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.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bleachers' Brew #272 Four-letter words of success

This appears in the Monday August 8, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

Four-letter words of success
by rick olivares

I’d hear this a lot when I’m inside the dugout or right behind the bench of the Ateneo Blue Eagles or Alaska Aces.


The only thing the two teams have in common is that they have American mentors in Norman Black and Tim Cone.

I am not saying that other coaches especially the local ones do not urge their players to do so. It’s just that maybe it’s not generally in the Filipino’s nature to talk to one another during games.

As if to underscore that point, when the Philippine Under-16 team took to the Araneta Coliseum court for the NBA Fit Development Camp under the tutelage of the Miami Heat coaching staff, they looked like they just met one another. “Talk!” barked Fil-American head coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly during a set of drills. “I can’t hear you.”  

Maybe it’s nerves being in the midst of NBA coaches. Maybe it’s having all these college and pro coaches watching their every move. Maybe they just don’t really communicate on the court as well as they should.

Coach Spo, who wasn’t beyond poking some fun at himself by wondering aloud how a guy who lost in the NBA Finals last June was in Manila giving a clinic, constantly reinforced that communication dictum throughout the one hour and thirty minute clinic.

When the third year head coach was asked how he gained the respect of players when he never played in the association, he cited four factors that should work for every person out there who aspires to coach a basketball team.

Competence. “It’s important to know the game inside and out so you can communicate that properly.”

Relentless work ethic. “It’s all in the details. The willingness to spend endless hours of watching videotape. Taking notes. Studying your team and everyone else. Working out.” Coach Spo’s responsibilities magnified ten times the moment he moved one set up from the assistant’s place on the bench.

Integrity. “A head coach has a combative relationship with the players. But it’s important that when you talk to them, you talk to them as men. If I ask a player to run through a banner, one might do it in a heartbeat while another will ask ‘why?’ You have to put it in a way where you’re firm and understood. In the same breath, if there’s something I don’t know, I will ask someone who knows rather than pretend I know all the answers.”

The ability to manage personalities. “Sports teams spend more time together than players do with their families. And that presents a coach with an opportunity to know and understand his players. Failure to do so can spell doom for any team. It’s learning to understand those personalities then massaging those personalities.” On days when a team wins or loses, Coach Spo stressed the importance of communicating whether via simple pat on the back, a nudge, a playful bump, or even a nod. “That says we’re still on the same page.”

The four factors help in Spoelstra’s being a head coach. But by the same token, the presence of Basketball Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo and former Heat player Keith Askins greatly helps Spoelstra and his staff.

McAdoo spent 11 years in the NBA before crossing the Atlantic to play seven years in Italy. And the three-time NBA scoring champion has been with the Heat for the last 11 years as well as an assistant coach.

Askins, a nine-year NBA vet spent his entire career with Miami after coming out of the University Alabama. As Spoelstra related, Askins wasn’t one of the big name players on the squad as he was a defensive specialist. But he scrapped every day for his spot on the roster. He joined the staff following his retirement in 1999 after the Heat waived him.

The two are just as vital in getting messages across the players.

“But what is being professional,” asked Spoelstra in summing up his clinic.

“It’s --- TIME,” enunciated the Portland-native. “It’s giving time. It’s being on time. It’s making time for everyone because it shows respect. In giving time, you communicate many things. And it’s being accountable for many things.”

“Communication is important at all times. There cannot be a complete separation between the players and the coach. There must be some form of contact with the team.”

“On the days when things get tough – and they do get tough – stay with the plan. We believed in the plan so it is important to stay the course because there will be breakthroughs.”

When I asked Coach Spo is he could see any breakthroughs in the current NBA lockout, he smiled. “Now that is why it is important to talk.”

Notes: While chatting with broadcast journalist TJ Manotoc at the NBA Fit Camp, he said that since he heard that hydration means taking sports drinks like Gatorade hours before the game and not just during or after the playing, he has stuck to the regimen. And it works, he said. The Miami Heat coaching staff has enjoyed coming to the Philippines in the past two years because of all their stops outside continental USA, the enthusiasm shown for hoops in the Philippines, is refreshing. When Coach Spo noted that none of his staff played in the NBA, I wanted to point out that Ateneo head coach Norman Black, who has been a part of the NBA Fit program and who sat beside all the Miami coaches, is an NBA veteran having played for the Detroit Pistons early in his hoops career. 

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