There is no such thing as a mediocre coach. There are great coaches and there are horrible coaches. A woman recently told me that her nine-year old son’s coach quit the team mid-practice by storming off the court while hurling horrible insults at them, and screaming that they were essentially a worthless group of misfits not worth his time. THEY’RE NINE-YEAR OLD’S!!!???!!!
My seven-year old son plays basketball for St. John’s in Leonia. His team is led by Coach Tom Muir. Coach Muir’s mission is to teach these first and second grade boys the sport of basketball. It’s also his mission to develop these young boys, many of whom have the talents and reputations of older brothers to contend with, into a solid unbreakable team, allowing no individual ego to control the ball or the game.
Supported by the coaches of opposing teams, and referees, Coach Muir has organized games where the refs will interrupt the game to explain where players should be positioned, why a move was called a foul, what it means to play defense, and what it means to play offense. I wish I could have captured the faces of these boys who were soaking up the information of learning how to play the game. It’s one thing to shoot baskets with your child; it’s an entirely other thing to actually teach them the sport while playing the game.
Then there was last Saturday, the final game of the season. In a non-descript school gym in River Edge, I saw the best basketball game of my life. Coach Muir wanted every boy on his team to score at least one basket during the season, and all of them had, except for Nicky, one of the youngest players. During the last seconds of the game Coach Muir instructed his team to pass the ball to Nicky, and then kept calling to Nicky to shoot. Coach Muir halted the game to tell the ref that he wanted Nicky to at least have the opportunity to shoot.
Suddenly, every member of both teams, along with their parents, understood what was going on, and everyone started cheering “Shoot, Nicky, Shoot!” every time the ball landed in his hands. However, Nicky kept passing it off to one of his older teammates like he was playing a game of hot potato. Finally, the ref called a foul. With less than 10 seconds left Nicky went to the line for two shots.
Everyone held their breath. Silence fell upon the court. With the widest smile on his face, he took his first shot. The ball landed perfectly in the basket. The crowd went absolutely wild. His teammates went crazy. Nicky soaked in the moment and the sound of people cheering his name. Silence again fell as the ref handed the ball back to Nicky. Coach Muir knelt on the sidelines smiling, his eyes never once moving from Nicky. Nicky bounced the ball once, lined up his shot, and tossed the ball. The only sound in the gym was this, “Swish.” It went in.
I will never, ever, in my life forget the look on Nicky’s father’s face. It was, simply put, priceless. Needless to say, among mothers and fathers from both teams, there wasn’t a dry eye in the gym. We understood the weight of meaning contained in this moment. Nicky’s teammates ran out to him, surrounded him, high-fived him to death. When Nicky’s older brother (and teammate) ran up to him and hugged him, I thought I’d drop a lung from crying. But when Coach Muir went up to him, the look of pride on this little boy’s face said what I will never be able to put into words.
That was a moment. A moment that little boy will take with him for the rest of his life; a moment that a father will always cherish. And all because of one coach. All because one coach never wavered in his conviction that every member of his team is a vital member. To Coach Tom Muir, and to all the Coach Muir’s out there, who selflessly give their time and their talent to our children; who know instinctively that within each child lives a nail-biting two-point moment like the one Nicky had -- I salute you.