When the Pupil is Ready, the Teacher Appears


The title originates in a buddhist proverb, and today it was prominent in my thoughts during open gym. As JV coach, I am looking for players that will help me win this season, but as servant of the larger entity that is Winter Springs Basketball, I am interested in players that have the ability to grow, physically and mentally.

Physical development relates to body type and mechanics, relative stage of puberty, comparison with parents including likelihood of genetic pre-disposition to cankles, and a general willingness to show up and work hard. Not exactly needle in a hay stack stuff.

Mental growth is a bit more nebulous, and for me, at least, far more interesting. Looks and flattery may and often deceive in this realm, but a pupil with a limited capacity for mental growth is not ready for the teacher.

Assessing mental growth capacity is observational and interactive. Today, I focused my observation on a fringe player. His play irritated other players on the floor, but he made little or no adjustment to their critique. When he made a mistake, he was reluctant to accept fault, and was disproportionately quick to call out the mistakes of others. This player was unwilling or incapable of seeing his contribution or lack thereof to the game, or adjust or improve.

A second new player, was very talkative with players and coaches, but the more he talked, the more he seemed to have excuses in greater supply than answers.

Interaction with the players on complements the observations. The great and oft-boisterous Ray Ridenour is fond of using sarcasm around a new player to gauge his level of alertness. Personally, I prefer to breach the formalities of “yes sir” and “no sir” which I believe are form over substance barriers to listening and learning.

I spoke with a second player today, who by contrast had a strong game on the floor. In talking, however, he displayed a preference for excuses over ownership of mistakes. This was unsettling to my sense of this pupil’s readiness.

Earlier this evening, I had two positive text message exchanges with my veteran players. Both players accepted praise without ego and criticism without insecurity. Their responses indicated an understanding of the critique, and led to a verbalized re-affirmation of their intent to improve. They are ready, and I am here.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

4 thoughts on “When the Pupil is Ready, the Teacher Appears

  1. many of the kids you coach are environmentally conditioned for a soft place to land, meaning, their parents have never allowed them to accept responsibility for their actions – parents coming to school to find out why the teacher yelled at their kid, why they gave their kid a D, coming to a coach to argue for more playing time for their kid, they are not teaching their kid to be strong mentally, to accept current and temporary inefficiencies, but retarding them into adulthood, sentencing them to a view of the world that lacks reality and ultimately creates a climate that gets predatory leaders elected because they become adults convinced that someone else keeps them down allowing some political leaders to pray on that lack of personal responsibility, mental and emotional growth – come to me and I will make things right for you. What we need are more youth who will accept responsibility for their actions, on the court first, where the consequences are not loss of income or death of a comrade in arms, and a willingness to learn from imperfections and mistakes, the best text book know. What we need are more coaches and teachers like you who give the kids an unvarnished education in the consequences of their own actions, on a court, same as in life.

  2. Pete Carril calls them 3 car garage guys. I have found a fundamental component in mental growth is simply the determination to do something. To get off the fence, stop dabbling and throw one’s self into the fray without reservation. Am I a basketball player? Am I a soccer player? Once the individual can answer this with a definitive “YES” they can in good conscience and clear mind go about becoming that thing. They at that juncture take ownership of it. They no longer do it for parents, friends or coaches, but themselves.

  3. Great Proverb. We are all wired differently and I have learnt over the years from coaching rugby that just because a kid or player is in your team it does not mean they are ‘ready’. However they are in the mix for a reason whch may never become apparent to us. The art is to create a team environment whereby they develop into the person they want to be.

    This is why I think sports is such an important aspect for kids growing up.

  4. Ian thanks for your comment. Excellent point about creating a team environment whereby individual development may occur. Often times, that development may manifest in some endeavor beyond the team, but the experience among the team having played it’s part in the outcome.

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