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I Love This Game!

I Love This Game!

Graduation. You know what it feels like. Youre tired, youre excitedyoure glad to be done with exams! On the one hand youre thinking, Im outta here. And on the other you feel kind of jittery: Man, now I gotta do something. But what?

At least thats how I felt as I approached college graduation in 1978. I had played basketball for two years at Iowa State University while I finished my degree in communications. Then, just as I was about to close that door behind me, I got a message that Coach Lynn Nance wanted to see me.

Approaching his office, I felt a little nervous. Why would he want to see me? The season was over. Id done well for the Cyclones, but, hey, I was graduating, heading out to who-knows-where. Had I done something wrong? I didnt think so. He probably just wanted to say good-bye. Tough as he was, I knew hed send me off with a good word.

I poked my head in the door of an office that was replete with plaques and photos of players who had gone on to the NBA. Sit down, he said. He rocked back in his old leather chair, and with his fingers laced behind his thick, curly brown hair, he got right to the point. Howd you like to be my assistant coach?

I had to stifle an urge to look around. I knew there was no one else in his office, but he couldnt possibly mean me! I was just a college kid . . . whod never coached before. I pointed to the floor. Here? I asked, thinking he must mean somewhere else; maybe hed come across a grade school job and was tossing it my way simply because I had played the game.

You heard me. Right here at Iowa State, as my number-three assistant. You interested?

Wow! I pulled myself up a little straighter in the chair. Excuse me for asking, I said, but . . . why would you offer me a job on your staff when Ive had no experience whatsoever?

He stared at me so long that I thought Id blown it with my impertinent question. Finally he said without a flicker in his steely expression, Two things: I know you love the game, and I believe youd be loyal to me. Am I right?

Well, yeah. Of course. I laughed nervously, then worried that my laugh made me sound like the kid I was.

Today, after eighteen years of coaching, I know Coach Nance put his finger on two crucial qualities that make for an effective coaching staff. He was laying a solid foundation for the kind of team he wanted to build, and it started with his staff.

A lot of adults dont bring any more to the task of parenting than love and loyalty, but those crucial elements are as important to parenting as they are to coaching. One doesnt need to be perfect, but to succeed one must be ready to learn. Love and loyalty create a teachable spirit for the task at hand. And with a teachable spirit, the other requirements for a successful coachor parentcan be learned.

I would like to talk about you, the coaching staff, and the foundations that are required to build an effective family team. In the next chapter, Ill talk about how your relationship with your spouse affects your ability to coach. Well work on how you can improve both your foundation and your relationships. As we look at some of these fundamentals, you may be tempted to say, Lets get on with the coaching. I need some help with my kids! But be patient. The fundamentals are as essential in the game of life as they are in basketball.

The Foundation

Man, I love this game!

Catching that pass, dribbling down the court, faking out your opponent, taking the jumper, hearing the ball go swish! followed by the roar of the crowd . . . now thats a real adrenaline rush. But theres more to really loving the game than feeling that high.

Coach Nance tested my love of the game when I first joined his team. I came to Iowa State from Pratt Junior College in Kansas, where I had been a two-time all-conference guard and team captain . . . but that merely gave me the opportunity to be among the thirty-five people trying out for the Cyclones. When I arrived on campus, he asked me, along with all the other wannabes: Do you love this game?

And, like everyone else, I said, Yes, I love the game!

OK, he said. Report tomorrow at 5:30 A.M.

Did he say 5:30 A.M.? He did. And we showed up. We ran 220-yard dashes until we dropped, and then we hit the gym to lift weights until our exploding muscles screamed for mercy. Then he ran us out on the floor to practice the basics. Finally we got to go back out into the fresh air and run some more 220s. Before we got too cold, though, Coach hustled us back into the nice warm weight room to pump more iron.

By the end of the day, we were all grumbling, What does all this have to do with basketball?

Coach Nance feigned surprise. I thought you guys said you loved the game.

Hey, we do, we do, we all said. But a lot of the guys were already making other plans. Jabbing his finger at us, the no-nonsense former FBI agent said, Lets get one thing straight. Loving the game aint no warm fuzzy feeling. Its not hearing the ball go swish, its not hearing the crowd scream when you make a basket, its not a trip to Hawaii to play a tournament game. Its being willing to do whatever it takes to become a successful team, and often thats more difficult than your conscious mind thinks possible.

The next day those thirty-five wannabes, all of whom said, I love the game, had dwindled to seventeen teachable potential teammatesnot much different than the ratio between those who say, I love you, babe! at the altar and then quit in divorce.

Gymnast Jennifer Pappalardo exemplifies this kind of love for the game. By the time she became a junior in high school, she had undergone six painful operations on her ankle, most of them necessitated by her participation on the Lions gymnastics team of Lyons, Illinois. But she kept on competing. Why was she willing to undergo that much pain? Because the Lions, who placed fifth in the state the year before, had set a goal for themselves to win first place in 1999. Pappalardo, who helped her team score 149.05 in 199899, said, Thats what we want more than ever. It is real important to us to come away with a trophy. . . . I cant think of anything else I would like to do more. I love it that much.

Thats love of the game.

Some people might question that kind of love, that kind of commitment to a mere sport. But as a coach, Ive seen how sports can teach us a lot about life and about the kind of love and loyalty that builds a strong family team.

Do you have the kind of love for your family that will see you through six (or even more) excruciatingly painful experiences without quitting? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to be a successful team?

Editors Note: This article will be continued next week.

Excerpted from: Coaching Your Kids in the Game of Life
Copyright 2000, The estate of Ricky Byrdsong
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.