You think it's hard coaching in the Final Four? You think it's
tough handling 280-pound seniors, freshmen with agents, athletic
directors with pockets full of pink slips?
Please. Try coaching seventh-grade girls. After working with
boys for 11 years, I helped coach my daughter Rae's school
basketball team this winter. I learned something about
seventh-grade girls: They're usually in the bathroom.
In one tight spot I was looking around madly for my best
defensive guard to send in. "Where is she?" I yelled.
"In the bathroom, crying," our little guard in the blue
rectangular glasses said. "Her friends kicked her out of their
Worse, when one girl ran to the bathroom crying, three others
automatically followed to console her, followed by three others
to console them, followed by three others who didn't really want
to go but were sucked in by seventh-grade-girl gravitational
pull. This would always leave just me and the girl in the blue
rectangular glasses, who would slurp on her Dum-Dum and shrug.
Students at Rae's small school are required to go out for at
least one sport a year, and 11 girls came out for basketball.
But you never had the idea the game was more important in their
lives than, say, Chap Stick.
For instance we had a forward who never stopped adjusting her
butterfly hair clips, even during our full-court press. Before
the opening tip-off of our first game, she came back from the
center-court captains' meeting and announced, "O.K., the ref
said whoever wins the tip thingy gets to go toward that basket."
Well, that would be an interesting rule.
Another difference between boys and girls: Girls have many
questions. Our team meetings were sometimes longer than our
practices. Apparently girls use team meetings as a chance to
process feelings, whereas boys use team meetings as a chance to
give each other wedgies.
During our first meeting we had long, emotional deliberations
over what our huddle cheer would be and whether we should wear
matching bracelets. Then one of our best dribblers stood up,
took a deep breath and said, "I have an announcement. I am not
going to bring the ball up this year, because last year Sherry
got yelled at by everybody because she didn't pass them the
ball, and I don't want to get yelled at." As if!
During one game our best rebounder slammed the ball down and
stomped off the court. "Everybody's yelling my name, and I'm
sick of it!" she said, and ran to the bathroom--followed by the
mandatory nine other girls. I looked at the little guard in the
blue rectangular glasses, who popped her Dum-Dum out of her
mouth and said, "Don't worry, Coach. She's having her period."
You think Red Auerbach ever had to deal with this stuff?
Coaching girls was fun. It was rewarding. It was awkward. When
they came off the court, it was difficult to know how to give
them their "good job" pat. On the.... Nope. On the.... Nope. I
always ended up just tapping them lightly on the top of the
head. But not so I messed up their butterfly hair clips.
One thing about our team: We were always polite. One time my
tallest and gentlest player tried to block a shot and
accidentally hit the shooter on top of the head. Our player
covered her mouth in horror with both hands, enabling the other
girl to drop in a layup. "I thought I hurt her!" our player
explained. I believe that started my facial tic.
We lost worse than Michael Dukakis. We got creamed our first
eight games, losing one 23-2 and another 19-1. Yet the girls
were over it the second the games ended. (Quite often, in fact,
they were over it in the third quarter.) Afterward they headed
to the one place they loved to be together--the bathroom.
Finally, in our ninth game, all heaven broke loose. For the
first time we hit the cutter for a layup. Our shooting guard hit
three running 15-footers. We hadn't even hit a 15-foot pass to
that point. We came from behind and won 16-15 in a shootout,
capped by the little guard in the blue rectangular glasses
setting the most beautiful pick to free up the player who made
the winning layup.
In all my years of coaching, I never felt more giddy than after
that win. In the delirious celebration, I grabbed the shoulders
of the little girl in the blue rectangular glasses and yelled,
"That was the greatest pick I've ever seen!"
And she screamed, "What's a pick?"
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
We had a forward who never stopped adjusting her hair clips,
even during our full-court press.