to end.

Which would be fine, except for the fact that the one thing we all want is more time.

Perhaps we all have been given just enough time to do what we’re supposed to do.  It might be that we don’t always recognize the extra time we have … because it’s hidden in between the things we think are more important.

Maybe this “time in between” is where we’re supposed to reconnect with a classmate, get to know a teacher better, and to work on some academic skills that will prepare us to be successful in college.  Maybe this is the time to offer sincere gratitude to our mentors, or to work on leaving a positive legacy at our school.

Maybe this time is where we’re supposed to work on those skills we never get around to training because we’re distracted by competition.  Maybe we should try a new position, experiment with creative play, change up practice plans, or revisit team goals from the beginning of the season.  This might be the time to find a role for the player who has been ignored, to encourage a disillusioned coach or teammate, or to offer mentorship for younger players.

The “time in between” is the time to make yourself better, or make someone else better.  The time to recommit to what you want to do, hope to do, dream to do.  Play, smile and laugh.  Reflect, think, and imagine.

The “time in between” isn’t a waste of time, it’s a gift.  It’s time we do something with it.

-Jason Curtis

Seeking the Challenge

Everyone wants the “perfect” season … but we might not agree on what a perfect season looks like.

My perfect season is one where we lose some tough matches.  The perfect season has quite a few practices that don’t go smoothly, and we struggle to reach our goal in challenging drills.  My perfect season also has some parent meetings with challenging questions, inconveniences in travel, and some interpersonal difficulties and growth that force us to work as a team.

If we have a “perfect season,” where every practice and game goes our way, then we’ve made practices too easy and we’ve scheduled below our potential.  As Tom Hirshfield noted, “If you hit the target every time then it is either too near or too big.”

Seth Godin in his latest blog post reminds us how we learn to ride a bike: “Actually, by not doing it. You learn by doing it wrong, by falling off, by getting back on, by doing it again.”  How unreasonable it would be to expect our child to learn how to ride a bike without falling, and how ridiculous it would be to expect a season to be without challenges.

Improvement is inextricable from challenges.  You don’t ride the rainbow to the pot of gold – it’s at the end of a long, tiring journey.  The reason why learning to ride a bike is so memorable for both the child and parent is precisely because it’s difficult, scary and frustrating.

We want our players, coaches and parents to demonstrate a positive response to adversity.  Yet, we forget that the response is always better when we have sought the challenge, rather than feeling that a difficulty has been thrust upon us.  If parents gave up on teaching their child to ride a bike the first time they fell off, Schwinn would have been out of business years ago.

Instead of team goals that only include the positive, consider including the reality that your team is likely to lose some matches and have bad practices.  Be excited about the opportunity to challenge your team to the extent that you might have to work through team dynamics and explain processes to parents.  Be willing to be patient and steadfast through the challenge.

It’s the challenge that makes the journey and the destination better, richer, and more fulfilling.

The only thing better than finishing a drill, is getting to a goal that your team didn’t feel they could reach.

The only thing better than beating a team, is defeating a team that you couldn’t figure out in the beginning of the season.

The only thing better than getting a high grade on a test, is acing an exam in the class where you’ve had difficulty mastering the material.

The only thing better than seeing your child or player succeed, is seeing them be successful in something that they just couldn’t do earlier.

Seek the challenge.

-Jason Curtis

My Favorite Team

In each of my 25 seasons of coaching volleyball, I have had one team that is my favorite team of all time. This one.

My greatest joy of coaching is in the journey of each season and what the athletes take with them moving forward. I would like to take the opportunity to communicate to my current team and all of my past teams that I am beyond grateful for what they have left behind with their coach.

Within each season, there are lessons to be learned, challenges to overcome, and triumphs to share. Most importantly though, there are the people we meet along the way who stay with us forever. May we never lose sight of all that we gain by what we give to each other.

-Mike Schall

Youth Sports: What I Care About

My kids love sports. Currently, my oldest daughter plays club volleyball, my two sons play in a YMCA basketball league, and my youngest daughter goes to “practice” (say it in an Allen Iverson voice) once per week to learn how to play volleyball. They play other sports too but these are our current “seasons.”

I love that they love sports. I watch when I can but when I’m not there, life does go on. I don’t want my presence to have any impact on the joy they receive from playing or the effort that they give to their teams. Don’t get me wrong, I go to as many games as I can but if I have a conflict, neither I nor my kids are bothered.

When I watch, I watch. When a good play is made by any player on either team, I clap to acknowledge the play – that’s it – the game isn’t about the parents who are watching from the sidelines. I like seeing kids learn things on their own, discover how to interact with teammates and coaches, and get better at winning and losing. Gasp – losing. I want them to lose? No – I don’t WANT them to lose but I have been involved in sports long enough to realize it’s a potential outcome of competition. So, if I don’t truly care if my kids win or lose their games, what do I care about?

I care about how they respond: To wins. To losses. To injuries. To mistakes. To sitting on the bench. To bad calls. To conflict. To fatigue. To feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or lacking confidence. I care how they respond and sports provides a fantastic experiential learning opportunity.

I care about how they learn: I want them to become good learners. I want them to learn skills, team concepts, and the rules and strategies of the sport they are playing. More importantly, I want them to learn how they learn.

I care about how they communicate: Real human communication. I want them to communicate with their teammates, their coaches, and with other adults like referees, tournament directors, and volunteers who make their experience possible. There has been nothing in my children’s lives that has helped them to become better communicators than their participation in sports.

I care about how they lead: Sports provide my kids with opportunities to speak publicly, to motivate those around them, and to teach others. In addition, sports allow kids to play different roles which is an essential leadership skill as they continue to grow.

My kids have won and lost plenty to know the difference and to also know that the sun has always come up the next day regardless of the result. The outcomes I am most interested in are the joy they give and receive to their team through competition, the relationships that develop and last a lifetime as a result of being on a team, and the experience they have of being part of something bigger than themselves. I also want them to recognize that hard work is its own reward and never guarantees a successful outcome.

-Mike Schall

Coach Life

Depending on who you talk to, or what day of the week it is, I’m either the head coach of a fifth grade girls’ basketball team or the assistant coach of that same fifth grade team.  I have the chance, this year, unexpectedly, to coach Recreational Basketball [Rec Ball] at this level.  It’s… intense. My life before Rec Ball was, in hindsight, simple, quiet, normal, borderline unimportant.  Now?  Well, let me explain…

Emails.  If one believes being added as a recipient to any email list denotes prestige or purpose, then I have newly found purpose and loads of prestige.  On a nearly daily basis I now receive emails related to all forms of Rec League management, scheduling, addendums, procedures, and the like.  As my life used to simply roll along with no knowledge of such intricacies, it now has intimate knowledge of gym availability, talent show conflicts, and jersey distribution snafus.  While I used to walk through my day job making idle chitchat and giving the stock-standard ‘good’ or ‘not bad’ response to the ‘how’s it going?’ question, I now answer such a simple question with panicked tones of, ‘my day?!? How’s it going?!? Mt. Lebanon Physical Plant has a ventilator issue in the rooftop HVAC unit at Hoover and the 4th grade practice scheduled for 6:00 has to be moved to Howe which is ALREADY dealing with a parking lot overflow issue due to parent-teacher conferences! How do you think my day is going?!? How do you think…. it’s going?!?”. Emails have done this; they’re to blame.

Team Name.  On a team of nine [which is the perfect number for a basketball team- easily divisible by two] trying to select, offer, and/or vote upon a team name proved challenging.  When my wife and I decided upon names for each of our three children, a decision that would linger with them their entire lifetime, I don’t know that I had nearly the level of stress and anxiety as managing the process of offering, voting, and selecting a team name.  The team name, which is never listed on a scheduled, rarely chanted by the parents in the stands, and remains with the team for only the six or so weeks of the season, had more emotional fallout than Prom.  Girls who suggested a name that was eventually selected, they beamed with confidence and appreciation.  Girls who offered a name that was turned down, they became disillusioned with the democratic stylings and likely will never vote when older.

Position.  Each girl wants to play 1.  Point Guard.  They want to bring the ball up, call the play, dribble more.  If you didn’t know better, and I didn’t, you’d think the other four positions were of total unimportance to the offensive strategies of a team.

Plays. Dreaming up and designing plays for a 5th grade basketball team is fun; in the theory of it, it’s fun.  The idea that you’ve designed a play that will manage movement, distribute the ball purposefully, create space… it’s wonderful; that’s in theory.  In execution?  Let me explain the offensive play: “1”.  The point guard calls ‘1!’.  The 2 comes and sets a pick allowing the 1 to dribble right. Timing the pick and movement perfectly, the 4 then crosses the lane to set a pick for 5 who, waiting patiently for the ensuing pick, then comes across the lane towards the ball-side and receive a pass, either chest or bounce, from the 1. All the while, the 3 remains distanced in an effort to create space for the play to run… eventually coming to the foul line– only after 5 receives the pass–in an effort to provide an outlet or pursue a rebound.  That’s the theory.  In reality, the point guard might as well yell ‘Fire!’ as they come across the line, sending all players, and some spectators, into a frenzied rush colliding with others around them in a desperate search for safety.  It’s, um, not the same as you see it in your mind.

I could go on, trust me.  Substitutions based on height, oversized jerseys that fit like trash bags, 8:10 pm practices that feel like… wait for it… herding cats. I could go on.  But you know what… I really like it.  I do.  I don’t know the names of other coaches like other coaches do.  I don’t know which team has that girl who “should be playing travel”, and I don’t know the score, ever, of the games that we play since the scoreboard never operates [and I’m too busy trying to make sure everyone gets a chance to play 1].  I never thought this would be my life and, depending on the day or who you ask, my coaching title varies.  Still, I love it.

-Tom Mooney

Making Our Case

In the January 23rd issue of Sports Illustrated, Seth Davis writes about the trend of high school basketball players leaving high school in their senior year so that they can start playing in college earlier.  In “The Case for … Starting College Early,” Davis writes about the Auburn coaching staff approaching a recruit in his junior year at Spain Park High in Alabama.  They encouraged Austin Wiley’s family to arrange an early graduation by transferring to Calusa Prep in Miami while playing basketball for The Conrad Academy in Orlando until he enrolled at Auburn and played in his first game last December.  By my count, that’s four different schools in less than 12 months.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl argues that players heading to college early “get college coaching” “a meaningful off-season” and “closer to a degree.”  The NCAA appreciates the latter argument, asserting on its website that “the ultimate goal of the college experience is graduation.”  Yet, less than half of Auburn’s men’s basketball players who enrolled in 2009 had earned a degree from Auburn University by 2016 (according to 2016 US Department of Education Federal Graduation Rate statistics).

Kentucky coach John Calipari, who helped 18-year-old Hamidou Diallo enroll at UK this spring even though he may enter the NBA draft next year without ever playing a minute for the Wildcats, added: “If a young man is 18 and has a chance to go to college as an 18-year old, he should do it.  I don’t know why you wouldn’t.”

Unless you consider that only 29% of Wildcat men’s basketball players who enrolled in the school in 2009 earned a University of Kentucky degree by 2016.  To be fair, a record number of Kentucky players left college early to play in the NBA, likely a far more lucrative option than many of their Kentucky classmates had even with a degree.  Kentucky is the outlier however: only 1% of NCAA men’s basketball players actually have the opportunity to play in the NBA.

Click image. NCAA screenshot shows graduation rates vs. professional playing opportunities.  Yes, those are multiple typographical errors on the NCAA website touting the academic success of college student-athletes.

Coach Calipari previously asserted that the advancement of his players’ personal goals is paramount, even more than winning a national championship: “[My mission is] to be the vehicle that helps others reach their dreams, be the stone that creates the ripple in their lives that goes on and on and on.”

Sounds a lot like what we’re trying to do in high school education.  So why do these college basketball coaches feel so confident in publicly dismissing the value of the senior year experience in high school?

It’s not just college football and basketball: we are experiencing this phenomenon in volleyball.  High school student-athletes are increasingly seeking to leave high school early and enroll in college during what would be the spring semester of their senior year, and in response to decreasing participation USA Volleyball has moved up the National Championships for the 18s division, holding the tournament two months before all other age divisions.

I believe that college coaches are doing this for many of the right reasons.  They correctly assert that college coaches have more time and resources to dedicate to the training of student-athletes, including strength, conditioning, nutrition and academic programs.  Certainly having more time with their student-athletes on campus can improve the team dynamic, and college coaches can more quickly identify and address problems with student-athletes during off-season training.

On the other hand, college coaches don’t articulate the disadvantages of transitioning a student months before the rest of their freshman class comes on campus, or address the national statistics that indicate that more students every year are entering college unprepared academically and socially.  Many college coaches bemoan the lack of focus, leadership and program commitment from incoming players, while underestimating the abilities of high school and club coaches who could help form those characteristics.

If I were a college coach, I would want more time with my players too.  The tremendous pressures on athletic programs and the significant responsibilities of players and coaches makes every day with a college team important.

However, as a high school educator, I also want more time to help form these talented young people.  As seniors they can engage in a more personalized academic environment to prepare them for a university classroom.  They should spend time with mentors on campus who can challenge them to become active contributors and leaders, committed to leaving a positive legacy in their high schools.  They should work with coaches who have grown to know them and their families well and can assist them in developing life balance that will be essential in the pressure-packed world of intercollegiate athletics.  They must become mentors and teachers themselves, so that they are prepared to assume that role in college and later in life.  In short: they need to develop the characteristics that universities and intercollegiate athletics programs claim to seek in prospective students, but may be in fact keeping them from gaining by enrolling them in college too early.

Early enrollment isn’t the fault of college coaches or universities.  The fact that nobody is willing or able to articulate the value of the academic, athletic and social formation during the senior year of high school falls squarely on the shoulders of high school administrators, teachers and coaches.  Have we become too comfortable allowing or even enabling “senioritis?”  Has our willingness to allow twelfth graders to coast through classes, practices and competitions rendered the experience expendable?  Have we missed an important leadership opportunity by not pressing seniors into significant responsibilities to care for and lead younger athletes?  In short, are we failing our students by providing a poor senior year experience?

This is a wake-up call for us to examine the senior year in high school classrooms and gymnasiums, and to commit ourselves to providing an exceptional experience making sure that every student and family knows how important the 12th grade is to their short and long-term future.

As Pearl argues, “Why discourage someone from taking advantage of an opportunity to better himself?”

I couldn’t agree more. Shame on us if a student’s senior year in high school doesn’t offer an outstanding chance to better themselves.

It’s time for high school educators to make the case for a high school senior year that every student can’t afford to miss.

-Jason Curtis

Learning by Doing

Over the Christmas holiday, I did an experiment with my two sons. Sam just turned 13 and Andrew is now 9. They like to play – whatever is in season – they like to play. Neither has played much “organized” basketball (whatever that means) but instead enjoy playing with their neighborhood friends in our driveway.

One evening, long after the sun had set, I heard basketballs still being dribbled in the driveway. I walked through the garage to find the boys still shooting and I told them I would play “21” with them. Growing up, it was the game my older brother Jim tortured me with. He was a dead eye shooter and I was, well…I was good on defense. I didn’t win many games of 21 growing up on Brinker Street. It’s a simple game in which a free throw is worth 2 points and a layup is worth 1. If the shooter makes both shots they keep going. If the shooter misses the 2 pointer, they still get to attempt the layup for 1 point but then it’s the next shooter’s turn. The game is played to 21.

Because I love for my kids to stay curious about learning new things, I told them that the layup had to be left handed. They hesitated. I knew exactly why they balked at the idea. They didn’t want to miss, didn’t want to lose, and weren’t confident in their ability to consistently make a left handed layup. So, I tried something with them that would encourage them to go for it. I knew that I had to take away the fear of failure – it’s real and I understand it.

For our game on this night, I made a deal with the boys. If they attempted a left handed layup, they got a point. They didn’t have to make it – just attempt it. We played for another hour and every time they attempted a left handed layup, they got their point. A few things started to happen…

  • They got excited about trying a left handed layup. In fact, they saw absolutely no reason to shoot a right handed layup.
  • They made mistakes – both in jumping off the wrong foot and missing more shots than they were making.
  • They got better at it every game.

I estimate that they attempted one hundred left handed layups. By the end of the night, both boys looked very natural – and they started to have success. They weren’t perfect at it but they got a lot better. That wasn’t the best part. The best part came after I went inside only to find the boys wanted to stay out longer and keep practicing.

So, how do we apply this experiment to coaching and teaching?

  • Create an environment in which risk taking is encouraged (1 point for attempting the left handed layup).
  • Emphasize process over result (each of my sons took 100 shots).
  • Recognize that mistakes will be made. Encourage and reward a demonstrated commitment to trying something new regardless of outcome.

Below is the video of when I came back outside and saw the boys practicing.

-Mike Schall