Tag Archives: basketball

The Lesson of Three Fouls

In the event you didn’t know it already, my 3 nephews are one of the greatest joys of my entire existence. As a bachelor guy with no kids of my own, they put life into a kind of perspective that comes from no other place. I know my relationship with them isn’t ever going to be akin to what their parents have with them, I do feel a connection, love and a strong level of protectiveness for them that is just… well… incredible to me.

When they do well or are happy, my heart soars. When they are sad or down or frustrated, it hits me hard. It’s part of that whole thing of being the “sensitive one” in Team Kuzia, I suppose. I like myself just fine that way, hence I take the downs that will always go along with the really great ups.

Today was my oldest nephew’s first basketball game of the year and Berry Insurance (that’s his team) pulled out a 30-28 victory over Finman Windows. It was really kind of nerve-wracking towards the end… you know, as much as one would wrack their nerves over 10-13 year olds playing hoops. Which can be a lot. Why? Because parents and relatives are bat-guano crazy when it comes to their kids, that’s why.

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My nephew (#4) getting his instructions and his game face on… umm, not that you can see the game face. But I assure you… fierce.

Now, my nephew has some pretty good athletic ability and is actually really fast. Seriously… kid’s got jets. The thing is… when he gets into game situations, he gets a little bit tentative and never really seems to get after it. It actually goes to something I’ve seen from coaching kids for a little while now: until MAYBE high school, the thing that separate kids in sports is not pure talent, but aggressiveness. Hands down. It’s not even close. You will occasionally have a kid who is sublimely talented, but they are a truly serious outlier.

I wish I could help my nephew be more aggressive out there… not because I am obsessed with winning (I’m not… certainly not for kids) or anything in that realm. I just think he would have more fun if he was just letting loose and rolling with the game instead of feeling pressure to do well. I know this feeling more than I care to admit: it’s pretty much how I was as a kid. It’s hard at that age to sometimes step back and realize it’s just Little League, Pop Warner or rec basketball. It really was for me and if I had been a little more relaxed, I would have played better and had a ton more fun in the process.

So if I could give my oldest nephew and my godson a bit of advice, it would be this: Every game, commit at least 3 fouls. Every. Single. Game.

If you’re currently having a moment of, “Kuzia… you may be the worst kids coach to ever curse this planet”, I don’t blame you. OK, I might… a little bit. Seriously… curse? That’s unduly harsh, you jerk. Umm… where was I?  Oh yeah…

In basketball, committing a foul is something “wrong” or “bad” or “against the rules”, hence a lot of kids avoid it like the plague. They want to be good kids, do the right thing, say their prayers, eat their vegetables and so on. The huge majority of kids just want to do the right thing to make Mom and Dad proud.

But here’s the thing: committing a few fouls per game means you are actually going after it on defense. You are playing a little more aggressively and worrying a hell of a lot less about making a mistake. And quite frankly, in basketball at this age, the last thing you want are kids wringing their hands over messing up, for the love of God. Where’s the fun in that?

Plus, it give the kid a chance to break that cycle of fearing to fail or messing up or looking bad in front of their families. If they know committing some fouls isn’t that bad of a thing, then they can loosen up enough to play hard. This isn’t teaching them to mess things up… it’s teaching them to get past the small nonsense that matters little at all.

Granted, we’re not talking about drilling a kid into a wall on a fast break. Let’s not get completely kooky, kids.

But I think it’s a powerful lesson for kids everywhere and something important to learn as early in life as possible: it’s far better to give your all and mess things up a bit than to never dare mightily at all and wonder “Could I have done more?” But come to think of it… it’s not just kids who need to learn that, now is it?

The Plank in My Eye

I think I’m like many people who can be a total ace at passing out advice that I then do a less-than-ideal job of following for myself.  I don’t think there is anything remarkable about that in myself or in others – it’s just far easier to cast the penetrating light of truth upon a situation removed from myself than it is to see that same case in me.

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Case in point.  This past season of coaching baseball, one of the things we implored of our kids was to be aggressive and not fear the consequences that would follow.  If they were going all out and made a mistake in the process, ehh… that’s fine.  More often than not, their aggressive on the baseball diamond would be rewarded with something good than a mistake.  Plus, we kept reminding them… this is baseball.  A game.  Something to have fun with and not something with the future of mankind perilously hanging in the balance.  I think we made a bit of progress on this with a lot of the boys and I hope it sticks with them.  If there is one HUGE thing I’ve noticed in youth sports, it’s that the kids who are either the most aggressive or the least concerned about making mistakes are the ones who do best (and also seem to have the most fun).

And God forbid it all be it about fun.  I know… that’s a pretty nutty thing to say about youth sports.  We’re supposed to be prepping every little Johnny and Jane to be Olympic-calibre athletes from the time they are 6 right? (I will now seek to turn down my sarcasm a shade).

Getting back to the notion of seeing the speck in your brother’s eye while missing the plank in your own.  Yeah… that’s right… I just went Biblical.

A few weeks back I was playing a game in my basketball league and I was absolutely awful.  I mean… just… wow… I was really bad.  My time on the court seemed to serve little purpose outside spelling a teammate who needed to rest for a bit.  I was tentative and second-guessing and awkward.  It was probably one of the worst basketball experiences I’ve had in my life, outside of some bad Nerf hoop experiences when super young.  You know those where you are just starting to learn to play, but have an older brother who just swats away every shot you put up with that puffy orange ball?  So yeah, besides that, my worst outing ever.

Then it hit me loud and clear and with no small amount of force: I was exactly like one of the 10 to 12 year olds I had just finished coaching who didn’t seem to get out of his shell and just be aggressive.  Boom – head shot.  I sat there as a coach and felt I was so wise with all my perspective on the value of being aggressive and how you not only play better, but have more fun… and yet I never saw it in myself.

I played again last night, freshly self-chastised for coaching one way and playing another, and guess what?  I played much better, was much more aggressive, had a blast and smiled throughout a lot of the game (even at some of the awful calls made by our fine officials).  Heck, we won too.

The lesson in all of this for me is simple and direct: If I have an insight for someone else… whether while coaching or with someone coming to me for advice… I need to immediately take an opportunity to then look at myself in that same vein because chances are, I will need it as well to some extent or another.  I hope to make this a habit and given the fact that my very job involves me giving guidance to people on a daily basis, I think I can get some mojo going on this point.

It’s time to get that plank out of my own eye and see things a little bit more clearly… at least when looking at myself.

The Aging Athlete and Fighting the Inevitable

Last night was the third game of the basketball league I just got involved in after not playing at all for several years.  While I have been in some of the best shape of my life of late… well… let’s just say my hoop skills are not what they once were.  I mean, not even within the same ZIP code.  It’s not that I was amazing at any time in my life, but I was a solid outside shooter, played good defense and could push the ball decently well on a fast break.

Now? Hoo boy.  It’s not just the skills being rusty, but the lack of confidence in not playing in such a long time.  Well, that and the fact that I really don’t want to put my team in a bad spot… which probably just makes me more tentative. Kind of a vicious cycle.2009_10_cleats

After I subbed out with a few minutes left to play and watched the rest of the game  from the sidelines, I had a strange moment of reflection.  I had to make a choice: (a) work harder on my game; (b) accept the state of my game as it is; or (c) or hang up the sneakers entirely.

I had a moment like this playing soccer this past Fall.  I found myself not keeping up with the forwards I had to cover or getting winded too easily.  I am someone who has a lot of athletic pride, so the notion of just accepting things as they were was simply untenable to me… at least in soccer.  Also, I really was not ready to go gentle into that good night by playing in a less competitive league… so the decision there was to get myself in better shape or stop all together.  I went with a personal ass-kicking and the results (at least for the indoor soccer I have been playing) have been great.

But these moments I experienced are likely not going to be passing things.  At the delightful age of 37, they will only return and likely with shorter and shorter intervals between them.  While I certainly do not feel like I am 37 in terms of my outlook or how I feel, I know that there is a certain inevitably that comes with the wisdom of years.

Part of this is a matter of life getting in the way.  We get older and have more job and family responsibilities… we get a little bit more sedentary… play our sports just a little bit less… and then the years slip by and you end up standing on the sidelines of your rec basketball league wondering what in the name of all that’s holy happened to your jump shot.

In fact, I am stubborn about the notion that the problem with aging and athletics is really a lot less about the physical changes from time and more about the reduction in total activity.  Of course, it’s totally possible I view it this way because this is a philosophy whereby renewed effort should be able to return some of the sparkle of former glory… and I want my sparkle back.

So for the foreseeable future, I will not go gentle into that good night and will rage, rage against the dying of the light.  I have no reason to give up… no reason to quit… and truth be told, few things stir my blood like a good challenge.

And this challenge?  Oh this challenge is a good one for me.

And this will be my anthem:

Everybody gets knocked down. How quick are you gonna get up?