Wednesday, May 18, 2022
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Coaching others brings reward

The absolute best time of year begins when March Madness explodes onto the scene. Nothing compares to making brackets, the classic rivalries and highly ranked teams experiencing the occasional upset. March shifts my focus toward the cut-throat basketball rivalries with almost an entire month packed full of my favorite sport.

Whether it’s college ball or the NBA, no other sport beats the basketball court’s fast-paced action.

Diehard Mizzou fans belittling KU fans and vice-versa on game day is one of the most extreme rivalries in the nation, magnified by basketball players’ abundant physical contact and the possibility of last-second turnovers. My unwavering dedication to the Boston Celtics trumps all else despite their poor performance this year.

Football doesn’t provide the same rush and excitement. Many hardcore football fans would disagree, but basketball became a personal passion at a young age and overshadowed an interest in football.

After lengthy participation with soccer, track and cross-country, I always preferred basketball. Since age 5, I played on school, traveling and varsity teams, participated in summer leagues, and any extra tournament I could pencil in.

Working in unison and fulfilling an important role on the court with four other women during a game is always an intensely gratifying experience. I didn’t consider playing in college because of time management.

One of my life’s most rewarding experiences continues every summer in my hometown, St. Joe, where I coach a team of teenage boys in a summer league. The boys are usually 12 or 13 years old.

Some players have prior basketball experience, whereas some have never played on a team before.

Several of these kids tried to play on a team, but couldn’t find the right resources or didn’t know who to contact. Though in the same age division, many players have never met one another, which affects the team’s cohesion.

At practices I solidify the team’s fundamental skills, such as dribbling and passing, since they are vital for the team’s success. After working out initial kinks during several practices, the team plays its first game. At 12 years old, these boys are only interested in winning, and suffer disappointment as a result.

Facing teams with players who have been together for five or more years devastates my team’s spirit, but I calculate our weaknesses and critique them at practices.

I was dealt a complicated hand last summer when I arranged the first practice and discovered multiple boys had Down syndrome or autism. These specific individuals had no basketball background and struggled to even dribble the ball without losing it or picking it up and walking around.

I certainly agree disabled children should participate in sports if they’re interested, but there are special leagues that cater to children with ailments. I was more than happy attempting to educate these boys, but the rest of the team ignored the mentally challenged kids or blamed them when the team lost. This behavior wasn’t rewarded.

As a coach, it was difficult overcoming obvious obstacles. Even worse, one of the special needs kids had no interest in basketball, but was forced to participate because his parents pushed him into it.

Being in a position where I can educate younger children about my favorite sport and watching the team become unified during the season is inarguably one of the most rewarding activities. My dad happily taught me every single detail about the game when I was young, and passing on my knowledge to a younger generation gives me yet another reason to continue loving the sport.

mhartigan@unews.com

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