Friday, October 23, 2009

Elite Dad with a History Lesson

I received this email from the father of one of the best point guards and players in the city. Emphasis in parenthesis are his. The email follows:

The class of 2010 is a special one indeed. As mentioned in some of the earlier BLOGS, this is the deepest DI committed class in recent memory. I also want to be clear, if you don't play D1 basketball it doesn't mean you are not a good player as this is a common belief. I must say that many of your blogs have had a lot truth as it pertains to what it takes to be an elite player and the plight of girls basketball in San Antonio relative to our counterparts in the northern and southern portions of our state. If I may, I would like to tell a brief story on how I personally have experienced the evolution of girls basketball in San Antonio over the past eight years.

As a military family, shortly after our arrival to Ft Sam Houston in early 2002 I immediately enrolled my son and daughter into the Youth Center on the installation. My daughter who was 10 years old at the time had exceptional skills but had never been a member of any organized teams. So I quickly enrolled her into the youth basketball program on post.... A day after I was called and asked to coach a one of the teams. I told them I would be more than happy to as long as I could coach my daughter's team and they obliged....Subsequently I began to collect several talented players who had obvious potential for greatness at 11 and 12 years of age. They were so good that we were beating teams two grades ahead of them. One day after a victory, a team dad pulled me aside a suggested that I start an AAU team so the girls could play on a competitive level. Initially some parents were apprehensive, but most of them were all for it. So that summer I solicited the help of a man named Tom Brown who had just moved into town from Houston. He had a wealth of knowledge and set me on the right track to start my own team. Keep in mind at this time there were only two major girls competitive basketball teams in S.A., Texas Breakers and Hidden Talent. So with excitement, I started the Lady Cougars 12U AAU basketball team. This was a very special team. All of the girls worked hard, were very competitive and had a desire to win (IMPORTANT). I want to point out one thing, 99 percent of the girls on the team had parents who worked with them individually outside of our normal practices (IMPORTANT)....My primary focus in practice were fundamental ie.. footwork, passing, dribbling, and shooting.) Nothing sophisticated (IMPORTANT). For the next three summers we were one of two of the most competitive teams in S.A., the other being the S.A Rimrockers (notable players Monica Englemann, 09' (Kansas d1), Courtney Peay 09' (Nyack College), LeNique Brown D1 ?). The San Antonio basketball seen was growing and so was interest in my players.(No one steals your players, they leave.) (IMPORTANT) I was sad to see my team break-up but I knew it would eventually come to an end. The Lady Cougars also boasted a roster of big time players you might know such as Alishia Flowers 09' (UCF, D1), Alicia Houston 09' (Midwestern State, D1), Meighan Simmons (Tennessee, D1), Kira Chester 09' (Shriner, D3) Michelle Rodriguez (D1?), and Olivia Patterson (D1?).

There were other girls involved with our program but I don't have any current info as of late. The point of the story is this, from an early age these girls had noticeable talents and gifts. Basketball loyalist back then were saying that this class (2010) was a very special group. The common thread in all these girls was their WILLINGNESS to compete at a high level, their desire to WIN and the WILLINGNESS of their coaches to seek greater competition even it meant leaving the city of S.A. (Hint).

I felt the need to post the email for some obvious reasons:

1. Early Specialization- This topic is a popular among many so called basketball experts. They claim that early specialization prohibits growth in other areas and promotes burnout. They also claim that early specialization leads to overuse injuries. Some of these claims maybe somewhat valid. I will touch on them in later blogs but the fact remains that these above mentioned girls were elite for their age at 11 years old and they continue to be so today. While undoubtedly some elite 11 year olds were casualties of the game over the last 7 years, the kids that persevered are realizing their hoops dreams.

I happen to live next door to a great kid. This kid is polite, respectful and annoys me to no end. The reason for the annoyance is his constant practicing of his trumpet. Day after day, night after night, this boy plays that trumpet. His butchering of the theme song from Rocky makes me dislike the movie! The Pink Panther anthem has never sounded so bad. But, he persists. Everyday for hours, he persists. He has gotten a lot better and I now can tell that his passion leads him. However, if he was a girls basketball player, his parents would be accused of putting too much pressure on him. Or living vicariously through him. Or exposing him to burnout and carpel tunnel induced by playing his trumpet too much.

2. Elite Competition/Environment- This parents email highlights the need to surround yourself with others with like gifts and aspirations. The formation of a club team was a great step in the realization of these young ladies hoop dreams. Potential is loaded word. An overused saying among college and professional coaches is the one that goes," Potential is what gets coaches fired". That is debatable at best. Tony Parker had accomplished very little upon his arrival in the NBA but his potential and environment allowed him to blossom into one of the best players in the league. The same can be said for Kobe Bryant. Back to the subject, this dad and his counterparts saw that these young girls had the potential to shine and all they needed was the right soil to grow.

One of the byproducts of elite competition is elite expectations. These kids were placed among a culture of basketball achievers and underachieving was not an option. This is how you change a culture and encourage excellence. Back to my trumpet playing neighbor. His band has players that are more polished than others. While many band members participate, only the best ones go to competitions against bands from across the city. Also, the elite trumpet players get to play more difficult musical pieces and have solos. Why should Jr High and High School basketball be any different? The blog from a frustrated dad a few days ago illustrates the hypocrisy of these school institutions in regards to girls basketball. Here is a thought. Go to the High Schools of Smithson Valley, Madison, or Judson and tell the football coach that his Jr High quarterback can only play half of the game in order to be fair to the other players. These elite high school coaches understand that those elite Jr High quarterbacks are their future. They were not born elite. They worked to get that way and it is unproductive to punish them for being elite and having elite work ethic. The ENVIRONMENT fosters the results!

3. Parental Support/Discipline- Again, the example provides more support to show that active parental involvement is almost a necessity in producing elite players. I wrote a Blog about fathers who had raised multiple college players called Deliberate Dads. In this Blog, I championed the dads who deserved some kudos. However, others can be just as instrumental in the development of elite players. Lisa Leslie is a great example. Leslie was raised in a home without her father and it was a father of her friend and teammate who played the vital role in her life. Point being, no elite player becomes so without a mentor to show them the PROCESS of becoming elite.

Part of parental support is instilling discipline. Admittedly, there is thin line between instilling discipline and being overbearing. The exact point in which one becomes the other is up to debate. However, no child is born with the discipline to become elite at anything. Behind every elite trumpet player is a parent, teacher or mentor instilling the importance of practice.

My trumpet playing neighbor walks with his head high. His mother's car is draped with stickers and decals trumpeting the success of her little trumpet boy. His place among his band and his ability compared to other players in the city is reportedly respectable. One might say elite. It is hard for to me believe that that racket I hear CONSTANTLY can be called elite but what is outstanding is the dedication of such a young child to pursue his dream. Early Specialization? Probably. Elite Environment and Support? Definitely!