Claire PerrySenior Program Manager, Philadelphia Up2Us Sports
I love being an assistant coach. And not even first assistant coach - second assistant coach. You’re not constantly thinking about macro, strategic offensive play calls or defensive switches. You’re not worried about the next subbing rotation or, potentially, which parent is sending daggers because their daughter is not yet in the game. No, second assistant coach is all about connecting with the players; developing a relationship with an individual to help elevate their specific game which, in turn, will better their overall team play. Teaching basketball skills coincides with another goal, to teach lessons on the court that can be translated and applied to life. As a past collegiate player, employee of Up2Us Sports and current second assistant coach of Central Bucks High School West girl’s basketball team, this coaching position allows me to impart - rather, unleash - all my experiences and knowledge to the many girls I coach.
Last week, our team earned their way to the PIAA Class AAAA State Championship game. Five of the six seniors had been playing together since fourth grade, had won only a handful of games as freshmen, then fought to a 31-2 record in their final season. They fell just short of a state title with a 25% shooting percentage for the night. Hustle, heart, and determination were never factors; the ball just liked the rim better than the net. Watching the girls bury their heads in their uniforms—crouching on the very spot they stood when the final buzzer sounded, watching the other team sprint to center court to celebrate. I cried. Easily, too.
More than just the moment of having lost the game, it was the loss of 20 hours a week of playing and being a family. The one minute conversation we’d have on the bench, having just asked, “what do you see out there?” The two minutes spent talking about school, family, and prom dresses while rebounding free throws at practice. The 30 minutes after practice where we would just shoot around, dance and play with my two year old son. What really pushed me to tears was the realization that whether we won or not, these sometimes-basketball, sometimes-life moments with this group of girls would cease.
Here at Up2Us Sports, we call these moments of unstructured play Informal Time; the time where, as a coach, you’re able to develop better, deeper relationships with the player through technical and non-technical conversation. I believe I would have still developed good relationships with the team, but through attending over 20 Up2Us Sports coach trainings I’ve learned that as sports-based youth development (SBYD) coaches, we need to do MORE than just what is expected to develop GREAT relationships. We need to Demo, Show, Demo when we instruct our players to fine tune skills. We need to ask, “how did you do that?” to actually have the players think through the process of completing the said task so that the process is understood and can be readily repeated. It’s easy to just tell our players what to do; but if they are able to break down why and how they’re doing something, we can get them to think, understand and improve. What makes coaching such an incredible opportunity is the moment where a player realizes they worked hard and accomplished a goal or really improved a skill. Through this process they develop characteristics, such as discipline, social confidence, and situational awareness - that are transferrable to school and life.
I’m sure the players didn't realize how often I was using skills and techniques learned at the Up2Us Sports coach training—which was all the time. As second assistant coach, I had numerous moments to address players individually and develop the relationships I learned about at Up2Us Sports Trainings. It gave a new meaning to holding conversations on the sidelines with the players about practice and life, and hanging out afterwards while my two year old son was “dribbling” the ball alongside our star point guard.
I’m also positive the players don't know how much they gave me this past season. I know they don't realize how much I miss them, even just one week out from losing the state championship. They were the twenty big sisters for my son, the twenty younger sisters for me: a true family. Hard to say goodbye to a family.
Good thing, then, that post-season starts back up next week.