My grandson played on a basketball team for the first time when he was in first grade. I went to his first practice to see if shooting baskets with him in the driveway had paid off.
When the coach asked the team of 6- and 7-year olds to show him their crossover dribbles the very first night of practice (three of the boys had no idea how the game was even played), it was all I could do to keep my mouth shut.
In his first season Krischan learned two things: (1) He had two teammates who knew how to dribble, and (2) the coach was perfectly content keeping it that way. They won two games (both by accident); they lost the other eight.
Wife (who felt the same frustrations): Why don’t you coach Krischan’s team next year?
Me: I’ve served my time. (I coached both of my boys’ teams when they were between the ages of 6 and 12, including a four-year overlap when I coached both of their teams.)
So eight months later I was right back where I was 25 years ago: In an elementary school gym evaluating the basketball skills of a bunch of rambunctious 6- and 7-year olds. Not long after that I was in a local pizza joint to draft my team; the team I would be coaching after a hiatus of more than a generation.
On the first two nights of practice for the Dragons, I met the boys officially for the first time. Thomas, whom I remembered from the previous season for his dribbling and scoring talents. Three boys whom I noticed during evaluations: Will, for his height and potential; Ian, for his aggressiveness; and Stockton, for his shooting skills. Krischan, the reason I was there in the first place. Finally Garrett and Nolan, two boys I had never met.
Here’s what stood out after that very first night:
Garrett didn’t know if he was right or left handed. Neither did Garrett’s dad. I said I could tell if I saw Garrett shoot a basketball. I was wrong.
Will was intent on standing directly beneath the basket. I told him more than once there would never be an opportunity to get a rebound there because that was where the shots going IN the basket end up.
Stockton was a deadly shooter 7 feet from the basket. He needs to stop shooting from 15 feet because none of his shots appear to travel further than 7 feet.
Nolan didn’t say much during the night, but he did mention he might be left-handed, which directly contradicted any and everything I had seen thus far.
Krischan appeared to shy away from rebounding missed shots. He told me he had “ball fright,” which directly contradicted any and everything I had seen when we played basketball in my driveway.
Thomas and Ian joined us for the second practice. They would be the two primary guards for the Dragons from the opening game to the championship game. The Dragons went on to win the regular season with a 7–1 record as well as the first two games of the single-elimination tournament after the season.
I’ll always have fond memories of my season with the Dragons. Stockton’s winning shot against the Avengers, the team we met again in the championship game; Nolan asking for a time out while surrounded by the other team, exactly as I instructed the boys to do; Krischan and Garrett scoring their first baskets in team competition. (Which reminds me; Garrett is right-handed. Most of the time.)
The Dragons didn’t win that championship game, but they didn’t need to. They were already winners in my book. I told them so after the game as I presented them their second-place trophies. A few minutes later, they were outside the gymnasium dousing me with seven bottles of water.
Their smiles and laughter indicated those 10 seconds ended their season on a winning note.
It also reminded me that my seven Dragons, whom I coached these past three months and watched put their hearts and souls into each and every game and practice, were still just little boys.
It almost made it difficult to imagine them putting out cookies and milk before they go to bed on December 24. But it certainly put everything in perspective.
Little boys have a way of doing that.
(Scott Ludwig is a Senoia resident and author of multiple books on running.)