What I have come to Realize about the Sport I “Love”
This is not a basketball fall from grace story but rather a realization of how basketball wasn't for me from a playing or coaching perspective.
Growing up, I was surrounded by sports everywhere I went. I come from a large family of 2 older brothers, several cousins, aunts and uncles who grew up playing sports, more specifically basketball. Basketball seemed to be the sport of choice not only in my family but my small town. The school where we all mostly attended did not have a football team so we naturally gravitated towards basketball. Basketball was our football. I remember being younger attending my older twin brother’s basketball games. They were good, small in stature but dominant on the floor and were crowd favorites. The school we attended did not have much of a rich winning history in sports much less basketball. Expectations were not ‘state championship or bust’ (as a matter of fact the school’s last championship was in 1982). We played because it was something to do. It kept us out of trouble and it gave a reason for many of my friends and family to attend school. We enjoyed the competitive nature it brought out of us.
I had a deep family history of decent to great players. They would receive all regional, conference and state accolades. These individual accolades and overall stories of triumphant playing days would always be brought up during family gathering. You would think my ball stories would parallel the likes of my all state award winning family members? Nope, Not even close…….
Lets start when I was younger
I am much younger than my older brothers. Our 8 year age difference meant that many saw how good my older brothers were before I even picked up a basketball. Naturally, when I started playing everyone thought I would be good if not better than them. Crazy thing is that I was, when I was playing one on one by myself. Since I went to most of their games growing up I saw how they played and I would try and replicate their style of play. I remember being in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade dribbling the basketball and making long range threes and HORSE style shots on our double rimmed basketball goal at recess. I was good so I convinced myself that my playground basketball would translate to playing good in actual games.
One of my earliest memories of my first organized games was when I was in the 3rd grade. My team, in our gas stationed sponsored t shirt jerseys, participated in a jamboree on a Saturday morning. A jamboree is an all day event where several schools would come out and showcase their talents. Each team is usually guaranteed 2 games that day. This event was put together by my uncle and aunt who were over the youth sports at our school (there’s that family ties again). I had the luxury of being point guard due to me being pretty good a dribbling the ball for my age and of course “we know who your family is.” I bought in to this as well. Ball was tossed in the air and the game was on. The other team immediately got the ball and scored so we took the ball out and now it my first chance to carry on the family legacy. I would dribble the ball slowly towards half court. On the way I noticed two defenders waiting for me (one of the rules was that the defense could not go past half court to defend the ball so they would wait at half court). The other team was playing an extended 2–3 zone trap. It was like they sensed my fear because as soon as I crossed into our back court they jumped all over me, stole the ball and scored on the other end. This cycle would repeat several times that game until my coach just eventually took me out of the game. We lost the game and that was when I realized there was more to what my brothers and family members did on the court that either I never read about or I just did not have. The loss wasn’t the worse part of that day, the worse part of that day is what happened right after the game.
Right after my game was over I walked into the stands to meet some of my family members thinking I would get words of encouragement. Complete opposite. I was greeted with negative feedback with words and phrases such as “man you sorry”, “you ain’t like yo brothers” and they even pretended to whoop me in front of everybody. Keep in my mind that we were in a packed gym and I was in the 3rd grade. I cried right after. I had to go outside and my aunt and uncle pulled me aside and talked me. Some of my school mates tried to comfort me. I was extremely embarrassed. At that moment I knew there was something I did not have that other members of my family had when it came to competing in basketball.
I did not have a lucrative playing career as some of my family did. I remember hearing the stories of career highs in points or having a points, rebounds and steals triple double stat line. Far from that. I did have a few good games however. I remember being in the 6th grade and scoring 14 points in the second half after going scoreless in the first. I remember being a great defender. I remember scoring in spurts but never putting together a complete game. I remember being an incredible teammate and player during practice, pumping my teammates up. I’ll never forget two instances that both happened in the 10th grade that made me realized I was not cut out to be a player.
The first instance was me always disappointing my older cousin whom I played on the same basketball team with. He was a SR that year and damn was he good. After a game in which I made a dumb play towards the end that made us lose he yelled out in the locker room for everyone to hear “You so sorry!!” followed by “You one of the weakest members in the family!” What was crazy about my cousin is that he could not run an offensive set to save his life. Also, on defense, he would always get out of his position in our zone sets, overplaying the passing lanes which resulted in him getting several steals that year but left us out on an island if he did not secure the steal. He just went out there and hooped which resulted in all state honors that year for him! Our coach told him if he got his grades and head right then he had the opportunity to play at the next level. Speaking of our coach that brings me to my second instance. It was our coach’s first year coaching at our school but he’s had decades of experience (he was inducted into the Arkansas Activities Association Hall of Fame recently). One game he put me at point guard and I swear it was 3rd grade all over again. As soon as I crossed over half court the other team would sense my fear, lead me into a corner, trapped me and stole the ball. During a time out he let me have it: “JEFFERY YOU’RE SO TIMID!” I had no idea what timid meant but I knew it wasn’t good because I didn’t play for the rest of the game. Trust me, after I got home I learned quickly what that word was. Ironically, that same year that coach would give me props in saying I had a high IQ for the game, It just didn’t translate into actual play for me. That same song continued with another new coach my final two years of playing. I could never put on the floor what I had in my mind. I have a knack for understanding weakness of the defense and exploiting gaps within them but it never translated to in game play. During one family gathering where basketball was being discussed, I joined in on the conversation. Usually I avoid them to keep from getting made fun of but this time I was curious and so I was willing to open myself up to receive the ridicule. “Lil cuz we just went out there and hooped.” In my mind I thought that’s what I was doing too but then they said “ you over think the game, just go out and play.” “You play scary.” “You never shoot, even when you’re open….Shoot the MF!” “Drive the ball!” THATS what my coach meant when he said I was timid. I really wasn’t an aggressive player on offense, I made the extra pass even when I was open because I wanted to let the offense flow, I passed up shots because I was always looking for a higher percent…..OHHHH! I overthink the game!!
But maybe overthinking meant I could be a good coach instead?
After the Playing Days Were Over
Going back and looking at my high school days playing ball, I definitely could have saved my mother some money and time. I was a role player at best: I barely scored, rode the bench a few times, and didn't win those high accolades my family members won (I did however win a team spirit award). Although I did not have a good playing career, I absolutely loved the game. As I got older I realized that the thing my family members and some of my teammates had that I didn't is that tenacity, aggression, and competitive drive to just go out there and hoop! That competitive drive they had was something I just did not have, at least not when it came to basketball. I overthink the game way too much which as a negative result set a limitation on myself as a player. But what if that overthinking translated into coaching?
Role players go on to become some of the game’s greatest coaches: Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr are two I instantly think of. What if I could become that person? In college, I graduated with a Bachelors in Education and coaching endorsement. A few year later I received my Masters degree in school leadership, one of the first in my family to go on to college and receive both Bachelors and Masters degree.
I was able to start my teaching career in my hometown as an Elementary PE teacher in which I was responsible for managing our youth basketball program. The program my uncle and aunt spent years developing diminished over the years prior to me coming back. I took pride in that program wanting to turn it back into what it once was. I was also responsible for our schools archery team (yea, more on that later). I also volunteered my own time traveling with the high school coaches and their basketball teams. A typical weekday after school looked like this:
Monday- Peewee basketball practices(2-3 teams), Archery practices (all 3 teams)
Tuesday- Peewee basketball practice (2-3 teams) , High school basketball Game
Wednesday- Archery practices (all 3 teams)
Thursday- Peewee basketball practice (2–3 teams), Archery practice (all 3 teams)
Friday- High school basketball games
Saturday- Peewee basketball games
I was not paid to travel with the high school. It was my first year and even though I was not actually coaching basketball, I just wanted them to see that I was eager to meet the demanding challenges coaching would bring.
Jeffery Burton……The Archery Coach!
Archery was a new sport to me. I have never heard of it being played at a competition level, just being used as a means to hunt. This sport is sanctioned by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and has really picked up steam in recent years. The goal of the sport is for your team to have the greatest combined total score at the end of the competition. Each team’s player would shoot 5 arrows each round. There were 8 rounds total- one practice round and three scoring rounds at 10 meters followed by one practice round and three scoring rounds at 15 meters. The most points a person could receive during competition was 300 points. Although far from the up and down pace of basketball, coaching archery actually brought serenity. It was a calm sport that relied heavily on hand eye coordination and a quiet, steady body posture. Our kids and small rural community loved it. Although I was not familiar with the sport at all, nor did I see it as a new hobby I could do, I saw the love the kids and the community had in it so if they loved it, I loved it. I poured my all into getting to know more about the sport: Watching YouTube videos, reading articles and spending time after archery practice to develop the skill within myself. I learned a new language that was only apart of the archery community. I learned how to tie a knock, restring a bow and that there were several different type of bows. The bows we used were simple Genesis compound bows that only created a maximum 20 pounds when drawn back. I also visited the Game and Fish website more times that year than I ever have in the past (Zero in the past to be exact). Let some people tell it though, I didn’t care about archery and that I only cared about basketball because of the immediate turn around that the peewee basketball program was seeing. I prepared for archery and did things to learn more about it that I didn’t even do when preparing for basketball! The hard work produced results. In my 4 years back home, the teams went to the archery state tournaments 3 times including that first year. Considering my background in the sport, that is a huge accomplishment.
However my heart did desire basketball. To this day, I am not sure of the full conversation that was had during a spring 2016 board meeting about me possibly stepping in to the high school boys coaching position after the current coach decides to hang it up (He was contemplating retiring during that time). All I know is that he vouched for me to possibly take over for him. At the meeting it was suggested that for the following year, I would coach our 7th-9th grade boys basketball team while he coached the varsity boys team. He would have helped me get my feet through the doors by showing me the ropes all while preparing me to take over the varsity team as well. What I do know is that one of the comments that was made that night was that I was “an archery coach, he was hired to coach archery.” Really? Jeffery Burton, the archery coach? Although I loved what the sport did for the students and its community following, I did not see myself making a career out of it. The idea of me coaching basketball the following year was shot down. For my remaining years at that school I did not volunteer my time with the high school again. I felt demoralized. Dreams of coaching kind of left my mind as I began to see myself progressing from a first year PE teacher to a more vocal teacher that stepped in to a greater role the following years to come (I have written a story on this as well).
What I have come to realize about the sport of basketball is that I actually do not love it. I’m not going to sports clinics trying to perfect my coaching philosophy. I’m not seeking out a coaching mentor. I did not fight the decision that was made during that meeting once I found out later that week. I’m not playing pick up games at the park (although I do love an empty court,Im still good one on one playing myself). I’m not recording stats on players and creating spreadsheets complete with algorithms. I am just a casual fan that watches the sport and will debate about who’s the greatest every now and then. Basketball brought memories that I will cherish forever some good, some bad. Those memories has positively shaped me to be the person I am currently. But when I go through those memory files I am often reminded that my lack of athletic competitive drive and assertiveness kept me from being a good player despite having the mental capabilities and that my current educational career endeavors has brought my coaching aspirations to a stall,possibly for good. Maybe being turned down the opportunity to coach at that board meeting was chance for me to let go of what I thought I would become to pursue my actual purpose.