Month: May 2013

Trying Out

I tried out for the Danbury High School golf team as a sophomore.  It was as fair and clear cut as a try-out can be.  Everyone played nine holes of golf and they eight lowest scores made the team.  I didn’t make the team.  My son, Bryson Pink, completed his seventh try out this week making the Orlando City U-16 Academy as a developmental player.

Soccer try-outs are inherently subjective.  The game does not lend itself to statistical objectivity.   Players are seperated by subtle positioning, touch on the ball, spatial awareness and mental pace of play as much as by any physical characteristic of size or speed.  The balance between these talents varies by player, and can be obscured in the absence of surrounding talent.  The inbalance of these same talents is invariably exposed in the company of substantial talent. 

Any ostensibly open try-out will draw the interest of many players lacking the requisite talent not just to make the team, but to simply function in a manner that does not lower the level of play as a whole.  From the perspective of the coaching staff, it is imperative that these players are isolated from the players having a legitimate chance to make the team. 

Try-outs are not conducted in a vacuum.   Players are scouted, identified and recruited in advance.  Any coaching staff worth a damn knows not only their own team, but players of significance on other teams.  Much of the team will be selected before the first ball is kicked.  The quality and nature of the core defines the style ofnplay, and the type of players that should complete the roster.  On the margins of the team, the staff must place similar players in direct competition to assess their competitive qualities,  and alternately place them together to determine their cohesiveness.

In this process, it is critical to learn the player’s body language.  How does he handle adversity and success?  Is he coachable or an incorrigible individualist?  Does he interact with the group and give it something intangible?  Is he intelligent , stubborn, or a savant of sorts?

Finally, how do the pieces fit together?  The group must be balanced and predisposed to a manner of play.  Although fluid, there must be some basic outline of roles that encompasses a long view of the season.  Players without a role or sightly lesser duplicates of the number one will be difficult to play, and ultimately lead to a disruption of the team.  It is better to cut these players at the outset than be a prisoner to their discontent later.

It is an imperfect process at best, and unbearable when skewed by political considerations.  It has struck me with considerable pride that Bryson’s try-out experiences have been largely favorable, and seldom has he been the hand-picked political favorite.  It is a gross overstatement to say he is self-made.  I have spent enough hours on deserted fields fending off shots and chasing balls to ignore the contributions of his other coaches…Ivo, Richie, Scott, Alan and Mike, but I have also seen him do this enough to respect his preparation, poise and understanding of the process.

Didn’t Get It Done

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All things considered, it was a game worthy of the occasion, the Final Four of State Cup.  FC America and Florida Fire played six weeks ago in the first game of group play.  It ended 0-0, just like it stood at halftime today.  Both teams are talented and technical.  Possession and half-chances matched the score, and a strong sense that a single mistake would decide the match was felt among observers at the half.

It didn’t take long, and it was actually two mistakes, both on set pieces.  Poor marking, a flash of indecision and the Fire led 2-0.  The goals were at most five minutes apart, and for a few minutes thereafter FC America teetered on the fence of giving up and fighting back.  By the end of the second half water break, it was clear the fight back was on. 

For the final fifteen minutes of their season, they pressed and pinned the ball in the Fire’s end of the pitch.  With about ten to play, they pulled one back, and saw at least another five chances left wanting before the final whistle.

I watched the final fifteen with ironic admiration.  We want our teams to fight back against adversity,  but had we opened the game with this intensity, it would have been ours.  We revealed both what we can be, and what we are; a deeply talented and potent team, but almost tragically disjointed and bereft of technical coherence. Our sum at times equalled,  but never exceeded our parts.

Steph Curry: The Early Years

In December of 2005, the journey of Winter Park basketball included an eight hour bus ride from the ninth grade center to Columbia, South Carolina for the Chic-Fil-a Classic.  We pulled out three short of our full roster, Adam Tindal and Sieron Dottin, limited minutes role players quit, and sixth man Willie Crenshaw was missing.  We left a day early to watch St. Anthony’s play their opening game that night, and we were scheduled to play Norcross (Ga.), a team loaded with Laker Jodi Meeks and Gani Lawal, the following night.

St. Anthony’s put a thirty point beating on a local team.  We sat behind the Friars bench to watch the legendary Bob Hurley coach his team.  He barked and snarled even in the context of this uncompetitive game, and commanded the complete and undivided attention of his players during every dead ball or timeout.  His team a reflection of his unrelenting focus.  His method transparent.  His results inescapable.

As we waited to play Norcross the next night for the right to face St. Anthony’s,  we watched a small Christian school from North Carolina win their game.  The team, like it’s star, was fair-skinned and otherwise unimpressive.  The star’s name was Steph Curry.  He could shoot, and had an obvious feel for the game, but there was nothing physically that stood out.  He looked more like a sophomore than a senior, and my initial impression upon hearing that he was committed to Davidson was maybe if he hit the weight room, he might be a decent player for them.

We lost to Norcross that night.  They were better.  They beat St. Anthony’s the following night in overtime, and I assumed at that point won the tournament.

We beat a local team, and on the final day of the tournament, I learned three things.  Upon opening the local paper, the sports headline blared about the poor results of the local teams at the Chic-Fil-a Classic.  I snickered that this was likely due to the fact they sucked, and got on with the business of getting breakfast. 

We played a local team a few hours later, Lower Richland with Syracuse signee, Mike Jones, a 6’8″ post player.  The rest of the team wasn’t that impressive and we built a 38-31 lead in the third quarter when two of the three things I would learn that day collided.  The officiating was atrocious, and strongly favored the local team.  At game’s end Lower Richland would shoot 31 free throws to our 3, but up 7, we had our destiny in our hands as Lower Richland had played a 3-2 zone all game.  If we held the ball, we would have shortened the game and/or forced them out of the zone.  Instead, we played….casting jumpers against the zone and absorbing unjust fouls at a criminal rate.  We lost. 

I was furious.  We were wronged, and contributed to our own undoing by failing to dictate the game at a time when we had the opportunity to do so.

The final thing I learned that day occurred a few hours into our trip home when we leaned Steph Curry led his team to victory over Norcross.   Though it wasn’t billed that way, or appeared that way, he was the biggest star and best player in the tournament.