Every team I have ever coached develops rituals that are followed with Marine-like discipline throughout the season. The longer you coach at one institution, the more entrenched some of those rituals become. You might think some of these are silly. You might even think some of these are good ideas. It doesn’t matter what you think, after 13 years at Northwest, these rituals are now traditions. You don’t screw with tradition.
The NCAA has an early signing date for new basketball recruits. That date is in November. It’s important that coaches give these athletes a thorough, positive look at their basketball program. The absolute best way I can accomplish that at Northwest is to throw a big lunch at my house prior to the football game on the Saturday designated for Family Weekend. A good look at our players and their families is my best selling point.
If any NCAA compliance people happen to read this, I swear this is all above board. Kathy Anderson, now the compliance officer at Central Missouri, spent a few years in the same job at Northwest. She gave me a great idea about Family Weekend and it has become a tradition. One fact that I had trouble getting around was it’s against NCAA rules to give meals to your players’ parents. However, you can feed recruits on official visits off campus. How do you bring the two groups together for a meal and a great recruiting opportunity? I liked to bring them to my house, but how do I comply with NCAA rules?
Kathy suggested we make the Family Weekend meal a “pot luck” meal. I would provide the main dish and cook my favorite desserts. My players’ parents could cook or just could stop by Hy-Vee and pick up something pre-prepared. It was a great idea. Why didn’t I think of it? It’s become a ritual and a tradition with a side benefit for me; often a parent will make their specialty, hopefully leaving the leftovers for me to eat later.
Once I had a player from Wisconsin, a state which is famous for their cheese. Her mom brought authentic Wisconsin cheese curds to the Family Weekend meal. I hoped she wouldn’t take them with her when she left and I wasn’t disappointed. I had enough cheese curds to last me two weeks and 5 pounds.
This year might have been the best for a single left over. Kelly Boeh, the mother of my twin post players, Candace and Alexis, brought a salad that topped almost any salad I had ever tasted. I hope Kelly can forgive me but I have to reserve the absolute best salad to a whipped cream, pretzel salad my Aunt Tootie makes every holiday. However, I can put Kelly’s salad in at least a tie with Aunt Tootie’s, although I would hate to admit it to my Aunt (she reads the blog, so I think I’m busted).
It’s actually a healthy salad with Chinese noodles and lots of green stuff and a sweat tasting dressing all piled into a bowlful of pleasure eating. Kelly was even nice enough to give me the recipe and leave the leftovers for my later snacking. I can guarantee that not only is Family Weekend meal a ritual and tradition, but the Boeh salad will live on for years.
As long as we are discussing food rituals, I better bring up pre and post-game meals. Each team has their own likes and dislikes about where we eat. If we play at home, especially on weekends, the pregame meal is always eaten at Hy-Vee. That’s my second mention of the Hy-Vee grocery in this blog and I swear I haven’t been paid for that mention. The players have to wait until November for their first Hy-Vee pre-game meal. When I tell them pre-game is at 9 am, you hear shouts of, “All right!” and “I can’t wait.” Recruits that might be visiting think the players are slightly off rockers for their love of the Hy-Vee eating establishment. However, if they become a Bearcat, it doesn’t take them long to be convinced it’s a great ritual and tradition.
Post-game meals sometimes depend on our winning ways. If we get pizza on the road and always win those games, we are stuck with the cheesy delight no matter how tired we get of it. You just can’t screw up a winning streak. Once at Doane College, my assistant coach, Kim Crider, came to me with a team compliant. She told me the players were sick of going to Wendy’s and it was becoming a team issue. I really don’t care where we eat after a road game and it surprised me the players were close to a revolt over Wendy’s. I did a little investigation and found only Kim and a couple of players felt that way. The story had been exaggerated just a little. We could save our winning streak by continuing frequenting the little red-headed girl. Kim would just have to suck it up until we lost, heaven forbid.
Routine is a big part of basketball. For instance, during the conference season, a week goes something like this: Sunday is an off day, Monday is regular practice, Tuesday is pre-game practice, the conference game is Wednesday, Thursday is regular practice, Friday is pre-game practice, the game is Saturday and then we are back to the day off on Sunday. After two months of this, things tend to get a little dull and way too routine. A coach has to do something to help liven up the dog days of the basketball season.
Steve Tappmeyer, the men’s coach of my first 10 years at Northwest, had a great tradition. Sometime in February, he would call off a regular practice. However, he wouldn’t tell the players. They would show up in the gym and immediately be divided into two teams for an inspiring game of whiffle ball. One interesting aspect of this game is Tapp had to relive his glory days of youth baseball and pitch for both teams. Players learned to never hit one hard right back to the pitcher. You just don’t pull the tail of the dog that licking your face or some philosophy like that.
I tried whiffle ball one year, but I failed miserably as the pitcher. They hit me like a red-headed step child. A few years ago, I came up with the perfect break in the January-February routine; we do something called Sunday-Monday. It should really be spelled Sundae-Monday. You see, we bring the players in for their normal Monday film session and surprise them with a couple of gallons of ice cream with all the topping available. It’s make your own Sundae on Monday. Sometimes, we even bring bananas if a player wants a healthy banana split.
We still watch game film from our Saturday game, but it doesn’t seem near as bad with a huge pile of ice cream with caramel, hot fudge, nuts, and whip cream mixed with it. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Don’t worry; I’m still on my diet (see earlier blog). Sundae-Monday isn’t just for basketball players. Mark Roswell (Rosie), the Northwest tennis coach is a regular at the ice cream social. He’ll take a chance that his tennis players can continue their practice without his watchful eye while he creates and eats a very tasty sundae. It wouldn’t be a ritual or tradition without Rosie sampling the sweets.
One ritual I brought from Doane College and that has continued at Northwest is a pre-game, final 10 minutes ritual called “The Show-Me Shootout.” The final 10 minutes of practice begins with a 2-minute rebounding drill where some illegal tactics are allowed. It’s followed by a shooting game called “10-10-10” and ends with a half court shooting contest. The winner of the half-court shot is usually given the empty promise of a Hawaiian vacation. It’s fun to think about Hawaii in the dead of winter.
Part of the ritual is to bring all the “new-bees” into the jump ball circle for a question about our opponent. A new-bee is any freshmen or transfer who is spending their first year on the basketball team. Sometimes the question is a no-brainer. One example is a question they never get right. Here it is: What was Missouri Western State University called before their name was changed?
It’s a simple question; do you know the answer? The correct answer is Missouri Western State College. Our rivals just changed for a college to a university a few years ago. You can’t believe the answers I get sometimes. Answers like Missouri Western Junior College or St. Joseph State University. One very observant freshman corrected me this year as our team was entering the Missouri Western campus from the south. One building that faces the south entrance still proudly proclaims that you are arriving at Missouri Western State College. When they start correcting the coach, it’s definitely time for Sundae-Monday. It’s tradition.