Basketball

David Thomas steps down at Pusch Ridge; offers us a view of what it’s like to be a coach for a day

David Thomas (second from right) Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com

Pusch Ridge basketball coach David Thomas stepped down from his position on Friday. He started coaching the boys in 2015 and he compiled a 30-18 record. He coached at Catalina prior to that and is a coach with AZ Power Tucson/Spartans organization.

Thomas sent in the following describing what it’s like to be in his shoes as a husband, father and coach for a day:

It’s 6:15am and your wife’s alarm clock goes off. You’ve been up for about an hour, another restless night. This time because of the excitement of your team’s direction as they won a big conference game the night before. You know now you really have to wake up because your wife has to go to work and it’s unfair to her if you lay in bed all day while she works. See because what you do pays you $2,900 yearly so your wife works to compensate the rest. It sounds crazy. Some say you should rethink your line of work because you’re following the wrong business model. Maybe, or maybe they just don’t understand.

You get up to make your wife a quick breakfast and boil water for your instant cappuccino. You never had the stomach for real coffee and you’ve sworn off energy drinks. You walk into your front bedroom which you convinced your wife to allow you to turn it into your office. In it, you have two computers, a large desk scattered with notes and even the tie you wore last night. You have shelves full of trophies and walls covered with pictures of former players. You have three iPads (YES THREE). On the surface, it sounds insane but you have one for stats, one for film, and an extra one because people or your three-year-old son have broken one in the past and you don’t want to be in another situation where you’re scrambling to borrow someone else’s tools right before your job. You move the mouse on the mousepad and all your monitors come on. You pull up the internet and check your bookmark tab. There they are, the two pages visited on a daily basis during this time a year, MaxPreps and Hudl. You try and get some film in before your son wakes up because you know then you’ll have nonstop interruptions. Mind you, you really don’t have to watch the game again because it just happened last night and after you got home you watched it again on an iPad not going to sleep until about midnight, but it a habit, it’s what you do.

It’s 7:35am and your wife kisses you and says goodbye. You wish her a good day but you almost feel like you just repeated yourself, then you realize, that’s just because the last time you two actually spoke in person, you were doing the same exact thing. See yesterday, she left the house early because she had to drop your son off at pre-school for one of the two days he goes during the week. He doesn’t go full time because of the expense but you’re just thankful that you can afford to send him at all. But then you had a game last night which she and your son couldn’t attend, and after cleaning up the locker room, talking to parents, and grabbing a quick bite to eat with your coaches, everyone was fast asleep by the time you got home.

Then, just as the door shuts behind your wife, there it is, that sound that sometimes churns your stomach, your first phone call of the day. You look at your phone and you’re actually happy to see it, it’s a college coach calling regarding one of your club players. You love these types of calls! You currently have a former player on his team, so immediately you ask about him only to find out the whole reason for the call was for just that. He lets you know some things that displeased him recently and wants you to call your former player and try to straighten it out, a tough task when thousands of miles separate the two of you but you take it on. Not for the coach, but to help your former player be successful, after all, that’s what it’s all about, your boys.

You tried to talk quietly and make the call short without being rude because this coach forgot about the time difference where you live and your son is still fast asleep. You hang up the phone and walk out of your office and there he is, your pride and joy wide awake. You haven’t seen him since yesterday morning and only for a few short moments. It’s time to double up on your hats; it’s time to be dad and coach.

You fix him a quick breakfast; he loves cereal which makes it easy on you. You turn on his favorite cartoon and get him settled in. You tell him, “daddy has to work bud” and walk back into your office.

At this point you’ve received a few emails that need to be responded too and a text from another coach asking for a film exchange, you oblige but he also wants to hear your thoughts as well. There’s phone call number two.

45 minutes later, you’re back in front of your desk watching film. You’ve decided to not watch last night’s game for a second time, instead opting to watch film on your next opponent. This will take a while, see, you’re not one to cut corners and not big on surprises so you prepare to be ready for anything. You sit and you dissect every play, every set, and every player. What are their habits? Does he slash to the basket or does he spot up? Does he play with his back to the rim or does he even look to shoot? Then you watch the coach, you listen for play calls, hand signals, and anything that will tip you off to what he may do next. You get into the zone and just as your writing so fast that you think your paper pad almost catches on fire, your phone goes off. This time it’s your boss, these aren’t always bad calls, it’s just that they’re never short. But you enjoy these calls for the most part; you appreciate the relationship you have with him.

Unfortunately, this time it’s not a good call. He lets you know there was an administrative mistake in the athletics office. He lets you know even though the mistake was above you; you and the team may have to suffer the consequences. It’s a self-reporting violation that could be swept under the rug, but you and your school have a high standard of integrity and you appreciate that. But he lets you know you may face a suspension plus no one in the program can win any post season awards. That’s the blow that hurts, see, you’ve won coach of the year but you don’t care about that, you care about your players working their butt off and not being able to be recognized for it. You sit and take part of the blame because you should have checked yourself as well as the athletic department. You’ll have to wait patiently to hear more on the outcome, that’s not your greatest strength. Because what people don’t know is that at 29 years old you were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that doesn’t allow you to sit still, and when times like this come about, you fight anxiety and you’re stressed beyond control. You realize it’s going to be a long couple of days.

After you get off the phone, you see it’s already 12pm and your son hasn’t eaten lunch. This isn’t good. Your son is a slow eater and like all children, easily distracted. You need to feed him and then get him down for a nap so he doesn’t run wild at practice. An hour later, he’s fed and fast asleep. He usually naps about two to three hours but today, he only gets an hour and fifteen minutes because you have early practice and you live across town from the school.

As you sit there scrambling to finish your scouting report, you also compile a mental checklist of what you have to get done before practice. Practice plan, respond to a parent’s email, email out the practice plan to your coaches, get gas on the way to practice, and buy snacks for your son. All the while forgetting you still haven’t showered or eaten anything at all. It’s a pretty frequent occurrence that you scramble to practice on an empty stomach. You tell yourself its OK though, last year you were unhealthy and overweight. When you ate, you over ate and you drank nothing but energy drinks. You even had an epileptic seizure that almost cost you your life. So you think it’s ok to skip meals on a consistent basis.

Scouting, done. Shower, done. Parent email, done. Practice plan, done. Email practice plan, done. Smooth sailing from here. Then your phone goes off again. You don’t have the number saved in your phone but you recognize the number. It’s one of your parents. The conversation is cordial but you’re sitting there waiting for the magic indicators. What is that you ask? Well, it’s the sentences or phrases parents use with coaches right before they’re about to hit you with something. For example, “My son doesn’t know I’m doing this…”, “My son would kill me if he knew I was calling you…”, and of course the two most famous lines, “I don’t ever do this…” or, “I’m not one of those parents…”.

Five minutes into the conversation it’s like clockwork, “Well I don’t ever do this but…” and there it is, a perspective that you always have to tread lightly with even when you know you’re right. See, what people don’t understand is, they don’t treat the coaching profession like other professions.

When you go to the doctors, people don’t offer him/her up suggestions on how to correct their health or injury just because they’ve been sick before or because they’ve bandaged a wound before. They go to the doctor because they understand that it’s that specific person’s field of expertise and they’re best suited for the job to make you better. In the coaching profession, everyone has a master’s degree and everyone has played before. And please don’t get me wrong, not all parents are bad. But there are the few that make it very difficult and unenjoyable for a head coach. Also, I don’t think people realize that coaches receive those calls sometimes on a daily basis. It may be that particular parents first call, but it’s that coaches third one this week.

Back to the topic at hand, you’ve done this before, you’ve heard this before and you know that sometimes people just want to be heard, so you listen. You don’t interrupt and you don’t argue. You respectfully listen because you’ve learned that often times, that’s the cure for the entire situation. 30 minutes later, it’s resolved.

Now its crunch time, the phone call caused you to have to scramble. You have to wake your son up and get him ready to go. You still have to stop for gas and you just remembered you still have to call your former player before he has to be at his practice later that night.

You pack your son into his car seat and jump into your oversized SUV, you’re about to fill up your tank for the second time this week because you’re driving across town every day, sometimes twice a day. See, two years ago, you convinced your wife that you needed more space. Again, on the surface it sounds insane because it’s only you, your wife, and your son. But you’re a coach, often times you need a big vehicle to lug around equipment but most importantly your players. You recently had a mid-sized SUV that was perfect for your family. But one night while coming home from an out of state tournament you see two of your players struggling for comfort in the back, you knew then that you “needed” something bigger. Most don’t understand, but you approach coaching like parenting in some aspects, when they “need”, you try your best to provide and that’s your niche. This is why so many people want to play for you and why you’ve been successful as a coach, because you understand that those boys will die for you if they just know you genuinely care about them, and the reality of it is, you do, way more than they will ever know.

You fill up your car and get to the school. You get ready to walk into the gym and get to work. But every so often, there are obstacles that try and derail you such as random administrative work, ineligible players, hurt or sick players, unwanted drama, and the ever so crippling “high school relationship problems”. Yes, it does happen to your boys too. Today’s obstacle, bullying within the team, this is another subject you have to address but tread lightly with. But you teach and counsel your team because that’s what you do.

During that time, you check your phone and you’ve missed three more calls, one from your wife who you haven’t talked to since this morning but like many other times in the past, it’s going to have to wait because the boys are waiting on you. At that point you remembered you still haven’t called your former player. Plus, after practice you have to prepare for a road game. You figure you’re just going to have to call him on the way home.

You coach, you teach, you yell, and you talk. It was a great day of practice. Your son is restless and ready to leave. You talked to your team for another 15 minutes and release them. You then head off to the equipment room to gather stuff for tomorrow’s road game. On your way out you stop and talk to a player you’ve been concerned with for quite some time. He needs you, practice has been over for 30 minutes but it doesn’t matter, what matters are moments like these. You listen, you try and give advice but most importantly you make sure he knows you’re always there for him.

You jump in your car and put your son in his car seat and you immediately get on the phone. You happen to catch your former player long after his practice is over. You explain to him what you’ve heard, you then listen to his side of the story and then you try and turn in it into a teaching moment, or as you like to say, “a life lesson”. Again, this is what matters.

You get home and it’s already approaching 6:30pm. Your wife has been home for about an hour and you really haven’t actually seen her and held a conversation with her for over two days. It’s like you’ve only seen her in passing. That’s the only thing that seems insane to you. But she gets it, she supports you and truth be told, she loves those boys just as much as you do. What else could explain why she does what she does and sacrifices how she does? You make dinner and put your son to bed by 8pm. You sit and relax for the first time today with your wife. She turns on a show you both watch and all you can think about are those boys.

Again, the phone rings. It’s another college coach. He’s been actively recruiting one of my players and wants an update as to how he’s doing. You talk and update and share stories, but before you know it, its 9pm and your wife is headed to bed. You go in and lay with her, wanting to ask her about her day yet not wanting to keep her up because you know how tired she is. You lie next to her and think; you reflect on your day; how could I improve? What more could I be doing? You think about all your conversations; did I really help those boys today? You think about the parent call and you tell yourself, “is that situation really over? Or will it come up again?” And if it does, how are you prepared to handle it? You sit and you tell yourself that when your son is old enough to play sports, the only thing you’ll say to your son’s coach is, “thank you for coaching my kid.”

Why? Because you get it. You’ve spent all day sacrificing even when no one saw you. You worked and worked long before you ever stepped foot in that gym and long after you left it. You realize you’ve sacrificed time with your wife and in your marriage. You recognize that other than, “go play in your room bud” you haven’t talked to your son all day. You can’t even remember the last time you had a second to sit and read him a book or play with him and his toys. You sacrificed all that for a job that pays far less than $1 an hour. Let that sink in for a minute. But none of that matters to you, all that matters is the impact you could have had on someone today. Those boys, your son, that’s your legacy.

This is life your life…

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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Contact Andy Morales at AMoralesMyTucson@yahoo.com

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