Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Swimming with Sharks

Just as sharks have evolved over millions of years into the perfect killing machine -- swift, strong, and efficient -- the eighth grade boy also serves as an example of evolution perfected. There is perhaps no other creature on the face of the earth so single-minded in the advancement of itself atthe expense of others. So in that sense, the eighth grade boy is perfection; in all other respects, he is an absolute mess.

I spent the afternoon with thirty-four of these creatures during eighth grade tryouts, and I've lived to tell about it. Last week I wrote about the sixth graders, and how quick they were to listen, how eager they were to please. With the eighth graders, it's quite different. They are so drawn to each other, so completely focused on their peers, that there are times when making the team seems secondary to impressing the boys in the bleachers.

But it's not all bad. While the hope of the sixth graders can be uplifting, the testerone-driven confidence of the eighth graders can be intoxicating. Twenty years removed from their experience, I try to remember what it was like to hope for a spot on the team, even as you are hopelessly outclassed. I wonder what it must be to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the boys in the gym, knowing that there's a jersey and a starting spot waiting for you, preordained.

We started tryouts with some lay-up and jump shot drills to get warmed up, then moved into a three-man weave. This drill is perfect for measuring coordination, and it's tricky enough that it gives me an idea of which boys can learn new things easily, and who might struggle later on when I'm teaching a new offense.

Next I split the boys into groups of five for scrimmages, which was fun. Since I always know very few of the boys, I assign the teams randomly, usually just grabbing groups of five from my sign-up list. Eventually, just through the luck of the draw, I manage to put together an all-star team of sorts. As I read the names from the list one at a time, each boy hops down from the bleachers to growing excitement. As I read off each name, the boys respond with a long, drawn-out "Ohhhhhhh..." reflecting their awe for the team that I've blindly assembled. It happens this way every year, and I love it.

After about an hour or so, it wasn't too difficult to identify the haves and the have nots. My weakness, though, lies in the grey area, the boys who are in between. Realistically, I know that none of those borderline kids will ever end up making the team, but it's still hard for me to cut them. I've made mistakes in the past by cutting players who should've made the team, so I know that players can slip through the cracks. It's my hope that my two assistants will catch anyone that I miss...

Halfway through the process, we're down to a total of thirty-eight boys from the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. I haven't yet seen the seventh graders, but I hear that it's a deep talent pool, so we may have more seventh graders than usual on the team. I'm thinking that it might break down like this: 2 sixth, 4 seventh, and 8 or 9 eighth graders.

We'll see. Round two starts tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.