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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 12.01.11
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Hoop put you in charge?

When you're a coach and you choke picking the team name, you know you're in trouble.

This was my first real task as co-coach of Abby's basketball team, a team made up of Grade 5 and 6 girls, which isn't so much a team as potential for hearing loss.

"What's the name of your team?" asked the secretary at the league meeting.

"Uhhhh, give me a sec," I said.

Team name, team name. What to call a team of 11-year-old girls... Team Tween, Puberty Blues, Drama Queens...

"Future Anorexics?" I said. I said it out loud and not just in my head where it belonged.

"What!" gasped the secretary.

"Hang on, hang on... Uh, what about Jump Girls?" I said.

"Jump Girls?"

"Yes. Wait, no. Yes!"

And that's the kind of sure-footed thinking I plan to bring to the basketball court this season. And my daughter's reaction sums up the confidence that this will inspire:

"Jump Girls? That's our name? Really?"

"Yeah," I said. "Get it? Because you're girls and you, uh, you know, jump!"

My wife -- my co-coach -- likewise demonstrated team solidarity.

"That's the best you could come up with?" said Deb.

I have never officially coached before. Deb has coached a number of our children's teams (including the Princess Warriors -- now that's a team name!), and I have contributed in three ways by a) keeping score b) distributing snacks and c) kibitzing:

"You know, you should consider subbing out Devon because -- how shall I put this? -- he's awful. Slow as paint. I think the mouth-breathing might be causing too much wind-resistance."

This is what all parents do -- complain, second-guess, cruelly disparage other children while ultimately judging their parents -- the difference being that I had a direct line to the coach and, if she didn't agree, could put salt in her coffee.

I've stayed away from officially coaching with Deb in the past because she and I have different styles (Deb believes in fun; I believe in yelling) and also because I am not a natural coach, at least not until sarcasm becomes a competitive event. In fact, I'm somewhat terrified of the coaching duties that lie before me.

This is not the place to rehash my athletic history (short answer: floor hockey and beer pong). Suffice to say that I don't bring much to the team other than enthusiasm and an uncanny knack for knowing when to call a water break.

And this is basketball, which involves far more complex skills and strategy than, say, soccer (kick the ball that way) or baseball (hit, catch, sit, wait). A basketball game is like a dance and a good coach is a choreographer who can really "see the floor." I can see the ball. I can see the players. I can see for miles and miles. I can see clearly now the rain has gone. But I can't see the floor.

Lucky for me, girls at this level can't see the floor either. They can see stars when they spin around really, really fast. They're other skills include Head-Down Dribbling, Prancing, Giggling, Defensive Stink-Eye, the Faux-Injury Melt-Down and Calling Dibs On Not Wearing The Gross Pinnies. Their games aren't so much a dance as a mosh pit.

In other words, as with most aspects of my life, I might manage to go pretty far with this coaching thing by faking it.

"Girls, watch here. Foul shots. See my feet? My elbow's in line with my hand. Straight up and... okay, who knows what an 'air ball' is?"

The girls, some of whom still believe in Santa Claus and a future that includes both career and family, buy into it. Parents, however, can't be fooled.

"They have no idea what they're doing."

"It's so disorganized."

"Why does he still have that beard?"

No one has said this to our face. That's not what parents do. But we can feel it. Even Deb, who has actual experience and talent, says she feels self-conscious when the parents are watching her coach. We can't let this get to us, though; children can smell fear.

Ultimately, we should try to limit expectations. Our one goal for the season is that the girls, with our guidance and their pre-pubescent talent, manage to work as a team. I just hope they don't work as a team to ask us to change their name to "Our Coaches Suck."

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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