Never underestimate the importance of practice

Feb. 1—When I was in high school, I looked forward to practice every day.

I never really had a girlfriend back then. Basketball was my sweetheart and I loved her very much. Besides, girlfriends cost too much for a kid sacking groceries in Hugo.

When I became a college freshman, practice became something totally new, and it effaced everything I'd previously experienced. Why? It was HARDER...

I learned invaluable lessons that served as a precedent for coaching basketball, and it didn't take long. My first job was in Denton, Texas, coaching ninth grade at Congress Junior High. At our first faculty meeting Mrs. Baker, the librarian, told me, "You'll love your little players" and then she leaned and whispered in my ear, "But they're not very good."


Within the first week, I had my new first team, it was plain to see that they had energy and loved to PRACTICE. It was then that I decided to give them what they wanted.

The year before, as eighth graders, they finished last in the conference with a 5-16 record, BUT their coaches were football coaches. From the first day of practice, those kids showed me they were thrilled to be coached by a guy who loved basketball.

It became the perfect match!

I was actually reprimanded by the Denton AD/Head football coach for practicing too long. The time on the practice court just seemed to pass by fast, because I loved what I was doing.

To sum it up, they went from a 5-16 record to a 16-5 record and from last place in the conference to second. In the last game of the season, we lost the conference championship to Highland Park, Dallas. I've always said, "The big time is wherever you're at for the moment." They'll always be special — MY first team.

So ... let's talk about basketball practice. I'm still a 'practice junkie', and I'm thankful for the several area coaches who invite me to come watch their practices and even talk to their players. It means a lot.

This may hinge on the threshold of ambiguity, but an important playoff game that got away in February could conceivably been lost due to several casual practices back in December — meaning that perhaps your opponent didn't win the game as much as you, notwithstandingly, lost it. (There is a difference).

Basketball coaches understand this and their late, sleepless nights — 16- and 17-year-old kids don't. Why is this so? Because they're 16- and 17-year-old kids.

I may be wrong on this ... but I doubt it.

Practices should always be organized to a 'T' with no wasted time and 'never confuse movement with action'. They're not the same and everything has a purpose with very little standing.

Repetition is the greatest teacher in the 'principles of learning'. It can also be THE worst teacher if something is not being taught the right way. Trust me.

Not every kid catches on to something at the same time. That's why I believed in repetition and 'just keep on keeping on'. Just keep on working on something that's difficult, and then, one clear day something snaps, and a kid 'gets it'. It's kind of like when I was little and the day I figured out the song, "I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus".

Never allow for practices to be boring. Always challenge kids in a variety of ways and 'live on an edge' because that's the way basketball lives. Tell them stories at the start of practice and occasionally test their 'ownership' by asking a kid what he wants out of playing.

I think we all learned most when games were climactic and pulsating. You don't learn and grow from winning by 30. Those wins are for the parents. Winning state by beating Bishop McGuinness by nine

(53-44) in 1986 and beating Millwood by 10 (66-56) in 1992 are memorable, but I'd always dreamed of winning state on a buzzer-beater like Jimmy Chitwood did for Hickory in the movie, 'Hoosiers'.

Each time I watch that movie, I salivate like 'Pavlov's Dog'.

I guess I'll just have to settle for less, but I'm such a 'Romanticist'. Oh, well, maybe in the next life for this old basketball coach. To be continued........


— Alan Simpson