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Coach offers insights into picking strong team

Those familiar gym noises that we begin hearing each fall returned last week — the sounds of shoes squeaking on the hardwood floor, basketballs bouncing and coaches yelling out instructions.

The first day of basketball began two Mondays ago. It's an exciting time for many — the players, coaches and parents all begin the winter sports season with a clean slate. Every team is still in the hunt for a region or state title. Every one involved is refreshed, healthy and re-energized.

For a few, however, their dreams have already been shattered. Playing a high school sport is a once-in-a-life experience. I guarantee that there are more than a dozen or so kids and parents in this valley who feel that opportunity has been unfairly snatched away. Unfortunately, basketball coaches are limited by numbers, which requires them to make tough decisions in picking their teams.

Some out there who did not make their team are surely claiming right now that they got a bad deal. They feel they are talented enough, but for some reason were cut.

A few of those claims are probably legitimate — they probably do have more talent than some of those who made the team. Most of those claims, however, are probably not legitimate. Parents don't always have the most objective view of their child's talent.

But if there's one thing I've learned over the past few basketball seasons it's that coaches don't always keep the most talented players. I've had coaches tell me that they do not keep seniors unless they'll be a starter or first one off the bench. Younger players are often kept over more talented older players in favor of developing a team for the future.

I've had coaches tell me that they'll cut a kid if his or her parents are the interfering type. In today's prep sports world, kids who don't participate fully in off-season programs get cut. Coaches cut kids whom they view as weak in discipline, responsibility or academics. To most coaches, it's all about work ethic and attitude.

There were a few instances in recent years of kids being cut that have left me and many others scratching our heads. But are we justified in criticizing coaches for their choices? Should coaches adjust to the players, or the players adjust to the coaches?

Let me share some excerpts from an e-mail I received from a coach on this topic last season. Maybe it will help in understanding where they're coming from. Maybe it won't.

"I look back at the teams I've selected and I've made some mistakes, but you learn from them," the coach wrote. "There was a senior last year who didn't try out that I kept as a junior but I should have cut. He was a great athlete who had a lot of potential, but I didn't know what I was going to get with him at practice. Was he going to be pouting, was he going to take any coaching criticism, was he going to hit another player?

"Attitude will always carry over to the court. If his attitude is good he'll take charges, he'll practice hard, he'll be a good cheerleader when he's on the bench, he'll spend time working on his game, he'll help his teammates become better, he'll be on time, he'll listen and look at the coach when he's talking, he'll get down and defend and go get rebounds, and he'll do whatever the coach asks him to do during the season. . .

"I realize that it's true that high school coaches aren't like college coaches where they can go out and recruit players that mesh with a coach's style. But they should be allowed to make decisions that will help their program go in the right direction. I've seen what helps a team win and be successful, and the principal had trust in me that I would make the right decisions. . .

"If you are teaching kids about life, does a future employer hire the guy with great talent and a bad attitude, or the guy with good talent and a great attitude, maybe someone who had potential and was coachable. Hopefully, the employer has a vision and is allowed to make decisions based on that vision."

In some aspects I think we need to view coaches the same way we do politicians. After we select them, we let them make the decisions — some we will agree with and some we won't. In the long run if their way isn't successful, then they get replaced. But as long as they're the captain of the ship it should sail or sink with their decisions.

"The season is too long for a coach if he doesn't enjoy going to practice," the coach said.

It's kind of hard to argue with that one. But at the very least I'd like to see coaches give kids who are cut a truthful explanation. It could be a valuable life lesson and lead to improvement — even if it's the lesson that life is not always fair.