Many of you know the cycle: fall workouts on the court and in the weight room, the school season, and the travel season that follows in March, April and May. June is for high school team stuff and July is back to the travel circuit heading to places such as Louisville, DC, and Indianapolis. Since the basketball never stops, it’s tricky to find moments for reflection, goal setting, and starting a basketball journal such as the one I’m hoping for here. With the school year beginning, it seems as good a time as any to start the project. Up first: where (or is it who) are we now?
I am an assistant coach for the girls basketball team at Watauga High School in Boone, North Carolina, and I teach completely online writing classes as a lecturer at Appalachian State University. Teaching online means that I have a lot of flexibility about when I do the job and so am free for morning workouts and practices after school. I find I have way more time to prepare to coach than I ever did when I was teaching at a middle or high school.
I have two daughters. The oldest, Charlotte, is a high school sophomore. Eighteen months ago, as her last middle school season came to a close and the CDC was confirming the first case of Covid-19 in the United States, Charlotte set the goal of making the varsity team for her freshman season. We had a few weeks of travel basketball but then the season was cancelled. We couldn’t get into a gym, and so I hung a goal in our garage that could only be nine feet high because of the height of the ceiling.
The girls and I worked on ball handling, agility, finishing, and post moves. Like a lot of other people, I invested in more weight equipment and as the weather warmed up, Charlotte, her sister Izzy, and I logged what now seems like an incredible four months of six days a week of outdoor workouts in our backyard and at Junaluska Park in Boone. We got up early to avoid the heat and tried to get our workouts in before the sun rose above the trees. A surprising number of people passed through the park each day, and we made many new acquaintances. Charlotte did reach her goal of making the varsity, and she started all twelve of our games during the pandemic-shortened season. I’m proud of what she accomplished.
My youngest daughter Izzy is an eighth grader, and up until this past summer, I felt like she might just be along for the ride when it comes to basketball. When Charlotte and I had plans to workout, we’d always ask Izzy and she’d agree to go with varying amounts of enthusiasm. Although I tell her she’s always free to decline the offer, I’m not sure how free she could really feel to stay home. Charlotte would probably be the first to tell you that Izzy can pick up a ball handling move faster than she can and is more of a natural shooter, but over the years, I have just been unsure of how badly Izzy wants to work to improve.
Last season, for the first time in Izzy’s life, she was on a team where she didn’t play very much. It was the first time that our school system took the eight K-8 schools that feed into the high school and made a district wide middle school basketball team. The competition to make the team was tougher, and while Izzy did accomplish that, she rarely played in the games. Izzy didn’t say anything to me about not playing. When she’d hop in the car after a practice, she was always happy and chattering about things her teammates had done or funny things her coach had said. Izzy liked her teammates, her coach, and took pride about her team’s undefeated season.
What I did notice about Izzy in the weeks and months that followed her season was that Izzy started to go out and work in the backyard on her own. When Charlotte and I were gone for high school workouts, Izzy would join my wife Megan for Peloton workouts at the house. A player really can’t just decide one day to start working very hard on their game. A player has to also decide to get in shape. Working hard on your game takes a lot of cardiovascular fitness. Izzy became a more enthusiastic runner of the big hill outside of our house, and I no longer have to prod her to keep running all the way around the mile loop we run at Valle Crucis Park by our house. For most of Izzy’s life playing basketball, she could get by because she could handle the ball with both hands, shoot layups with both hands, and consistently make wide open shots. Like most basketball players, and probably all athletes and maybe anyone who pursues a goal in or out of sports, Izzy came to a point when what she was doing to prepare to play in games was no longer good enough for her to succeed on the floor. It’s one of the great things about playing sports. A challenge rises up; we have to work to meet it or give up. So far, it’s been a pleasure for me to watch Izzy respond to the challenge.
Not too long ago, Izzy hit a rough spot of missing a bunch of shots while doing a transition / run-the-sideline drill. “Keeping working,” she told herself. I jumped on her comment and told her it was one of the best things I’d ever heard her say in a workout. Charlotte and I have also latched onto the phrase and it’s become a simple mantra for the three of us. Keep working. Rough spots are coming on and off the court because that’s part of what it is to be human and that includes playing playing basketball: there are missed shots, turnovers, bad losses, and days that we struggle to bring energy to our work. We often don’t get the results we want as quickly as we expect. Izzy, Charlotte, and I will ride those up and downs together and, like Izzy says, we’ll keep working.