Our 8th grade girls basketball season finished up in December and I’m not quite sure how I feel about this fact.
This is the first year in four years, and the second in 15 years that I won’t be coach the girls outside of the school season. The last three years have been an amazing run: our teams have competed against teams from districts several times larger than our, our teams have grown during the time together, the basketball program has created a “club team” with money dedicated to the advancement of our girls, and there’s just a feeling a family with the girls and their parents. I’ve loved this time, even though it’s been a lot of time spent outside of school doing this. The problem, my own daughters haven’t played middle school basketball in seven years. It’s time for someone else to take up the mantle and push the girls in ways that I’ve not thought of, making them better in future years. I say this, but am second guessing myself because I miss it all ready. We’ll see what next year brings!
As it is, we ended our season with a record of 3 wins and 9 losses. Ugh. This was my most difficult season coaching for one big reason: relationships. I’ve been a coach of some sort for 22 of the 25 years I’ve been in education. Almost all the teams I’ve coached I’ve have the girls in class or I’ve had the girls in class. That makes a HUGE difference to have that relationship built before the season starts. I counted up the years, this is the first team I’ve had since 2000 that I’ve not had girls in class at some point.
As for the girls, we tried, for the most part, and I can’t fault that part of their game. I had 15 girls this year, and a majority of them listened, which I can’t fault either. I’ve got girls that I trusted with the ball in a pinch, but not many. I have even fewer who I could trust to shoot a proper jump shot and have it go in. This was probably the hardest part for me, finding that “go to” person. Very few felt comfortable being that girl that we leaned on. I had a 6’2″ post who we’d look to, but she’d get frustrated when every shot wouldn’t go in. My point guard made huge strides in how she handled the game on the court but would get down on herself quickly.
It was the inconsistency that drove me crazy. One girl, a great athlete, did something stupid on the offensive end, then, allows her emotions to overflow, and would do something stupid on the defensive end. Another makes a mistake, then turns to me and grins like, “Did I do that??”. That lack of self-control which is just infuriating in the class gets me on the court too. If they could be consistent with their play, they’d be a tough team to beat!
Now, it sounds like this season was just terrible. It wasn’t. I had girls who learned their roles and played there absolute hardest with those roles. Those are the stories I love the most. Everyone is not going to be a star, but if I help everyone feel like they are a star for the role they play, I feel successful. I had a parent email me, thanking me for helping her daughter feel like part of the team even though she didn’t score many points. Those are the emails I will keep forever because they mean a lot to me. Another girl started a bunch of games because, while she wasn’t the most talented, she was in the right place at the right time constantly. While she wasn’t always on the court at the end of the game, I could depend on her to start us out with great effort.
Of our nine losses, five of them were straight up butt kickings. There was very little I could do to slow the tide, and thankfully, the opposing coaches realize this point. One coach ran up the score, but karma is a fickle soul, so I have no doubt it will be returned to them. The teams we played simply had better 8th graders than we did, and there’s no shame in that. These are games that are difficult to coach because you struggle to find a positive in the midst of all the yuck on the floor. However, you do find it. Whether it’s a great block out, someone using the backboard, or just a good defensive play, you are always watching and categorizing so these can be brought up later.
Four of our games we lost by 5 points or less. Two possessions. Again, our inconsistent play just made it hard to know WHO to trust, and that was a struggle for me. I had a couple of bonehead plays of my own which didn’t help (oops!), but as a team, we were SO close to a winning season. But, that’s the way of life, if you do things well, good results follow. If you are inconsistent, your results will be that way as well. We talked about this, a lot, how practice predicts games. We talked a couple of times, how with practice in the offseason, how this team will be a hard team to beat! However, I didn’t have the relationships built, so they didn’t buy into my line of thinking as much as other teams in the past.
In the end, I will miss this team for their ability to make a mistake and giggle about it. I’ll miss them for their infuriating way of playing up to their opponent, then playing well beneath them as well. But most of all, I’ll miss this team because the relationships were created. No, not as strong as other teams, but the memories will make me smile. If they have the same memories of the laughter and celebrations, that makes it a great season for me!
In the end, that’s all that matters.