I failed them and I’m sorry

A familiar sight for me this season (DeMatha fans boo Gonzaga, via WashingtonPost.com)

Flashback: I’m driving southbound down the I-15 corridor headed towards Provo. I forget now why I was driving towards Provo because I rarely head down that way unless I’m on my way to St. George, Moab, one of the many beautiful national parks in Southern Utah or just leaving the State altogether. I generally have a million things going through my head at any given time so when my phone rang I thought to myself, ‘Thought number one-million-and-one entering the no-parking-zone in my brain in 3..2..1..’

“Hello may I speak to Mr. Matua?” the sweet female voice on the other end of the line was saying as I began to make up an excuse for why I still haven’t made my car payment this month.

“Oh uh…may I ask who is calling?”

“This is [Name withheld to protect the innocent] from the Lehi Legacy Center. I’m calling to ask if you would be interested in coaching the 9th – 10th grade team your son will be playing on.”

Gasp! Should I tell her that I’m going to be traveling to Tibet to live in a monastery for three months? Maybe I should tell her I’m anti-social (not far from the truth) and my psychiatrist has asked me to lay low and take my medication religiously for the next three months? Or maybe I should just tell her the truth – I’m horribly incompetent, I’m too critical and I don’t have the patience to coach a recreation basketball team. I’m too competitive and you really don’t want kids around me when I’m losing because to be frank, I absolutely hate losing – just ask Super Mom and my sons how I take a loss in a board game of your choice.

Unfortunately, the wires were crossed in my head as the one-millionth-and-one piece of information was given to me by the Lehi Legacy Center employee on the phone and before I could swallow my tongue and bite my lips shut my mouth said:

“Why sure! I’d love to do that. Where do I sign up?”

Lehi Legacy Employee of the Year was rambling on in my ear just as thought number one-million-and-two interjected – ‘You’re an idiot!’

I consider myself a pretty good motivator. I actually love teaching kids how to play various sports, particularly sports that I have participated in throughout my lifetime. I find joy in watching a young person develop under my tutelage. I’m tooting my own horn a bit but I think I’m a decent coach. Not stellar by any means and definitely not the best, but I take pride in watching young people transform their skills from one level to the next level while enjoying the sport.

But I also LOVE winning. Many coaches will tell you that they are in it to ‘teach and mentor’ kids and those are the coaches who make better citizens. But to most parents of those players under your charge, success generally means – my kid is scoring points; my kid is contributing to the success of the team and my kid is winning. If you’re not winning, it’s hard to convince anyone, including the kids, that all this running around, diving for loose balls, grabbing rebounds and taking a beating and losing in the process is fun. I can’t say that I disagree with a 0-and-7 record this season.

Today is the last game of what has been a very challenging basketball season. Let me reiterate that I absolutely hate losing. It’s very difficult to be positive about a losing season and I shoulder all of the blame for not preparing my team better for every game. There were many games that we should have won except for a few mistakes that cost us dearly when we needed to close out games.

But there have also been some positives – particularly in the boys who started the season too timid, with very little athletic aggression and a mildly complacent attitude in trying situations. I’ve seen the team chemistry improve and the skill level has improved as well. I’m most proud of the fact that those who have stuck with the team are actually enjoying themselves on the court.

Unfortunately, two kids decided to quit the team. One of them quit because he felt like basketball wasn’t his ‘thing’. The other kid quit because he wanted to concentrate on baseball. Honestly, I think they quit because they either feel like I had failed them as a coach or because they were tired of playing for a team that seemed like they were okay with losing. Whatever the reason, I know that the former is true – I completely failed them as a coach. That’s hard to swallow because one of the primary principles of coaching is making sure that your players enjoy the experience enough to want to come back despite the hardships.

Where to from here? We close out the season playing as hard as we possibly can, chalk it up for what it is and hope that the next time they end up on a recreation league roster for the Lehi Legacy Center, that they don’t see their names next to Coach Matua on the list. Personally, I need to re-evaluate my coaching style, my philosophy and perhaps say ‘No’ the next time I’m asked to coach a rec-league basketball team. I would love the chance to try again, but only time will tell.

6 thoughts on “I failed them and I’m sorry

  1. Sole, don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m sure you’re an awesome coach. Win or lose, what’s important, is that the kids know U were always there for them and are proud of them no matter what. How U treat those boys off and on the court is what will stick with them regardless where they end up in life! Some kids you’re coaching right now may come from broken homes and basketball is their way of venting and that’s why they’re there. Some kids may not have father figures and they look up to whatever advise you may give them, whether it’s on the court or off….regardless, I know you did well with them…it just takes time, that’s all. 🙂

    1. I hear ya but it’s still tough and yes I tend to be tough on myself when I know there is something that I could have done to improve our record and performance. I’ve learned some valuable lessons this go around. I hope they can find lessons of their own from this season. Thanks for visiting Carol!

  2. I agree with Carol. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You win some, lose some too. My fave coaches both on and off the field were the ones who yelled and pushed me to give my best. It wasn’t always about winning that mattered but that I knew the basics fundamentals as dad used to call it. Learn the basics and then when you master the basics you can do your fancy “Michael Jordan” moves. LOL! ah the memories. Knowing that my coaches cared about me really is what made the difference for me. I also agree that you probably made more of an impact on those kids than you’ll ever know. Keep at it. Its not always the win that matters. Plus there’s always next season right bro? 🙂 Keep your head up!

    thanks for the timely blog. I am about to assist with the high school girls basketball team and I realized last week that I tend to yell when I get impatient. hmmm! lol! wonder where I got that trait from. I needed to read this today. thanks!


  3. don’t be tough on yourself. kids will be kids and boys will be boys. i used to be an after-school tutor for intermediate and high school kids, and one little “punk” in particular asked to have another tutor after a session of him and i just not getting anything done. yeah, i felt bad, and the new tutor got through to him much easier than i did. but by the end of that semester, when he told me his grades went up, that was all that mattered to me. i know i’m a good tutor and i felt like a failure for a time, but in the end, it was about him, not me. i’m glad that he had the common sense to take initiative in his own studies and request a tutor that would help his grades soar, and i’m glad that, in the end, everything worked out where it was supposed to. so for whatever real reason your two boys left the team, just know that it’ll be ok in the end. you can (and should) always work on the future; just when you’re done, let the past go.

    1. Great example! I would imagine that its much tougher as a teacher/tutor but good on you for recognizing that its the child who comes first. Thanks for visiting and I hope you’ll come back for more.

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