I had evening basketball practice on my birthday last year. The girls showed up ready to work hard as usual and despite being invited out by my friends to celebrate, I was happy to be with the team. We were playing a team that hadn’t lost yet and was notorious for full court press most of the game. Also, I really wanted to teach the pick and roll and would have introduced it if there was time near the end of practice.
A few minutes into warm-ups I caught a glimpse of a birthday card the girls were taking turns writing in for me. Their efforts to distract me so I wouldn’t see the card were at the same time futile and adorable. Practice started and after about 30 minutes I gave the girls a quick water break thinking we would get back to practice in a minute or two. Instead, the parents came out with cupcakes, drinks, and balloons. So, instead of installing the press break that night like I had written on the 5×7 card in my back pocket, we ate cupcakes and played about 20 rounds of knockout, a game the girls would play all day every day if I would let them.
Here is the rub. I am very competitive and I don’t like to lose, even though I know it’s in our greatest defeats that we learn the most about ourselves. But in my quest to win at all times, I had to remind myself that we could smash teams by double digits, go undefeated, and win whatever mythical championship available to a 6th grade girls basketball team, but one of the things they will remember most is having cupcakes with their coach on his birthday.
It’s our responsibility as coaches to do the right thing to get the most out of each person that we have the privilege to coach, as humans first and then as athletes. I did a little more teaching during the game than I normally do, and it worked. We won 34-20.
I had my cake and ate it, too.