Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Coaching along the path - part 2

A Bit Practice along the Path


It has been a long time since I’ve played on a basketball team.  But I often think of the work in my shop as “game time” and the teamwork feels a lot like the efforts of my childhood basketball teams…without the practice sessions.  One of the missing pieces in many small businesses is the opportunity to “practice.”  If everyday is a game day you do find ways to learn as you play, but you also miss something when the opportunity to practice, review, reflect, repeat, experiment, and perfect is not available.  Limited time and resources tend to make me less inclined to close up the shop for “practice” time or to pay all of my staff during time when there is no revenue being produced. I do “get it” that practice sessions will increase the likelihood of making more revenue, but ‘Practice’ is an investment that can get shortchanged when all of the other pressing demands are calling. 


As a follow up to last month’s column, I return to my memories of my dad, the coach. I remember how much my dad loved practices (more than games I’m certain) because I know that practices are where coaches shine; in the games, it’s the players who should be shining.


And so we practiced.


            It was a treat to have my father as the coach for my middle-school basketball team because I grew up watching my dad play in a church basketball league and I always thought he was the best one out there.  Our team, the Celtics, was a local powerhouse. It was us and the Lakers at the top, each of the years I played.  We had a talented group and we had a talented coach.  My dad loved basketball almost as much as baseball, but for a different reason.  The plays.

            Dad would spend hours working out elaborate plays with funny names that he developed for each of his players’ particular skills.  Sometimes he’d bring the plays home on stationery from work.  Sometimes he’d just be sitting in the living room watching tv and he’d get this idea in his head.  It was kind of funny at times.

            Our practices were always a mix of drills and experimenting.  We didn’t really like the drills but they were worth getting through so we could try a new play.  Dad would pull out his clipboard and gather us around, drawing and talking, pointing and motioning, talking and drawing.


It was thus a rare event to have our practice night set up with another team.


            On this particular evening we’ve gathered to go play a team from Stillwater.  The coach is a friend of Dad’s. We’ve heard that they are really good. But we think we are pretty good too.  He wants us to play them in preparation for a game against the Lakers. We like the idea of traveling so far just to play basketball.  We pile into 2 cars, Joe Anderson’s dad is coming along too.  It’s a long drive, and we’re nervous.

            The gym is small, up some stairs and down hallways that seem like a maze in the second floor of this old building.  It smells like basketball here; sweat, leather, wood floor.  It’s an odd space, with a lower ceiling that feels different than our high school’s gym. We’re a bit late so our warm up is rushed and we’re a little intimidated because they’re watching us the whole time.

            The game goes by quickly, they rout us badly.  But Dad uses the game to try us out.  Each of our plays gets tested against real players, not just ourselves.  Some plays work, many don’t.  He steps onto the court a couple times to pause the game and ask us to try again.  We’re a little embarrassed to have to repeat a play a few times with their players watching us.  But, later I realize they were learning something too.  It was a game, but Dad had used it to teach, to plan, to learn.  As we leave our team feels both challenged and tested.  We’re all a little down and Dad can tell we’re not happy with how we performed. Dad tells us to just think about how badly the Lakers would get beat by this team.  We all laugh. He notes that we now have a couple new plays that will dazzle the Lakers, and we know that next week we’ll be ready.  We feel better.


I’m making plans to have this year be one of more practices, more coaching, and more opportunities to prepare for our daily game days.  As you look toward the new year I wish you the time and space to be able to practice and reflect on the things that help you shine.