What I Learned Coaching Basketball During A Pandemic

Oh, what an odd basketball season it was. Whether it was weekly PCR tests, game cancellations, or team divisions altogether, this year truly proved unique. I probably wouldn’t have signed up for it if I knew what I was getting into. It felt challenging, frustrating, and addicting all-in-one. But the one thing I do have from coaching youth hoops this season is the following story. Here’s my tale of walking full speed into a glass door and the redemption that ensued. 

If you know me, you know I love coaching. 

From a professional standpoint, nothing gives me more light than gameday. 

And since this was the last day of the season, I was locked in like Peyton Manning during film study. 

Speed breakfast check, shower check, sprint out the door, etc. 

This is how my morning felt, as I did everything within my power to be on time for the scrimmage.  

After driving manically to the gym, I arrived on time and was ready to close out the season the right way. Everything felt smooth as we entered our pregame huddle. 

But then the game started, and everything changed. 

The first half started slow; it was a seesaw affair with both teams trading baskets. 

The problem is this game shouldn’t have been close. 

My squad was loaded with talent, including arguably the best sixth-grade basketball player I’ve ever seen in my life. To give you a glimpse of his skill-set, there was a play where he dribbled behind the back of his OPPONENT, snaked through two defenders, and made a contested layup over the defense. 

He’s a fricking sixth-grader…

The problem is he wasn’t trying, bordering on disrespecting the opposition. 

My team entered the break trailing by eight as the first half clock wound down. 

At this point, I was probably more frazzled than I’d like to admit. And I needed to use the restroom during intermission.

With two minutes on the clock, I walked into the bathroom. After doing my thing, I was relieved to see 60 seconds left until my team hit the court. 

I immediately broke into my best “Hal” fast-walk impression from “Malcolm in the Middle.”

But before I knew what happened, I was rocked, slapped, and taken back because your boy had just walked full speed into a glass door at the top of the gym. 

The whack reverberated throughout the corridor as bystanders immediately rushed to see if I was ok.

Was I ok? Probably not. I realistically had just knocked myself into a medium-level concussion. But you gotta remember one thing about me.

I love coaching.

So after making a couple of light-hearted comments to save face and readjusting my now sideways glasses, I hit the court.

There was still a half to be played. 

The second started much like the first, with my team leader playing a cocky brand of basketball. 

And his arrogance was starting to hurt the team as we found ourselves trailing by 10 with fifteen minutes remaining. 

I don’t know what came over me; maybe my system was still in shock. But I knew what I had to do.

The star player would be joining me on the bench for a while. I didn’t know if it was the right move, but it felt just.

Over the next ten minutes, he pleaded to go back into the game with a consistent dose of “Coach, can I go in?” 

I responded with, “Are you gonna play?” 

This conversation replayed for about ten minutes; there was even a moment when his Mom came and checked in on him on the bench. 

It felt like my cheeks were on a microwave. 

But then, with four minutes left in the contest, I asked him one final time, “Are you gonna play?”

Our team was trailing by ten, and without him on the court, the game was essentially over. 

He let out a woeful “Yeeeesssss” and grazed over to the scorers’ table.

What happened next, I can’t exactly describe, but everyone in that gymnasium witnessed greatness. 

It started with a strong drive to the rim and a quick layup, down by eight. Then a steal followed by a corner three-pointer. Then another steal for a quick layup. 

We have a ball game, ladies and gentlemen. 

With about one minute left, the score was tied, fueled behind our amazing leader. In two minutes, he turned a snake quiet gym into a vibrant atmosphere. 

With 20 seconds left, we got the ball in a tie game, and he put up a Kawhi Leonard-esqe fadeaway jumper. As the clock expired, it fell short. 

But as star players do, he took care of business in overtime, and my squad was grateful to come out with a victory.   

I mean, sometimes you just gotta live life, I guess. The only way I can describe the feeling is probably how a football player feels after a rough game. I hurt, but I don’t know if I ever felt better. 

And as my assistant Coach Pete said, “It was the universe.”

Coach Pete, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  

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About Nick Bartlett 166 Articles
My Name is Nick Bartlett and I am a staff writer here at OregonSportsNews, The Broadcast Manager at SportsPac12, and I am a youth Basketball Coach at Lakeside Middle School. I’ve had my articles featured in the Seattle PI, OregonLive, and various other publications. I also have my own Podcast/YouTube Show titled “The Nick Bartlett Show.” I am from Shoreline, WA (North Seattle) and I am a graduate of the Murrow College of Communications at Washington State University. For business inquiries, you can find my contact information below. Email: NB206wsu@gmail.com, Twitter: @WordsByBartlett