Month: December 2011

The NBA is Great

Last night after my sometimes beloved and frequently frustrating FSU football team pulled off a win in the “I have no idea what we are calling it this year” bowl, I caught the end of the OKC/ Mavs game. It was a testament to the greatness of NBA basketball.

In the final minute, four separate players hit monumental shots capped by Kevin Durant’s ridiculous game winner in the video above. The execution of both teams was impeccable. In each possession, they got the ball to the player they wanted to shoot and the player delivered under pressure.

As a high school coach, I want my team to make the game uncomfortable for my opponent. Have extra players shoot, handle and make decisions, and in most circumstances this is easy to accomplish. Changing defenses, junk defenses and sometimes simple awareness of what the other team is comfortable doing is enough unsettle them. I have a disdainful regard for mid-game time-outs rooted in the fact that so few times at this level does anything productive come out of them. Typically, if a coach calls time-out because my press is effective, I will come out of the time-out in something else and gain advantage.

Even at the college level, teams can be made to look inept in the face of resolute defense or superior athleticism. The may wilt under pressure or tempo, or even lack thereof.

In the NBA, this does not happen. Every team plays at least twice a year, and in the instance of play-offs as many as eleven times. The players and coaches know each other intimately. They can have intricate game plans for Kobe, Lebron, Durant or Paul, but tactical nuances are temporary as the greatness of these players will find ways to adapt and succeed. The players are simply too good and their will to win to visceral.

Who is this man and why the hell is he so important?

His name is Dan Abrahams and he is a sports psychologist. Over the last 12 months there is no one that I have retweeted or quoted more frequently. You can follow him for yourself @danabrahams77. He specializes in football (soccer), but his ideas are universal to all forms of competition and most forms of life. This morning I was struck by the following tweet:

“Peak performance is found somwhere in amongst fun, freedom and focus.”

This was an affirmation to me. I believe this, and I believe it deeply. Reading it made me feel like Abrahams had summarized my coaching philosophy in a single tweet. Bravo!

Fun is essential. A few weeks ago Mr. Charm wrote happiness about his experiences returning to Oviedo, and the pervasive sense that the players were not having any fun. I was there as well, and it was palpable. During the five years, I coached at Oviedo we got out of districts once and didn’t get far. Year after year by the season’s end, we went through the motions without any emotion. You cannot win district games with that mindset. The season must be built to a physical, mental and emotional peak at the end of the year. That doesn’t happen without some fun.

Fun is a pressure release. When I was fourteen, I played Pop Warner football. I had played on a mediocre midget team the season before, and was persuaded to play an extra year with the upcoming midgets, who had never lost. Expectations were high to return the organization to glory, but as the preseason started we looked and played like crap. I remember distinctly one practice where my father, who was on the junior midget staff and had coached this team the previous season, came over to the midget team and started talking and teasing the players. Within a few minutes, he had everyone lined up and knocking the holy hell out of the tackling dummy. We eached stepped up in line to make the most spectacular tackle of the inanimate foam dummy. We started talking, laughing, flying to the ball and having fun. We went 13-0.

When I started high school, I had a math teacher who was old, with shoe leather skin, white hair and the gruff voice of a two pack a day smoker. He taught as Socrates did, by posing questions to the students. This was nerve wracking to say the least, and it wasn’t uncommon for students to break down crying. Two thirds of the way through the school year, he told us to put our books away. For the next forty minutes, this tear-inducing curmudgeon talked to us about the importance of a smile. How it spread joy in equal measure to giver and reciever. At the end, he told us he was sick and wouldn’t finish out the year. We all cried.

I make a conscious effort each day to make my players laugh, or at the very least smile. They know the passion I have for winning. Hell anyone in any gym or field I ever coached on can see that, but they know I love a laugh at just about any expense. In sharing that with them, they have fun. They want to be in the gym and with the group. They might not know what I’m gonna say next, but they don’t wanna miss it.

The Responsibility of Talent

A few weeks ago, I watched ESPN’s “The Marinovich Project”. It told the story of Robo-quarterback, Todd Marinovich. Marinovich’s father Marv, was an all-american at USC, but his pro career was aborted after an injury. Marv studied exercise science and football becoming the NFL’s first full-time strength and conditioning coach. His son Todd was his life’s work. From birth Marv set about training and immersing Todd in an environment that would produce a great quarterback.

Todd Marinovich was a high school phenom, a star and Rose Bowl champion at USC and made it to the NFL. Along the way, Todd’s love of drugs surpassed his love of football and his career fell apart. The Marinovich Project is a compelling, riveting account of Todd’s life.

During the program, Todd tells the story of random strangers that would look at him in utter discuss for “wasting” his talent. Todd’s response is that a random stranger has no idea how hard he worked for that talent, and that it was his to waste anyway. Todd lingers on the question, “if you are really good at something, does that mean that you have to do it?”

In the context of the program and Marinovich life journey it is a compelling question. In the context of an aspiring athlete, it is horse crap.

I had a great discussion with the mother of one of my players. I was unable to attend my team’s last game before the holiday break, and we lost. I called Ingrid Ortiz for her perspective. She was appalled, much as I was, and was critical of her son’s response to the game thinking that he had played ok. Her son Devon Ortiz is among my most talented players, and she believed he could have and should have done more.

The longer we talked, the more I thought of my son Bryson, and how many times he has played well, but not made a difference in a game that hung in the balance.

In the case of Devon and Bryson, they have the ability to take over games with their physical, technical and competitive qualities, but sometimes seem satisfied to play ok. In doing so, they are dishonoring the talent God gave them, and the hours they have invested in developing that talent.

While I agree that once a person has lost love for a pursuit, they are free to leave it without regret, but while actively engaged those of great talent have a responsibility to respect it by training and preparation, and to honor it in performance.

This is the substance behind all of histories great performances. This is why at the end of the day we remember Jordan in game 5, Kobe playing through pretty much anything at this point, and vilify Lebron’s finals performance and Shaq’s indifference to conditioning and defending the pick and roll.

A Holiday Message From the FBGM Coaches

Happy Holidays!

Truth be told, I don’t much enjoy the holidays as they mark an unfortunate departure from my routine. They are rife with stress and bad financial decisions. So to the extent that I experience anything resembling joy, and not that of winning a close game, but closer to a sense of relief that the end is near, and my routine will be resumed.

For those of you, that crank up the holiday music, kiss strangers under the mistletoe, eat and drink things that are so gross they are only endured during this time of the year, I wish you the best!

A Comment on Good Officiating

After our recent game with Evans, both officials approached me seperately to explain their handling of the final seconds of the game, and I found in the discussions the core values of good officiating.

The game was fast-paced throughout and came down to Evan’s ball down 2 with 12.5 seconds to play.  Evans hit a three to go up 1 with about 5 seconds on the clock.  I discussed calling a time-out with my assistant, but declined as we got the ball in and Evans was disorganized.  The official in front of our bench, aware that we might want a time-out in this situation, heard our players call one and blew his whistle.  Simultaneously on the other end of the floor, the trail official saw Evans clearly foul our player 60feet from the basket, and blew his whistle.  Matters were complicated by the fact our player shot the ball after the foul and made it from 60 feet.

Wisely, the officials conferred and determines the time-out preceded the foul, and the shot was after the foul so no basket.  the clock was reset to 5 seconds and we hit a shot to win at the buzzer.

Both officials accounts of the endgame, given seperately, were identical.  Both officials willingly discussed their decision-making process.

Officials like this approach the game with the same level of awareness and anticipation of a player.  Their positioning and awareness put them in position to.make the calls they did.  Their lack of ego allowed them to come together to make the proper call.  Their confidence in having done everything they could to make the right decision enabled them to openly discuss the situation.  This is good officiating.

Ramblings on the Birth of Supaflyc

Fifteen years ago today, I became a father for the first time. I was not in the room for the birth because I dry heaved at the notion of looking at blood. I retreated to the confines of a waiting room to await his formal arrival. I read Time magazine. A lengthy article on a foreign leader.

My first encounter with my first son was through the glass at the baby room. He had enormous hands and feet, was screaming wildly and was shaded rather purple. My first thought was “man this guy’s gonna be a handful.”

In truth he hasn’t been. We was precocious and walked in only eight months. He was active, fun-loving and a relatively safe baby with an innate sense of self preservation.

As anyone who knows me well can attest, I took his early walking as a sign of substantial athleticism. I obsessed over physical development looking for signs of a professional sports career. He started playing soccer at age four. Showed early ball control and a knack for scoring goals. I was delighted. For the length of his soccer career he scored and assisted on goals with regularity. He did not take the running aspect of the game quite so well, preferring a quick mental analysis as to whether a ball should be chased or not, to a speculative sprint. As he got older, I made a dreadful decision to combine teams with another coach and take a secondary coaching role. The other coach was a disaster, and soccer was never prominent again.

Supaflyc played flag football as well. His first year at age five he was a spare part. At age six, our team lacked talent, but he became our best player and only viable scoring option. I will always cherish the moments when that evolution was in process and the other kids would call for him to get the ball knowing it was our best option. In those times, he, despite being painfully shy, would stand a little taller, and seldom failed to deliver. I learned the lesson of sports as a source of self-esteem.

Supaflyc eventually tried tackle football, but it didn’t take and was aborted mid-season. We continued with some random soccer and flag football into middle school, but as time passed he found his true niche in music.

I am elated. I have no background in music. I can’t play an instrument or carry a tune. I was skeptical at first, mortified in fact when his first intrument was the flute in the school band. Fortunately, he was undeterred.

He got a bass for Christmas one year, and it sat in his room for over a year as he begged for lessons. I was probably a combination of too cheap, and too consumed with him playing sports to buy in. I finally did. In doing so, the puberty-infused haze of middle school lifted to reveal a musician called Supaflyc.

He practices his music with the devotion and passion I once hoped he would pour into sports. He has found his footing in music. Developed the self-esteem I first noted at age 6 on the flag football team. It has been his own doing, and with it has come a dry sense of humor, a burning ambition and the vision to learn and improve.

I have always believed that greatness cannot be achieved in the absence of passion. I pray daily that he is healthy, disciplined and determined to be successful, and I always add to that prayer that he be passionate and have the courage to pursue his passion.

He is by most accounts, including his own, very good at what he does. I am by all accounts, including my own, very proud.

Happy Birthday Camden Supaflyc Pink