Forum — From the August 2015 issue

Fever

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According to Coaching Basketball for Dummies, “Coaching is about putting a smile on a youngster’s face when she’s on the court and seeing the excitement in her eyes as she has fun learning how to perform a variety of skills.” But that pabulum wilts before the reality of getting demolished twelve Sundays in a row, not counting Thanksgiving weekend, by the same eight girls and their white-haired coach. We were the Washington Generals to their Harlem Globetrotters.

As our losses to the Sky mounted, I began to have dark thoughts about Coach Stan, who would loudly protest the occasional fouls called on his girls, even when they were winning by thirty points. Why did he bother? We never made our free throws.

I tried to figure out how to improve our offense. The Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Basketball was full of clever formations and plays. I tried a three-guard offense, an outside-in offense, screen and roll, give and go, none of which the girls could grasp or execute. I even studied Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, but I gave it up because I couldn’t understand how it worked. And the reason no offensive set would work for us was simple: every play, every scheme, every formation was designed to end with a player putting the ball into the basket, and this was something we could not do.

I had the girls attempt a new defensive plan: we would keep our fastest players near the half-court line to stop the Sky’s incessant and devastating fast break. But even if we slowed them down — and I can still picture those girls, blond-haired, gangly Clara; stocky, muscular Erika with the birthmark on her forehead; long, lean Katie with the awkward but effective shooting form — we were incapable of scoring enough to be competitive.

Girls began quitting. We lost Mara, among our best ball handlers, about halfway through the season. Her mother explained that she now had a dance class every Sunday. Atoosa, one of our two Persian players, simply stopped showing up; my emails to her mother started bouncing back.

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’s most recent novel, The Subprimes, was published in May by Harper Books.

More from Karl Taro Greenfeld:

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