Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Coach's Corner: My Friend Sonny

This is John Flores' third contribution to Bleachers' Brew. Thanks, bro!

My Friend Sonny

by John Flores

I started my career coaching 11 and Under boys, moved on to the 14 and Under age bracket while going full time as assistant coach of a men’s basketball team. There were also stints in the MBA, PBL, as director of a basketball camp, juniors and women’s basketball team. In my experience working with grade school, high school and college kids, one thing will always be inevitable, close encounters with parents. Parents come in all shapes, sizes and sounds. What I had to learn to adjust to is the velocity of their approach. Sometimes you see them coming, at times you don’t. I have learned that part of my job is to try to be patient with parents who seem to think that they are better coaches than let say Roy Williams or Mike Krzyzewski.

When I was coaching in the province, there was this parent who was a known warlord. There were bandits who would attack his haciendas and this guy’s hobby was to go to the mountains on weekends and hunt down these bandits. Oh they tried to get back at him, and he single handedly took out seven of them in front of his house and he has the news clippings to prove it. If this guy said “I want 40 minutes playing time for my son.” I would have given in to his request and applied a little free post game massage to his son’s back. But he didn’t, he was the type of parent who would give you a pat on the back when we lost and shook your hand tightly when we won, the guy had class. He had my respect; the guy understood what it took to win the big ones. We have been good friends ever since. Oh, I forgot, we won a lot of titles during those years.

Which brings me to my best friend Sonny, I have known him since I was 14 years old. We were kids who loved to party and do crazy things. We were rebellious and sometimes got into some trouble. If Sonny were Hiro and I were Ando and we teleported back to the early 80’s, I probably would have kicked the crap out of the two us for our bad attitude.

Teleporting back to the present. We are now grown ups, chose different career paths, he is in IT, while I chose sports. The pressures we go thru are almost the same, work, perform and deliver, the very “grown up” thing to do. We still act like kids most of the time, but I believe that we turned up fine despite how we led our teenage lives.

Sonny has four kids, they all play football. His eldest, Francis is a 14 year old boy who shows a lot of promise in his sport. He likes girls and enjoys partying, just like any normal teenage boy who likes to chill.

Then there is his daughter Gabby, who is 12 years old and is a real go getter. Gabby is driven, an A student, class president and team captain. I really don’t know if Gabby uses the word perfectionist, but that word aptly describes her. Oh, and at 9 years old, she asked her parents what the best school was in the world, and they said “Probably Harvard.” Gabby said, “I want to go to Harvard.” I jokingly told her parents that I was planning to give Gabby a brief case and a corporate suit for Christmas.

The other kids are still too young to be in varsity

In one of the games, Francis scored a hat trick. After the match, one of Francis teammates hitched a ride with them. During the drive home, Francis spoke excitedly of his achievement but Sonny told his son that they should discuss the game later. After they dropped Francis’ teammate, Sonny explained to Francis that it was now fine to talk about his game. He told Francis that he didn’t want his teammate to feel bad because he failed to score a goal. After Sonny said his piece, they went crazy in the car, jumping and throwing high fives. It was hilarious, but to me there was an important lesson to be learned here.

A few months ago, Sonny invited me to watch Francis and Gabby compete in the RIFA 7 aside tournament. That is where I saw the balancing act of a parent. We were watching Francis play and realized that Gabby’s game was about to start. We sat patiently waiting for Francis’ game to finish, our patience was rewarded when his son scored a goal in the dying minutes of a close game. During the game, I noticed that Sonny would cheer quietly during the game, never heard him shout instructions. It was the same thing when we watched Gabby’s game. He would shout things like “Go Gabby!” and cheer when the team scored. All the words were meant to encourage, no instructions needed, just enjoying seeing his kids enjoy the game. I too was enjoying the game, not just because they were winning but for once I was a spectator again.

Of course, not all good things last, including this one. Like I said, sometimes you see them coming, at times you don’t. She introduces herself and asks Sonny who his daughter was. This is what she said, “Oh! Gabby is your daughter? She has improved a lot, her defense is awesome! She is also very aggressive, I never expected her to be this good this fast!”

“Nice one Sonny, you ought to be proud.” I thought.

Then came the unsolicited advice, “You know Sonny, you should always ask Gabby to watch all the football games on TV! There is ESPN and other shows about football.”

She continued, “Me, I make my daughter watch UEFA, World Cup or any football games on TV. I even video tape games for her to watch when she comes home from school. Oh! And not just videos of games, I also bought her instructional videos to sharpen her skills.”

All I could think about was, “Here we go again.” But I got curious so I asked who her daughter was and she said, “She is that one, number #, sitting on the bench. I don’t know why the coach doesn’t play her much.”

“Maybe she is injured.” I said. She told me she was ok.

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what the problem was, either she was sick and tired of being bombarded with all things football or the kid just doesn’t have talent. I know, I have seen it happen time and again. When so much expectation and pressure is placed upon a young child by parents, this usually results in a lot of negative effects.

As coach I run a tight ship. Practices are tough and discipline is a premium in all the teams that I have coached, whether it be a strong team or a weak one. My practices are never pleasant, it is all business. The only reward you get from it is that you know that you are going to get better and with that improvement you will be given a chance to harvest the fruits of your labor. I am hateful to some and a friend to others, depends on what metal, emotional and physical capacity you have. I come only in one speed, and to quote Bill Warren, “I come in louder than a 747, just to make sure you hear everything clearly.”

Imagine if your kids had the misfortune of playing in one of my teams. Kids don’t need another coach after practice. They need support whenever they feel down and tired. It is no joke to work 2 to 3 hours everyday and fight for a spot in a very competitive and challenging environment.

The kids who are stronger mentally and emotionally usually go over those obstacles and adapt, the weaker ones, they just go thru the motions of playing, developing a bad attitude and typically becomes a negative influence on the other kids.

The important thing is to let the kids go thru the activities that the coach implements for them. Let the coach-player relationship take its natural course. Sports teach kids not just to be strong, but it also trains them to adopt quickly, to get up, dust off the dirt and shrug off the pain when they fall. They learn to make good decisions, working with others and fair play.

My friend’s demeanor and attitude during the games was inspiring. It made me realize that there was a reason why they were called Mom and Dad, and we are called coach.

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