Moving in the right direction

Given that I have played, coached, and ref’ed the game of basketball for much of my life, it’s not surprising that my son also ended up interested in the game.

Admittedly, some of this was by design. Prior to my son being able to walk, I used to sit him in front of me on the floor propped up with cushions. I would then place a small wicker basket between my legs and encourage him to throw bean bags into it. Every time one went in, I cheered with excitement. The more excited I got, the more excited he got.

I wouldn’t say that I was trying to engineer a basketball player, but rather, I was attempting to correlate practice and success with happiness and fun.

And I think it worked. My son grew up loving to play all sports, but he especially loved basketball. Eventually, he joined his grade school team and began to play real games. I let another parent coach him his first year, but all it did was frustrate me. The guy meant well and was attentive, but he knew little about the sport. Mid-way through that season, he asked me to help with practices, having heard that I had previous coaching experience.

I had coached middle school boys for many years prior, having signed on as a favor to another coach. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the job. The seasons were long and filled with emotional ups and downs, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Not a year passed where I wasn’t terribly sad when the season ended and I said goodbye to that year’s group of boys.

Having a father as a coach or a son as a player presents unique opportunities for friction. Overall, we did pretty well, but we definitely had our share of tense moments.

During one summer league when he was around 10 years old, he had a particularly tough game. He walked off the court completely frazzled and fell apart in the car. My son rarely cried, so I knew he was struggling.

He said he was frustrated because the other boys weren’t passing him the ball, which meant he never got the opportunity to score (something every kid wants to do). At that age, the players who are the most aggressive are the ones who excel. While my son had solid skills, he was neither aggressive nor fast, which left him lagging in most game situations.

I listened intently to everything he said and then I asked him if he trusted me. He said he did, so I took him home and walked outside to the basketball court in our yard.

And then I was brutally honest with him.

I told him that it wouldn’t do him any good if I lied to him and that the only way he would excel as a player is if he accepted his shortcomings and worked to improve them. I then told him the reason that the other boys weren’t passing him the ball was because he was too slow getting open.

I repeated the adage, “Dance with what brung you,” and explained the importance of playing to your strengths. I then asked him what his strengths were to which he replied correctly, “I’m tall.”

“Ok,” I said, “so you need to get inside where you can use your height to grab rebounds and then you need to have one move you can use to get a good shot up.”

I went on to show him a basic drop-step move to use in the post. We practiced that move every day that week. I would feed him the ball and he would instantly pivot to the basket, give a solid head-fake, and then come up and under for an easy shot.

I promised him that he would always score because every player wants to block a shot, and while they’re jumping up for the block, you’ll be coming up and under for an easy layup.

My son showed up at his next game and within the first five minutes had scored using the exact move we practiced. As the season progressed, something funny happened. The more he scored, the more confidence he got, and the more confident he got, the more he wanted to excel in other areas of the game.

And to this day, he still uses that move.

This week’s feature, “Hustle,” starring Adam Sandler, tells the story of a young Spanish basketball player who has plenty of moves on the court — so many, in fact, that one NBA scout is willing to bet his life on the unknown prodigy.

We’re used to seeing Adam Sandler in slap-stick comedies, but not his time. “Hustle” is a pure sports drama that highlights Sandler’s inherent acting chops.

Check this one out if you love basketball and love to see cameos of famous athletes. In fact, there’s so many cameos that it’s almost like a game trying to pick them out.

A sporty “B” for “Hustle,” available for streaming on Netflix.

Got a question or comment for Dom?
You can email him at [email protected]

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