COMMUNITY JOURNALISM: Coaching for love, coaching for life

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April 1, 2014 | 2:49 am

Editor’s note: Mark Hazlett, 59 is president of Telecom Services of Iowa, a provider of business telephone systems in Eastern Iowa. Born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Mark is a graduate of Kennedy High School and Mount Mercy. He and his wife, Kim, lived in Denver, Colo., and Des Moines before returning to Cedar Rapids to raise their two children, Brett (31) and Breann (28).

By Mark Hazlett, community contributor

Like many parents who decides to coach their son or daughter in youth sports, I started coaching my son, and later my daughter, because I wanted them to have a good experience playing sports.

That was more than 20 years ago.

I am now in my 18th season coaching a girls’ team in one of the Salvation Army basketball leagues and my 14th coaching in a girls’ feeder program for Xavier. There have to be hundreds of parents who have visited the Salvation Army over that time to watch their daughters (and sons) play basketball in the “gym” — or main dining area of that building.

I am sure were it not for its long standing basketball league, most of those people would never have stepped foot in that building. That is not necessarily a bad thing; it just is what it is.

I started coaching my son in YMCA league and continued by coaching my daughter in Y leagues, as well. My daughter said she wanted to continue playing so, along with another coach we put together a team for the more competitive Salvation Army league.

In those days, many of the teams were AAU level or traveling teams. Other teams were like ours that had played together in a Y league, did well and moved up the competition ladder to play together in tournaments and in this league. There were not many “feeder” programs like the Bulldogs, programs comprised of teams in which all of the girls will be attending the same high school.

I remember when I first started coaching a team on my own — the score was routinely 20 to next-to-nothing before we got to run an offense against some of the traveling teams because they didn’t have to back off the press until they had a 20 point lead. Many did not back off.

I now know how to break a press quite nicely.

After four years my daughter moved on to high school and my coaching career was done. Or so I thought.

A few weeks in to my first off season I started missing coaching. At that time there was a small notice in The Gazette that the Bulldogs, a feeder program for Xavier was looking for a coach. It is a long story as to why, but the Bulldogs had decided they did not want a parent coaching their own daughters so they were looking for outside coaches. I was interviewed by Kevin McCarville and was hired for a coaching position.

The word “hired” is a bit misleading because I didn’t get paid. But I got to keep coaching which is what I wanted.

A lot has changed over those 18 seasons. Traveling teams still exist, but now there are far more “feeder” teams in which all girls will attend the same high school as well. Girl’s basketball has boomed in the number of teams over that period. I am not sure that growth will continue in the long run because soccer is becoming more the year-round sport and I see more girls choosing to play volleyball in addition to basketball.

While not easy, working around a girl’s schedule who plays soccer can be done. Volleyball seems to overlap more so that could make girls make choices down the road.

There have been many memorable moments over the years, some really good come-from-behind wins and some disappointing losses. I have had two different teams win state AAU championships, not an easy feat against the state’s best.

But I seem to dwell on some of the heartbreaking losses more than the wins, like that 34-31 loss in an AAU state championship game that got away. I am assuming that I am not the only coach the does that.

With experience I find that I am not as critical of the referees as I once was, or at least I am not as vocal. I think a big part of that is because I am not coaching my own daughter. Sometimes coaches of younger teams, not used to the physical play of more competitive basketball, can be more critical of referees. I think that they may take it more personally when their girl is getting banged around on the court.

I now coach seventh grade girls. The girls still playing basketball in seventh grade are used to the rough style of play and after three or four years of being the brunt end of physicality, many are more than capable of dishing it out as well. Conversely that dad who was so protective of his little girl in fourth grade is now telling her to suck it up and box out after each shot.

Funny, but one of the worst coaches I have ever coached against as far as getting on the referees was a former professional umpire. I always found that somewhat ironic. You would have thought he would have been more forgiving.

I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching basketball over the years. After a few years of it I decided to get my coaching certification and have coached middle school and high school basketball. I like coaching in the feeder program because I coach two teams that both play in around 45 games a season, not counting summer leagues.

If you do the math, I have now coached in well over 1,000 games.

But I do have one deep secret that I share with the girls I coach only after I am done coaching them: I never played basketball myself. That’s not entirely true. Like many kids growing up in the 1960s (I am now 59) I played whatever sport was in season and played a lot of it.

We didn’t have Nintendo, X-Box or even cable TV; we played sports — or at least we did in my neighborhood. I never went out for basketball (I played baseball) so I have never played in a game with a clock and a real referee.

So that is my story. I was a baseball and longtime softball player who started coaching basketball just to insure that my son had a good experience.

I often tell my daughter I wished I knew then what I know now in respect to basketball because her team had a lot of talented girls. Those early teams might have gotten a little short-sheeted due to my inexperience. Funny though, my daughter says that’s OK, she still had fun.

And in the end, that is what it is supposed to be all about.

What’s your story? Become a community contributor by contacting J.R. Ogden at jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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