If there is one thing you notice with this job I have, where I’m speaking with coaches on a nightly basis, it is that those coaches have a great passion for both the sport and their players.
These men and women take such great pride in both their work and the growth of their players, and make every effort to foster a family-type atmosphere and bond with that group.
I’ve had just about every type of coach, director or teacher one can think of over my years playing sports from Tee Ball through high school, from college prep courses through advanced placement classes and from high school plays through collegiate marching band.
During those times, I had captained teams, presided over clubs and bands, but never tried coaching or teaching something.
This winter, for the first time, I turned the tables. I volunteered to coach youth basketball and was accepted by the Pittsfield YMCA. I was assigned to helm the Georgia Tech team of their five-year-old division.
Now, I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed at that draw. I wouldn’t be coaching fully developed kids, capable of truly competing, playing with real-sized basketballs on full-sized hoops and keeping score. (Yes, I totally kept score in my head anyway).
However, the five-year-old league met once-a-week on Saturday mornings, which was much more conducive to my local sports reporter schedule and lifestyle. Since I’m covering a game or event most nights, it would be difficult to coach a team of teenagers who play and practice on weeknights.
When I arrived at the YMCA on North Street in Pittsfield, walking distance from my apartment, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I figured we wouldn’t be starting right up with real games, but what else was I supposed to do?
That first day, Lisa DeVergilio was a huge help. Lisa is the youth sports coordinator at the YMCA, and showed me the ropes on how to have fun with the kids, get them moving and most importantly, keep their interest.
I was introduced to my team and handed out our yellow shirts, the one color shirt I don’t have in my bureau. The team was sponsored by Judy Diaz Photography, who also took our team photo.
We did some running and generic drills, paired off and worked on passing and trying to hit the square on lay-ups. Before I knew it, the next team was waiting to use the gym. Time flew by and I was immediately excited for the following week.
I started understanding the feeling these high school and college coaches get after games. There is obviously pride in their work, but also in watching young people improve under their watch.
By the following week, I was able to handle practice a bit more by myself, with some help from Lisa and a couple parents. I worked in some new drills with some fun exterior stuff. It shocked me how few of them knew rock, paper, scissors, which we used to decide jump-balls. In my opinion, the NBA should follow suit.
Then again, they were all shocked at how little I knew of today’s cartoon world.
I love basketball, and trying to teach them to love it too was an incredible feeling. The goofing around aspect of it led to real learning. Happy feet, or what we called foot fire in high school, was a bit hit, and allowed me to teach them defensive stance, timing and aggression.
There were interesting relationships formed across the board, and I loved every minute I got to spend in that YMCA with those kids. I got to become “Coach Mike” for an hour each Saturday morning. It made waking up at 7 a.m. after a Friday night in Saratoga visiting my best friend a joy.
For making my Saturdays an enjoyable learning experience all winter, I want to thank Danny, Marco, Kammaris, Carter, Ben and Jack. Thanks to Judy Diaz Photography and Lisa, as well as all the parents who accepted a somewhat ragged-looking 24-year-old in bright yellow Jordans into their lives for a brief time.
I hope your five-year-olds learned something about basketball and had as great a time with me as I did with them.
I know now what it is like to be a proud coach.