Basketball and the Night Watch.
I was working at basketball camp for high school aged girls when I noticed how little they listened. These were good kids too, not slackers or kids who didn't respect the coaching; they were kids who would have listened had they known how.
I have seen this happen so many times over the last thirty years that I have detected a pattern. When kids are under pressure to perform they instinctively revert back to what they know best, even if it includes not performing in the way that they were instructed.
The task we had them doing involved opening up when the player you're guarding goes to screen. It was a somewhat complicated drill that involved opening up to the ball so that the screened defender could slide through.
The instructions were prefaced with the statement, "You must always jump in the direction of the pass before you do anything else." This command is basketball #1. It is what the triple threat stance is to offense. It is a developed habit that would be carved into a stone tablet if Moses had been a basketball coach. Yet, judging from the problems we had teaching it, it was easy to determine that it's not being taught.
Boxing out is another such "commandment" skill that is suffering from lack of attention. I have to believe that most coaches think it is something that kids to naturally. Problem is, they don't. What kids do naturally is watch the ball and grab it if it bounces their way.
So the problem, as I see it is, is that kids are suffering from uneven coaching. They get something; they get what their coaches think is important, and all too often, it is not something of primal importance like jumping to the pass, or boxing out.
Driving home, I came up with the idea that maybe we need some standardized testing of sorts. I always told the kids that I coached and taught in English class about this famous Marshmallow Test, where a group of five-year-olds were given a marshmallow and told that if they waited five minutes before eating it they would be given another.
It was a longitudinal study where the kids who participated were tracked over several years. It was determined that the kids who waited were more likely to be happier, contented, and successful. Those to went for the immediate gratification were more likely to be alcoholics, divorced, prone to drug use, and less successful.
So, I got to thinking that maybe we should take a bunch of young athletes and give them a doughnut and tell them, "If you jump to the pass five times in a row, we'll give you another doughnut." Or, "If you box-out five times in a row, you'll get another doughnut."
That way, we can tell them later, with some scientific support, that if they don't jump to the pass every time, they are probably going to end-up homeless and begging for quarters on that road that turns into Wal-Mart.
Just kidding. Really.