We grew up playing lots of Basketball. Everybody had a hoop in their driveway or access to one nearby. Soccer hadn’t caught on yet in the USA. So it was Football, Basketball, Baseball and Hockey. Of those four, the only one that had any kind of compelling rhythm was Basketball.
There was school ball and there was street ball. Most coaches didn’t want you bringing your street ball into high school courts. There was an etiquette to the game and street ball style broke too many rules to be welcome. That was true until our 1975 season and a rookie coach.
The truth is we loved street ball. Us white boys would go down to the ‘rough’ neighborhoods and join in some real hoop. Down there, it was all about the rhythm. Somebody would always bring the boom box and the Rhythm and Blues tapes and we’d play ‘till we dropped. If your team couldn’t get rhythm’d up, then forget it, you’d get whooped. And that’s how it was.
We’d go from our street hoop to playing ‘school’ and it would feel like you just got your wings clipped and your shoe laces tied together. On top of that, the real feeling of camaraderie was gone.
All that changed in ’75. Our new school coach had a different philosophy. He knew about street ball. He knew about rhythm!
We suited up for our first practice and before we could even think about it, our new coach had us running drills to Motown music playing on his own boom box. He’d say, “I don’t want to see one pass or hear one bounce that’s off the rhythm, do ya hear? Now go!” And we’d drill for 90% of the practice just trying to get synchronized with the beat! It was great!
The same applied to running plays and shooting. After a couple weeks, if you were playing outside the beat, you hit the floor with push-ups. There were a few players who saw a lot of that floor…
By the time we had our first game, we thought we’d be invincible. But the problem was – the other team! They had no rhythm. They completely threw us off our rhythm. This was a problem. All this time we had been scrimmaging against each other – to a beat. Now we were playing without the support of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations and Otis Redding. We were in trouble!
Our coach anticipated this. The practice following that first crushing defeat, there was no boom box. He brought a metronome instead. He started us on the long road of “internalizing the rhythms”! And that’s all we did for the next few weeks: walking the rhythms, running the rhythms, dribbling the beat, passing to the beat, shooting on the beat, with that metronome ticking away in our heads. It was crazy. A few guys threatened to quit. And what made it worse was we lost the next 2 games – by a lot.
We were also aware that our coach was under a lot of pressure. Parents and faculty were starting to complain about his unorthodox methods.
But the team was on board! Most of us really had the feeling that if we just stuck with it, something amazing would happen.
It was game four. We had just spent the last two practices drilling ‘on beat’ while the coach deliberately tried to throw us off our rhythm banging trash can lids together and shouting humorous insults at us. The team rhythm prevailed! We were facing a lot of resistance now, but something between us kept us together strong.
We won the next seven games!
We knew we shared something extraordinary. We tapped into something, something real; something as old and persistent as the heartbeat itself. None of us could really articulate it then, but it stuck with a few of us.
There is a natural rhythm and grace to just about everything. Finding it opens the door to uncommon strength and assistance from the natural worlds.
Our coach, by the way, went on to teach and coach at that same high school for the next nineteen years!
Anybody game for a little Rhythm Ball?