For the last decade or more I have coached youth basketball. The thought of me having any influence over anyone under the age of 18 I'm sure is frightening to most and probably for good reason.
First I love to win. If I was playing a game of checkers with a child on their death bed whose last wish was to feel the joys of victory I would try to crush them.
"King me punk!"
Second I'm a bit excitable. My family and friends love to watch me stomp my feet to get the players attention and apparently I pace the sideline like a drill sergeant watching his troops. Sometimes my legs are sore the next day after pacing so much. I even sprained my knee once after jumping up after a big play. After all, there is a reason I'm coaching and not playing.
I also have a tendency to be a bit loud when I yell instructions like "press," "go" and "hands up." Sometimes it is so loud kids playing in other states hear me and put their hands up. I should have been a cop.
Still none of that was ever a problem because until last year I coached junior high or high school-aged kids. You know, the age where cursing, shouting and the taunting of mothers is all part of the game. Yelling is the only way to get a teenager's attention at times.
But last year I made a change and volunteered to coach a team made up of first and second graders. Really, how much different could it be?
Let's just say I went from teaching kids how to run the pick-and-roll to telling kids not to pick their nose. It was a shock.
Most of the kids could barely get the ball to the basket from five feet away and at times it was like herding cats just trying to get them going in the right direction. Now I was yelling "this way" and "remember to dribble."
I told one of my players he needed to play more aggressive. He asked me what aggressive meant. So I told him to go get the ball, no matter what. He then went and tackled the player with the ball. When the official called the foul my player looked shocked and said, "coach told me too."
I had player that was sitting on the bench come and tug on my shirt.
"Coach, can I take off my shirt?"
"Umm, no, go sit down, please."
"OK coach. I'll just throw my shoe at them."
I had to put him back in the game just to keep his clothes on.
But in the end I had a blast and it was fun seeing how much the kids improved. So when I was asked earlier this year to coach a fifth and sixth grade team in Dexter, I jumped at it. After coaching first and second graders, how much different could it be?
Let's just say I went from telling kids not to pick their nose to telling them not pick on each other.
The first practice a kid walked right up to me to introduce himself.
"My name is Preston but you can call me LeBron."
And he was serious. People, including my fellow coach, started calling him LeBron. Only he didn't play quite like LeBron. Granted he liked to shoot it every time he touched it but more often than not the ball was off target.
I told him that I wouldn't call him LeBron until he could dunk. He just looked at me as serious as can be and said, "I'm gonna need a ladder."
One game I gave the team instructions before the game to not shoot any three-pointers. Less than a minute into the game little LeBron shot a three-pointer that was off the mark. I immediately took him out and he smiled as he walked to the bench.
"Do you know why you are coming out?"
"Yeah, because I shot a three and you told us not to. But coach, I almost made it!"
And so it went. Between the kids punching each other in the arm, making fun of each other and me looking for a drug dealer that sold Ritalin, they improved and even knocked off the undefeated team in the league.
So now I am coaching a third and fourth grade team in Sikeston. And really, how much different can that be? (gulp)
I'm sure I will enjoy it though, because between the picking of noses, taunting of mothers and listening to some of the parents who won't volunteer their time to coach but sure will tell you how to do it, the fun is actually interacting with the kids and watching them learn. And who knows, maybe one day I will get to coach an actual LeBron.