Out of My Comfort Zone
A couple years ago, in early November, my middle school daughter started playing with our local chapter of the NJB (National Junior Basketball) league. From the first practice it became obvious that her coach was overwhelmed with all he had to do, and he was uncomfortable shouting out instructions and encouragement at the practices. It was his first experience coaching. He needed another pair of hands and help being heard. After watching him struggle at the first couple practices, I offered to help and he enthusiastically accepted. Thus began a strange journey for me. Strange, because I had never played basketball or even watched a game.
I spoke with a few of the other coaches and league managers, inquiring if this would be alright, a basketball coach who had no experience in the sport teaming up with another coach who had only marginally more experience. Everyone at the league was surprisingly welcoming and supportive. The fact that I wanted to donate my time and had a willingness to learn was more important to them than anything else. So began my introduction to basketball and one of the biggest steps I have taken outside of my comfort zone.
The other coach and I watched videos, spoke to the other coaches, and got a lot of instruction from a high school girls basketball coach (an incredibly driven, supportive, and patient man who was amazingly generous with his time). We looked to YouTube for simple drills that would be fun for the girls and which taught and exercised skills that are critical in the game. Initially, I found that it was hard to follow the complex drills, but over time I got the idea. Though, I had trouble seeing the fouls and other stuff happening at speed in the games. Despite this lack of experience, we built up a repertoire of plays to practice with girls on our team. Over time I’ve gotten better at describing and demonstrating more complex moves. I’ve finally gotten better at following the games and the calls made by the referees.
At the games, from my coach’s position on the side of the court, I don’t give complex advice. Over my first several weeks I zeroed in on four things that I realized would improve the girls play. I found that if they executed these actions consistently and with precision they would do well. Each of these simple actions afforded small advantages that all added up to significantly more scoring opportunities.
The four things are: 1) grab the rebounds, 2) talk to your teammates, 3) keep moving, 4) press. I constantly remind my players of these four things as they play. And it makes a huge difference; they are more successful. And I realize that these four things are also great as metaphors for an approach to life.
Grab those rebounds.
It is critical after a shot goes up, that all players, in preparation for a possible missed basket, raise their arms and get ready to jump to catch the ball coming off the rim or backboard. The ball is up for grabs at that point and whoever gets it can take another shot right there or head down to the other side of the court to take a shot on the opposite goal. I almost always shout out, “Rebound, Arms up” every time a shot goes off. (Some coaches have the girls shout “Shot!” to alert the other players.)
In life, lots of shots go up. Many miss. It helps to be ready to grab your own rebound so you can try again. But also, others might miss, and if you can pay attention and learn from their mistakes you may be able to try the same idea successfully or run with those lessons in another direction and try something different.
Talk to your teammates.
Out there on the court, it can get pretty chaotic and often the person with the ball might not realize you are open. If you don’t call out to them, they may never turn your way and pass you the ball. I always tell my players, “Talk to each other. Communicate. Let your teammates know you are there for them. Encourage each other.” Everyone plays better and with more enthusiasm when they get active, vocal encouragement from their teammates. You can also call for help. If you don’t ask, but need it and no one comes to your aid, then it is no one’s fault but your own.
And so in life, I’ve found that it is far more rewarding and there are more wins, when I call out that I am available to help and to let my teammates in life know that I am there for them. Letting people in your life, work, friends, family know where you are and that you are “open” gives them options and support. It also helps to verbally encourage other people. This vocal support lifts up both giver and receiver. And if need be you can raise the alarm and ask for help.
It is amazing how often I have to tell players to “Keep moving. Get open.” If you just stand there on the court, what are you doing? If you don’t keep moving, then you will never be open for the player with the ball. In basketball you have to be in motion constantly, except for the rare free throws (and then you still need to be ever ready to spring into action). Being in motion makes you more noticeable, even if a person is not looking right at you. Likewise, if you stand still, you might not be visible to a person appearing to look directly your way. Our visual system takes much more notice of moving objects than still ones.
So it goes in life. Sitting still, doing nothing, rarely leads to satisfaction or a sense of accomplishment. I have found that staying as active mentally, physically, socially, and contributory as possible is key to improving and bettering oneself and the world around you.
In the NJB, for lower middle schoolers and elementary schoolers (Division 2), there are a couple periods during which the players can attack the contenders on the other team who are bringing the ball inbound. I always remind my kids to “Press! Full court press!” so they don’t just go to the other end of the court and wait for the ball to come to them. Sometimes the upper division teams (D1), though allowed to press at all times, fail to take advantage of this. The teams that consistently press inevitably do better, because they are on the defensive from the start, increasing the chance they can steal the ball right there on their side of the court.
And it is so true in life that it is better to meet life head on, not just wait for things to happen to you. I believe firmly that one should take control of one’s life and direct it as much as possible. A life worth living is not something that just happens spontaneously. It must be cultivated and groomed and sought out. It must be pressed!
After a season coaching basketball it is clear to me that reaching and jumping for the rebounds, talking to teammates, constantly moving, and pressing increases the chance a team will win. And after many years of life, I have found that doing all these things in life increases your chances of success. It may seem like it is easier and more pleasant to lay back and enjoy the game of life. But really, in order to make the most of a life, one must reach and jump high for rebounds, communicate, keep moving, and press hard. What is more, you can do these things to achieve more and still have fun in basketball and life.
I think that in life, applying these lessons is especially important from the start (or as soon as one comes to the realization). The thing about basketball is that you can always play another game. But with life we only get one game. We can drop the ball, miss shots, and try again as much as we want. But at the end of (God willing) 80 years, it is over. That is what makes life so precious, the impermanence of it. We have to make the most of it and play hard for as long as we have.
That is a reason to often step outside one’s comfort zone and try something completely foreign to one’s experience and way of thinking. I find that it keeps me strong, alert, active and humble. There is always something new to learn. It helps avoid getting stuck in a routine.
How did they do? Well, the team won almost half their games and four of my players ended up on the All Star team season extension. This, even though we played the season with only five or six players at each game. And those four simple instructions visibly helped at each game and improved the play of every player, no matter how good they were to start with.
It is a year later and I am one of the coaches of a D1 girls team. There are two other coaches who know much more about basketball than I do. So I am still learning. But even with the year’s experience, I still most often remind the girls: rebound, communicate, keep moving, and press!