Among my hundreds of thousands of hours in the gym, there are a few moments that have stuck with me through the years. A scrimmage decades ago, when I was playing in high school, is one of those moments. I beat my defender and came to a jump stop in the lane. I decided to throw a no-look “dime” across the lane that resulted in a turnover. Furious, my coach stopped play and yelled at me to “kiss it!” I remember thinking, this turnover REALLY is about to cost me a lot.
Growing up a coach’s son I have had the pleasure of hearing rhetoric at times that would put a Quentin Tarantino movie to shame. However, at that point in my playing career I had not been told to kiss anyone or anything on the court.
I was standing there trying to figure out what he was talking about, when all of the sudden my coach is right in my face, spitting out “Keep it simple, stupid!”
Still confused, I took a step back and started to wonder why I now had to kiss somebody and be called stupid. Seeing my fear, he quickly explained the “KISS” acronym. I was relieved that he was actually just coaching and not trying to date me. My coach was simplifying a game that we as coaches and players complicate. My first “KISS” may be the best advice I was ever given on the court.
Simplicity is at the core of greatness. When basketball was invented more than 100 years ago it had 13 simple rules. Depending on how you look at it, 10 still apply today. As basketball has evolved, there have been adjustments and additions to make it even greater, but for it to start to grow it had to be simple. Do you think if Dr. Naismith implemented defensive three-second rules, flagrant fouls, and charge circles those original players would have stayed in that gym? As Meghan Trainor would say … “NO!” Sure, at the time the original rules may have seemed complicated BUT they were not.
Now, if a coach were to call a player “stupid” these days there would be eight lawyers, 15 tweets, five newspaper articles and faculty representative attacking the coach calling for their job and demanding for their firstborn child! (That column may be for another time). So in the spirit of keeping child services away from my home and the administration out of our offices, “stupid” becomes “silly.”
Legendary NBA Coach Hubie Brown said at a clinic I attended that sometimes coaches overcomplicate too. He used the example of putting a new drill into practice that may not be work the way you envisioned it. You can yell and rant at the players all you want, but the reason the drill isn’t working may be the coach’s fault and not the player’s execution of the drill. There are times when a drill can be too complicated to start with.
I often find myself in this predicament with my current team. In my opinion my 7-year-old son could be the FBI’s youngest interrogator. He has questions about everything and, as such, he tempts me to overcomplicate things often.
Let me explain. Recently we were watching a baseball game. I’m a faithful Chicago Cubs fan (I’ve been doing that since birth as well). In the midst of the game, he asked me what a foul ball was. I told him a ball must land inside the field of play which is determined by where the chalk lines are. Well, 25 minutes later and five articles about what chalk is made out of, I had thoroughly confused my inquisitive child. (Here is a bit of advice; if you have to go to “Google,” you have likely already made things too complicated for your children. And on a side note, the truth is not always found by “Googling” something! Google is not always factual).
I thought to myself, “It is so simple … why can’t he get it”? Then it hit me. KISS. I had to “Keep It Simple for Silly.”
I started again and very quickly began to explain pitch counts and why a foul ball doesn’t count as strike three unless it is bunted, then it does … Oops … here came more questions.
Now, he was becoming frustrated too. He said he didn’t want to watch the Cubs game anymore. He walked away to go play Pokeman. That was sacrilegious! He walked away from a Chicago Cubs game! He can’t give up on baseball now. Not this year. I had to save my boy! What can I do!? How do I get him to come back?
I told him that he can’t just quit because he doesn’t understand something. He wasn’t convinced. I threatened to take away his Pokeman cards if he walked away again. His head snapped toward me. I had his attention. But he was defeated, uninterested, and frustrated; the only thing he was focused on was not losing his Pokeman cards.
He made the decision to try one more time and trudged toward me. I was going to get him back. He would understand even if I had to involve James Van Praagh to call upon the spirit of the great Harry Caray to explain what a foul ball is.
I thought, “I have coached this player over the last seven years and he is about to pack it in for good. He is a good player … my league MVP … I need him to win.” He arrived to the couch. We took a deep breath. I looked at him. He looked at me. He pointed to the aforementioned right field chalk line and asked, “Is a foul ball when the ball lands to the right of that white line?” I said yes. He then pointed to the left field chalk line and asked; “Is it a foul ball when it lands to the left of that?” I said, “Yes.” He then asked me why I started talking about strikeouts and bunts. I said it was because he asked. He whispered; “No I didn’t. I just wanted to know why they said on the TV that Anthony Rizzo hit a foul ball.”
CHECK MATE. The self-proclaimed Stay At Home Coach should have been telling himself to “keep it simple, silly” the entire time.
I was the Silly … actually, I grew up in a different time .. I was the STUPID (I can handle it).
As coaches and as parents I find that we spend so much time trying to achieve greatness, but we need to realize that the greatness we seek is so often in the simplicity of life. Every day I try to spend time consistently coaching my team more simply. I think the best coaches have figured that out. When I have had success on the court it was because I let the players play. You must always prepare for the unknown as a coach, which will allow you to give freedom. Of course you must put your team in situations that are difficult.
You have to make things “harder in practice so the games are easier.” However, there are times when coaches tend to look at the “what if” too much, instead of allowing their team to react to the “what now.”
I can’t teach my son what a strike-three foul bunt is without him understanding what a foul ball is. Allow your team to play free and at ease within the basic structure you believe in. Give them the chance to react properly and figure out the “what now” moments.
It is not always easy to keep things simple. In fact, maybe I overcomplicated this column. I have learned a child’s mind is a thing of beauty. Each day I learn from my kids how to teach and communicate the simple things better. I am not an expert, but at least my boy still has his Pokemon cards, knows what a foul ball is and still loves watching the Chicago Cubs with his dad.
We all have greatness within, no matter what you (or others) may think.
Appreciate and look at the simplicity of life because all the luxuries in the world aren’t going in that casket with you. The only thing you are taking with you are the things you chose to give.
Brian Barone played basketball at Texas A&M University and Marquette University and holds a master’s degree in communications. He now coaches men’s basketball at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.