Quick, what do you get when you put nine fourth-grade girls with more combined energy than the sun in the same room?
A. A birthday party
B. A migraine
C. A 2019 state basketball championship.
D. All of the above
Given the right circumstances, the answer could very well be D. I've experienced A and B - ironically at the same time - but as the new coach of the Panther fourth-graders I'm focused on C for now.
I have been charged, self-inflicted style, to turn these cute little lumps of clay into scoring and defending machines. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it just yet, but judging from our first couple practices I'll have a good time figuring it out.
But we have a long way to go.
None of these girls have played in an actual game yet, which, among all the challenges I face, might be the biggest one - aside from getting them to not bounce the balls while I'm talking (that's my Rule No. 2).
They're at the point of their basketball careers where their main concerns are: Powerade or water; hair band or barrettes; and pink or orange shorts. I can't make those tough decisions for them, but then again, that's not my job. My job is to teach them, not just about basketball and its rules, or the fundamentals of dribbling and shooting, but about being part of a team. They need to learn about sportsmanship and how to handle losing. A lot of the stuff they will take away from this season is about what is processed between their ears.
The trick is making sure what I'm telling them penetrates their brain and gets absorbed like all the other things that are bouncing around in there have - the important stuff like when Justin Bieber's next song is coming out. So repetition is of the utmost importance, as long as they're repeating the right things. The problem with that is I normally have all the patience of a kid on Christmas morning. I just have to keep telling myself that these are little kids - they know what stop, drop and roll means, but are less confident about pick and roll. So it can be frustrating - frustrating enough that at times I think securing the U.S. border would involve fewer steps.
However, I was pleasantly surprised Tuesday when the girls learned their very first offensive play. Granted, the plays I threw at them won't be found anywhere in Pat Summitt's playbook, but for a bunch of fourth-graders to grasp an offensive concept as quickly as they did was pretty cool and very encouraging.
That's the beauty part of working with kids. You know they're going to bring the energy, but you can't beat the feeling you get when you tell them something and they soak it in and then apply it on the court. I told the girls during the first practice that I want them to keep eye contact with me at all times when I'm talking to them (that's Rule No. 3) either one-on-one or as a group, and they're all doing it.
The big test will come next practice when we run the play again - a week after they learned it. Will I see solid execution or will I see a group of girls running around like a pinata just exploded?
Either way, we'll have fun, and that's the important thing. My coaching career might end up having the life span of a bad sitcom, but at least it will be a fun ride. And fun is Rule No. 1