We drilled on the missing skills. There was the one-speed forward problem. When I would ask the forwards to come out to meet the ball, they would run full-speed ahead, as if they were stealing second, complete with slide and collision.
I showed them how to pass and catch the ball. I taught them to dribble low, stay loose, be aggressive on defense, shoot a layup. They ran too fast, fell over their feet, ran into one another, threw countless air balls. They also smiled, talked to one another, giggled at their errors. They enjoyed both practice and the trips to and from. The return trips were spent in telling ghost stories. Their memories and imaginations amazed me. Oh, how I needed memory and imagination from them on the court.
After the second practice it occurred to me that I was the only person not enjoying himself. But the boys' fun-loving attitude was getting to me. I began to take myself less seriously. I loosened up. I asked a friend to coach with me, to lighten the burden. I began to smile, to yell less, to expect only the possible. An air ball was no longer a disaster. We laughed together and approached our first game overwhelmingly unprepared but tuned for adventure.
We lost, 18-0. I adjusted my goal from trying to win every game to trying not to lose every game. During our second game, an 8-0 loss, my goals diminished progressively to tie, score, get a shot off, bring the ball over half court, get through the first half.
To be encouraging, I began to distort reality a little. When one player threw up his ninth air ball of the game, missing everything and everybody, I sprang up and yelled affirmatively. "Nice shot, John. Nice shot, good arch." John looked straight at me. And he laughed. And so did I. Meanwhile, his man ran by him and scored.
Ah well, my old winning-is-everything philosophy would have meant a winter-long, acute depression.
One night on the way home, after a ghost story ended, I spoke up.
"Did you guys hear the one about the boys on the pond? It was foggy and damp and...."
A few days later, when the recreation director asked me how it was going, I knew my conversion was complete. Summoning up my new skills, I asked, "Hey, are we gonna get trophies?"