Listen to your coach: Don’t get caught watching the finger-paint dry

The finest film ever made about Indiana basketball. IN YOUR FACE, Hackman.

GateHouse — So somehow I ended up an “assistant coach” on my son’s first-grade basketball team. I might as well be a neurosurgeon, snake handler, public speaker or priest. There are few, if any, non-crocodile-related activities on Earth I am less equipped to introduce to others, even if those others are mostly interested in constantly pushing each other and dramatically falling down for no discernible purpose. Once, while playing for a 2007 rec league team of suckitude so legendary that it was brought up on Facebook this past Sunday, I successfully nailed two consecutive free throws, and the heartbreakingly sympathetic, oh-bless-his-heart applause from my quote-fingers friends in attendance still echoes in my mind on the cold nights.

I am, however, easily swayed and blessed with a below-average awareness of my own shortcomings, so when my friend (and actual basketball person) Jamie needed a hand, I said sure, figuring:


  1. You know, “attentive parenting” or whatever and
  2. I grew up in Indiana in the 1980s, in a nice house in a nice neighbborhood with a nice, picturesque, state-issued rickety backboard nailed to the side of the barn (if you didn’t have one already, barns were assigned to residents via the popular Post-“Hoosiers” Civic Pride Act Of 1986). I also attended Indiana University, so I figured if things get really hairy I could always just fall back on my geographic instinct, which is to choke somebody and get fired.

The problem, of course, is that first-grade basketball is still technically basketball, and basketball is a form of sports, which means that the little man’s DNA is spectacularly ill-configured to excel at it. Rather, the boy will soon discover, either during gym class, dodgeball or while shooting free throws in front of a girl he likes (if history is any indication), that through no fault of his own, his entire cellular structure basically exists for the sole purpose of making him lousy at athletic things, unless those “athletic things” involve taking pictures or keeping the statistics of people who were actually doing the athletic things. (Which I was pretty good at, actually. If there was a more artful rebound chart kept in the entire Lake Suburban Athletic Conference in northwest Indiana in 1992, I have yet to hear about it.)


If you can watch this without crying, your heart is made of 8 oz. of black smoke.


Now, understand, I’m not pushing for my son to actually be any good at basketball; frankly, such a development would be a miracle that would shatter all the whole of human research on genetics, require a lifetime of studying my son’s brain at someplace with a particle accelerator in it or — and this is the one I like — establish myself as one of those minor saints who can’t actually get you into heaven but who has his own dashboard icon. I can’t tell you how little of a chance he stands; I can’t tell you how bad I feel about that. Frankly, he could stand under the backboard and miss 75 shots in a row and I wouldn’t care, largely because he’d still fall about 74 shots short of the youth-league whiff record set in 1982 by, of course, me.

Luckily, this is a reasonably low-stress league, full of nice, supportive people doing nice, supportive things, which eased my fear of plunking my son into one of those situations where everyone behaves as though most of the ACC is sitting in the parking lot with binoculars and a hemp sack filled with million-dollar bills.


Related, sort of


And in the first game, last week, we survived. As an “assistant coach,” my job involves attempting to keep the three subs in their chairs for each 20-minute half, indiscriminately yelling things like “Defense!” and “Rebound!” and “Get your finger out of your nose!” and talking the kids down from first-grade level depressive tendencies whenever the other team scored a basket, which was lots. My son’s basketball league currently doesn’t keep score, for obvious reasons, but luckily my son and many of the other kids, though they cannot follow such complicated instructions as “Can you stop opening the doors to the supply room FOR THREE SECONDS,” it comes to numbers and kept a rock-solid mental tally of how much they were losing by at all times, so that’s good.

But as far as monitoring my own son — which I have to do, but not look like I’m doing, but obsessively do anyway — it’s basically just a matter of standing there and hoping for your best (and to lessen his inveterate resentment of me if he comes across this column when he’s 12, yes, son, I am overstating your clumsiness for comic effect, you’re actually a really good swimmer). I suppose, though, it couldn’t hurt to get Indiana to send us another backboard.


About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

5 responses to “Listen to your coach: Don’t get caught watching the finger-paint dry

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