COACHED A 1-17 TEAM

Men's Journal - - THE ART OF THE FAIL - —Chris Feli­ciano Arnold

I’D NEVER COACHED BE­FORE. But some­how, dur­ing my sec­ond year of teach­ing high school in Brownsville, Texas, I was re­cruited to lead the boys’ ju­nior-var­sity bas­ket­ball squad. As a for­mer bench­warmer, I dove for the clip­board like a player scram­bling for a loose ball.

That pre-sea­son, I whis­tled the team through drills and scrim­mages, de­ter­mined for us not only to be great—but to be leg­endary. Our home court was two miles from the U.s.-mex­ico bor­der, and many of my play­ers crossed the in­ter­na­tional bridge each morn­ing and night. They spent their sum­mers on farms, not at skills camps. So imag­ine how in­cred­i­ble it’d be if we an­ni­hi­lated the more well-heeled teams. We’d be­come bor­der­land he­roes, I was sure.

We lost our opener in the fi­nal minute. We’d turn a cor­ner soon, I told my­self. But the cor­ner never came. For three months, we rode a bus up and down the bor­der, en­dur­ing one bru­tal de­feat af­ter the next. Our crit­i­cal weak­ness: the full-court press. Op­pos­ing coaches, in an act of mercy, usu­ally let up when­ever they re­al­ized that my team couldn’t ad­vance the ball past half court. But one re­fused to yield. He pressed with his starters, then with his B squad. When I ges­tured for grace, he pressed with his scrubs. When I called a time-out be­fore half, my team cap­tain was nearly in tears. “Take me out, coach,” he pleaded. “Please.” I tried my damnedest to be a good role model, but I was frus­trated at my play­ers, for be­ing piti­ful (we were sup­posed to be he­roes!), and at my­self, for be­ing a mis­er­able coach. The squad’s faith in me evap­o­rated. They stopped invit­ing their girl­friends to games; I stopped invit­ing mine.

Near the end of the sea­son, we trav­eled to a dusty bor­der town to face a short­handed team. To my sur­prise, we quickly pulled ahead, hav­ing found the only team in Texas more go­daw­ful than we were. But if I could re­play any game that sea­son, I’d choose that one—our sole vic­tory. Af­ter months of blowouts, it was my chance to show mercy like other coaches had shown me, to be a good sport, to win right. But I wanted to de­mol­ish the other team, to prove that I wasn’t an ut­ter fail­ure. So, when the other coach sig­naled for me to let up, I pressed

on, pre­tend­ing I didn’t see him. Some­times a win can be a loss, too.

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