Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Right Balance

GHSA (Georgia High School Basketball Association) basketball teams just finished tryouts. The association restricts coaches from working with players between the first day of school and October 28th and between the last day of the basketball season and the last day of the school year. I think it is silly to mandate that a high school student not work with his coach during specific months. I suppose the official reason for the rule is that without restrictions over-zealous coaches would push players too hard, too often. As a coach who has strong feelings about basketball's proper place in life, I have thought a lot about my opinion of the standard formula followed by young “basketball players:”  1) Excel in youth and high school basketball.  2) Earn a college basketball scholarship and excel in college basketball.  3) Play basketball professionally. These are my thoughts about the proper balance between basketball and life's other pursuits.

After playing, coaching, and observing basketball in one area for over 30 years, I can objectively say that following the above formula as a life strategy is mathematically insane.  The fact that nobody living in this geography during that time has achieved long term success solely from his basketball skills is as close to scientific proof as I need.  But I came to this conclusion long ago.  So it is easy for me to match the objective evidence with my long held beliefs.

I’ve contemplated why I believed that basketball is “just a game” long before I had the hard evidence to prove it.  I traced the thinking back to two major influences:

1)  My father always stressed that basketball provided an opportunity to learn about life.  He refers to the game as a “metaphor for life.”  I find myself comparing life’s lessons and trials to experiences on the basketball court when I share my thoughts with the young people I work with.  Handling and expecting failure and disappointment and making the connection between consistent effort and enthusiasm and achieving lofty goals are two things that pursuing success in the gym can teach us about life.

2)  I probably didn’t need outside reinforcement of my dad’s lessons.  But I got it from the guest speakers at the basketball camps I attended as a young boy.  I attended several basketball camps and although I didn’t know it at the time, I always listened closely to the guest speakers.  I heard countless college and professional players repeatedly say two things:

- To be great, you have to play and practice (usually alone) during virtually all of your free time.  Everybody wants to be great and there are enough people that want it badly enough to live in the gym.  And if you don’t live in the gym and someone in the next town does, you will eventually face that guy and he will beat you.

- It is almost impossible to play in the NBA.  All the speakers seemed to have memorized the statistics to support this claim.  I googled this topic and found the 2013 version of the evidence:  There are 545,844 high school basketball players.  There are 17,500 college players.  48 players get drafted into the NBA each season.  Using these numbers, it has been argued that 1.2% of college players play professionally and 0.03% of high school players do.

I decided that basing my life goals on beating these odds was not wise.  Growing up, I did play and practice basketball (usually alone) during virtually all of my free time.  Defining free time is useful here.  My definition was the time that I didn’t use to make sure I got a good education and prepared myself for life after basketball.  I don’t regret spending my time that way.  I thoroughly enjoyed the competition and the journey.

Despite devoting so much of my life to basketball, I only once allowed myself to think of playing for money.  One of my college coaches told me he could imagine a future for me in the NBA given certain circumstances.  God bless Cy Alexander for believing in me.  But I am glad I took the comment (notably the only such comment ever made about me!) as flattering and basically ignored it as a strategy for life.

So I believe that if the GHSA were to trust its coaches to teach their players about the proper place for basketball in life, more students would get better guidance. True enough, there may be some coaches who would use the extra time to aid players in an "NBA or bust" type quest. But young people on that track will be able to find plenty of adults to help them chase that dream no matter what the GHSA mandates.

No comments:

Post a Comment