“Ladies, never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass.”
How often I have recalled the ten words that Coach stressed to our team moments before we took the court on that snowy December day.
We played in a rag-tag grade school athletic league. Me and six of my closest fifth grade school mates – with all seven of our young fathers standing right behind us – dreamed of becoming the Catholic Youth Council City/County Basketball champs – which at the time was the equivalent of earning a gold medal for the USA Olympic Team, playing in the NCAA March Madness Final Four, and winning the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes all in one.
This was the 1960s. Sporting activities for women – basketball and/or otherwise – were just starting to come into their own. The powers to be had been forced to organize a league for us girls, with games played at any time the boys weren’t using a nearby gym. The good news is that we had gym time for games, but we were out of luck in terms of using an indoor facility for practice.
But being young, budding athletes, who, by-the-way, had little to no basketball experience whatsoever, we cared little about what we lacked (gym time, experience, or otherwise) and more about what we were going to be learning. So our pops did a little organizing for us, found a suitable outdoor court, identified the one dad who had more than just a little hoop experience, and set us on the course towards the City/County Championship.
Coach quickly recognized that some of us – well nearly all of us – needed to learn a little more – well a lot more – about the artful game of basketball before we ever played a real game. We would form a circle around him, and he would toss the ball to each of us. Regardless of whether we tossed it back correctly, incorrectly, or not at all, he would compliment us on our action. “Great job” were two words that seemed to flow out of his mouth easily.
And because we were basketball newbies, hearing those words helped. Coach taught us to dribble, to shoot, to rebound, to block out, to dish, to pivot, and to play zone. We were proud of what we were learning even if it looked like we knew more about double dribbling, fouling, traveling, palming, over-and-back, and violating the key than the afore mentioned list.
Coach didn’t pay too much attention to what we did wrong. In fact, I can’t remember a time I really did much right, but he gave me the feeling that every pass I made put me closer to becoming Nera White – the most famous basketball player of my time, a 15 year AAU All American and an athletic role model for all young ladies growing up in the 60s.
This new basketball activity seemed to be not just the thrill of the year for me and my BFFs, but also for our dads. They figured out how to get us matching uniforms, made sure we had enough and the right equipment, created intricate and complex plays for us – in case we ever got to the point of using them, and in general bonded with each other as we, young ladies, were doing.
It was Coach, however, who had us all mesmerized. Though I didn’t know it at the time, he was a little more involved in the world of basketball than the rest of our dads. He had not only played high school and college basketball, but he had played it well, a member of the 1948 NIT Championship Team. He knew the rules and the lingo. He was versed in successful models for offensive and defensive play. He rubbed elbows with local athletic greats. And he was our coach.
More importantly to me at that time, he was the nice dad who seemed to know how to lead seven sport novices towards the ability to play hoops with pride. His focus was always on the fundamentals of basketball – and I learned them, one by one. But, somehow, in some unexplainable way, I seemed to be learning more about honesty, critical thinking, problem solving, and collegiality without Coach ever saying one word about any of those topics- ever.
So on that snowy day in December, we suited up for our very first game. Moments before the buzzer blasted to start the game, Coach huddled us up for his very last pep talk before we were on our own to make the dream reality. He leaned in told us that we would be great, and gave us his final instructional mojo. His eyes wide. His hands on his hips. It just rolled off his lips.
“Ladies, never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass!”
I am sad to say, that I can’t remember if we won or lost the game. I have no idea whether I played more than a minute or the entire time. I don’t think we made it anywhere near the Catholic Youth Council City/County Championship that year. Maybe we did, and I have forgotten. It was, however, a most memorable year in a totally different way.
I learned to never ever underestimate the power of the bounce pass.
In this world, it is the two hand push pass that is most commonly used and universally expected. We receive the ball and hand it off more often than not without a single bounce. We repeat this action over and over, often times routinely and mindlessly. Generally, because it works but not always. Sometimes because it is comfortable. It’s what we always did before. That method, however, isn’t always the most powerful, most effective path towards success.
A coach a long time ago told me to consider thinking outside the box. He told me to act with authority and to think about my ability to control my destiny. He told me to look up and see the possibilities, think about my options, and choose the path less traveled. Coach told me to bounce the ball, surprise others, and add a healthy level of wonder into my world.
Ten words to live by.