The Unfinished Story of a DC girls’ Basketball Team
It all started in the fall of 2009 with a flyer stating, “Any third grade DC girls interested in playing basketball please contact Mark and Karen Piotrowski at…” That was four years ago and my wife and I have had the privilege of coaching the same group of girls for four years now. Not all the players returned each year (for one reason or another); however the core group of about ten has pretty much stayed the same. In these four years I am convinced that my wife and I have learned just as much or maybe more than the girls. There are offenses, defenses, and individual skills of the sport to be learned, but more importantly there are lessons about becoming a Christian athlete that supersede the on-court skills that we focus on at practice and implement in the games. The three most important lessons that we’ve learned as coaches and attempted to teach to our girls are described below.
Lesson 1: Coaches must model behavior.
As coaches we have learned that where the leadership of the team goes, ergo the players. As coaches it is important to bring God’s word into the playbook. It is important to pray at practices and games and to exude grace to your teammates and opponents. It is important to work hard, to practice with a purpose, to encourage one another, and lift one another up. During our seasons some of this modeled behavior was backed up with scripture while other behaviors were just good habits that promoted athletic prowess. Modeling behavior means being intentional and consistent. It also means admitting when you make a mistake with any of the items above. Our goals with this first lesson were twofold: first - to model the behavior and, second – to encourage the girls to model the behaviors themselves. One example of how this has come to fruition is when we asked our girls if anyone would volunteer to pray before a game and many of the players raised their hands. What a great problem to have – having to pick only one player to pray!
Lesson 2: Winning is important.
I was once told that winning isn’t important at this level and that what is more important is learning basic skills. I disagree. Not everything is black and white, and I believe there is a middle ground when it comes to approaching the concept of winning. Winning is important at all levels. In the book of Corinthians we are told to, “run the race in such a way to win the prize.” Obviously Paul was speaking about a spiritual race, but this passage also applies to athletic pursuits. Children of all levels need to learn what it means to desire to win and play to win in sports and in life. They need to understand that their skills and knowledge are gained with the purpose of pursuing the “W.” Winning isn’t the only reason, but it is one of the most important reasons that we pursue athletics. Winning and confidence can have a reciprocal relationship. The old adage of “winning isn’t important, it’s how you play the game” is an outdated saying that needs to be removed from our lexicon. I prefer, “winning is important and so is how you play the game.” And winning is not only about the team winning, but individual winning in regards to improving one’s abilities over time. At the beginning of the season we gave each of our player’s individual goals. These goals were created after observing our girls and identifying what skills they needed to improve. We additionally came up with an action plan and assessment for each of our girls. Each practice we attempted to give our team time to focus on these action plans to address their individual goals. Every girl made progress throughout the season with their individual goals, and even if we don’t have a winning season, they have “won” in the sense that they have become more experienced players with enhanced skills.
Lesson 3: Losing cannot be separated from winning.
Losing is also important. Both lessons of winning and losing go together. We tell our players that failure is not terminal as long as you learn from it. Losing must serve the purpose of identifying what went wrong, whether it was an offense, defense, or individual skill application in a game. Sometimes the coach needs to take responsibility for the loss and verbalize this to the players. This goes along with Lesson 1 above – coaches need to model humility and admit their mistakes. I hate losing a game. However I believe it makes me a better coach. It teaches me to reassess my coaching techniques, our offenses, our defenses, and what we need to work on in future practices. Losing should make us better on the court and in life. When we fail in our Christian walk, we need to identify where we went wrong and what steps to take to avoid the pitfalls when we are in a similar situation.
I was also told once that the particular class of sixth grade girls is one of the most athletic groups of girls to come through DC. I don’t know this to be a fact, but I do know that there are many girls in this age group that play more than one sport and they play it with great passion and energy. And that is why the title of this article is called “The Unfinished Story of a DC girls’ Basketball Team.” If these girls continue to play together competitively they are destined to be a force to be reckoned with in the league. Maybe they won’t all get athletic scholarships, but they will hopefully graduate from DC with a balanced sense of the value of winning and losing, and how they will need to model behavior to their family, peers, and those with whom they come in contact. Maybe in a few years there will be a sequel to this article. The article will have a different title, but my hope and prayer is that it will be about how this group of young girls became model Christian athletes that inspired others to pursue their athletic talents with stamina and passion, and that they applied the lessons they learned early on in basketball to model behavior, how to win, and how to lose in sports and in life.
6th Grade Girls Basketball Coach
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