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When Inmates Run the Asylum

by Ed Riley

I just knew this was going to be a special week, I could just feel it in these ole bones, special, special, special. This was going to be a week that would go down in the history books as "That Week." A little background? OK!

An acquaintance of mine, Gary Pinkerton, now a friend, and I started a basketball academy in Sept. of 2001. Our goal was to teach basketball to girls. Gary had been doing this for 2 years by himself with maybe sixteen 9-11 year old girls. I had spent several years coaching between 1-3 teams of slightly older girls.

I had an idea and Gary and I met one night. After his 1 Bud Lite and my 4 vodka and tonic tall, we agreed to start this academic experience. By God, we were going to hook up and open South County Basketball Academy.

Gary is excellent at teaching the basic skills. He would be the primary teacher and I would be the administrator, the paperwork shuffler. I promised my wife 1 night a week was all I was going to put into this, except when we played our 70 games in the spring/summer. Yes, 70 games!

We decided that our 1st real games would be with AAU. AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union. You pay $12 to join and this gives your players a $200 deductible insurance policy. Here in St. Louis, you get to play 2 games and if you don't qualify, AAU is over until next year. If you do qualify, you get to play 1 more qualifying tourney, if you don't qualify, it's over. If you do qualify in that round, you go to a national championship tourney somewhere.

We thought we might have as many as 40 girls join us and we would enter 4 teams of ten players per team. A nice manageable number, 40. Movies = 40 Days, 40 Nights. The Bible says it rained 40 days and 40 nights. On your 40th birthday, some wise-ass buys you a black cake, signifying you are over-the-hill and close to death. So all things considered, 40 seemed like a perfect number to shoot for. Organizing for 40 would be a piece of cake.

Ole man Murphy, who came up with Murphy's Law, was a pretty wise ole boy. Our 40 turned into 120 plus.

So now you have the background. And now we come to .....

"That Week"

Prologue - This was our week to play in the AAU tourney. I had ordered the uniforms well in advance and they were to be here Monday. The tourney started on Friday so there was my breathing space. Monday the store called and said to come pick up the uniforms. Everything was progressing nicely.

I go to pick the uniforms up, and they have no record of anyone calling me saying "Merry X-mas, their ready." My uniforms were at the printers and would be done in a week and 1/2. After explaining there must be some mistake, we were playing Friday and I had to have them, I had to listen to everyone in the store blame everyone else, but there would be no uniforms. I walked out of the store wondering how could a small mom-and-pop shop allow a $5,000 order walk out the door.

The next day my uniform salesperson, who is also a friend of mine, calls and says the uniforms will be delivered to me on Weds. And apologizes for his store's employee's ignorance. So all is right with the world again.

I get the uniforms, inventory them by number and size, and mentally match them up with the sizes I was given by the PLAYERS THEMSELVES. Oila! I have just enough of everything, even though our number of players have grown like rabbits. Life is good.

I couldn't go to our Weds. Learning Session because of my daughter's high school basketball awards banquet, so I give the uniforms to Gary to pass out and log. He does an excellent job, everything gets logged. Life is good!!!

Until the Inmates Run The Asylum!

"That Week"

One player who is totally a medium size, wants to be cool and takes a large top and an extra-large bottom. See, it's cool to have your basketball bottoms be too long. It's not like you see these players continually hiking them up because they are falling down or in the way, or anything. Or maybe that's what those players are doing on ESPN, hummm!

Well, this starts a run on x-tra larges. So now I have 4 players, who really do wear x-tra large, trying to fit into mediums. Every see the movie Big with Tom Hanks? There's a scene where he is hopping around trying to fit into a little kid's pants. Problem is, this isn't a movie.

Next problem, the smaller girls don't want to give up the x-tra larges because now they won't be cool. So when we force the issue, we have players with attitudes and we are the bad guys. Life is good????

"That Week"

1. We play on Friday and get our game schedules on Wednesday. AAU goes by what year a girl was born in. We have a 1985 team. Only 2 girls were born in 85 so I have the rest of the team made up of 1986 players, so most of our team is playing up a year. Then we have 2 more teams of 1985 players.

2. I get our schedule and see that they have us for 2 teams of 1984 players, and we don't have any 84 teams. I call up and leave a message that there is a mistake.

3. They e-mail they're sorry and give me a new schedule for only one 84 team and two 85 teams. I have no 84's and only one 85 team. In the meantime, my two 85 players drop out, so my 85 team is really an 86 team, playing up.

4. I get my final corrected schedule 1 day before the tourney. I coach 2 teams, 87 and 86. Now my teams are playing at the same time, 20 minutes away from each other. Why ask for another change? I would probably get a corrected schedule 20 minutes after my first game was to start, sheesh!

"That Week"

I get informed the day before our first game that 8 of our players are going on vacation, it's spring break week. Like they didn't know this earlier??

"That Week"

2 of my parents tell me the night before the game, that they won't let their daughters play in, nor take their family to, "That Part Of Town" to play.

"That Week"

I get 12 phone calls saying their daughters really hate their uniform number and I "NEED" to change them.

"That Week"

The AAU tourney director calls the night before the games and assigns us 2 more games because he has only one 1984 team and has to give them 2 games. My players are dropping like flies, and he gives us 2 more games.

"That Week"

Our last real "Practice," on Thursday before our games the next day, sees 1/3 of our girls absent because of their high school track meet.

"That Week"

One of my coaches complains about playing his 15 year olds playing against 17 yr. olds in a fun, but meaningless game and doesn't want the extra game. And, tells me that if it weren't so late in the deal, his team wouldn't play any of the games because they have to travel 45 minutes to the games!!!!

"That Week"

And this was the straw that broke the camels back, my wife didn't want to go to the local watering hole after all of this!

What's the point, other than me venting? Steinbeck said it best, "The best laid plans of mice and men, oft go astray!" No matter how well you have something planned, take 2 aspirin every morning the week before a big event, something is going to go wrong.

No, the real point is this, as a coach you want to be the nice guy. You took on this responsibility because of your love of the game and your love of kids. You want to be, at the least, liked by your kids and their parents. You are a nice person, right?

There are going to be times when things happen that are totally out of your control: uniforms on time, your game schedule, it snows so when there is no school you lose your gymtime, and the list goes on. You cannot control these events.

But never let the patients run the asylum. Your world is crazy enough without letting the players and their parent's perception of you, run your world.

  1. A kid who is a medium gets a medium uniform that you specifically ordered for them!
  2. A player gets the number you assign them!
  3. Don't apologize for telling a player to shut their yap when they talk at the wrong time!
  4. When a player doesn't inform you they can't make it, on a timely basis, discipline them. Sometimes it seems like common courtesy is a lot art, doesn't it?
  5. When a player fails to tell you they can't come to a game or a Learning Session, discipline them = loss of playing time.
  6. Adhere to the "1 Minute Manager," never hold a lengthy conversation about a problem. Explain the problem to the player/parent, explain how best to correct this problem, explain the repercussions, and walk away. Do not get into a Presidential Debate with the other party.
  7. Drumroll please ........... Never lose control of the things that you can control. You don't have to be mean and nasty about anything, ever! Just be direct, to the point. Explain the problem - Explain how to CORRECT the problem - Explain the repercussions - AND WALK AWAY!
  8. This is the last and hardest thing to do, if you are right, then don't relent. If you dole out a punishment, stick to your guns. Do not let them off the hook! Bench them, run them, whatever you decide to do, but make them follow through with it.

As a coach and an inhuman being, (like that didja)? I want my players to learn that they must be responsible for their own actions. I don't care if it's a 9 year old, or a 17 year old, a person should be responsible for their own actions. I not only want it, I demand it of my players. Always maintain control. DON'T LET THE INMATES RUN THE ASYLUM!!!!!!

And how did my AAU turn out? We play tonight and I am going to have fun, win or lose! If I get beat by 60 points, I am still going to try to make sure my players have fun.

And what about "That Week"? One of my 120 players, one that I barely know, E-mailed me a note last night. She thanked me for letting her join and said that she is having more fun and learning more than ever before. This one young lady made my week worthwhile. So "That Week" was a great week!! (Of course the lobotomy helped)!!!!

Copyright 2001-2002, by Ed Riley, Steve Jordan, Darrell Garrison and Steve MacKinney. All rights reserved.

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