Holiday Hoops Redefined

We are all shaped by our circumstances.  This is a commonality present in all communities and cultures. But it wasn’t until 5 years ago that I truly understood the weight of these words.

I joined the varsity basketball team of Texas High School in 2000 as a sophomore.  Texas High School is the same school I graduated from in 2003 and I now serve as the Boys Basketball Coach.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve accepted the fact that the Holidays are for Hoops, both as a player and now as a coach.  Turkey tournaments over Thanksgiving Break and spending Christmas on the court while every other student, parent, and family enjoys the time school districts provide every year as calendars close and a New Year arrives.  For 12 years now, I’ve followed suit as a coach doing things the way they’ve always been done – scheduling game after game, cramming tournaments instead of spending time for recharging and renewal. The idea of “Load Management” has been garnering more and more attention lately with professional basketball players entering discussions, as well as the golf and cycling industries now realizing the benefits of rest from the rigors of training.

It’s sad to say, but it wasn’t until I dove headfirst into the role of a husband and a father figure that I realized the importance of family.  In the fall of 2014, I met my wife.  I was 29 years old.  I spent plenty of time on the dating scene but had yet to find my soul mate.  Turns out, she’d been walking through the church halls and listing to the same sermons as I was every Sunday for 8 years.  My bride (now of 4.5 years), son, Weston (7 years old), and I became family in June 2015.  Personally, it was a paradigm shift moment as I joined a premade family.  You see, every holiday break, my wife and I share our son Weston with his father’s family.  We are a blended bunch.  What I once saw as an obstacle, I now count as an opportunity.  Weston loves his dad unconditionally and my wife has done an incredible job co-parenting despite differences from house to house.  Nonetheless, it is still so incredibly hard for basketball wives to endure, much less enjoy, the holidays as husbands leave not long after Santa drops his gifts for an overnight tournament with their teams.  Multiply this void for our family personally with the somber situation of sharing a son and it becomes increasingly difficult to find joy in the home over the holidays. Thus, the change.  As you can tell, once upon a time my priority was playing games.  Now, my focus is family.  And this has provided more perks than I initially realized.

Up to this point in my career, I have served as the Head Coach at 2 schools in different states.  Of these basketball programs, both are labeled as being a “football school.”  Texas High School is one of a handful of east Texas teams that have won a state championship in football and Shiloh Christian School (of Springdale), my previous position, just finished runner-up in the state of Arkansas.  While I have made it a point to partner with our football staffs at both schools, it is difficult to prepare for a basketball season that doesn’t afford you the opportunity to train your entire team until after games have already started due to playoff runs on the field.

This year has been no different.  Our Tigers upset the #5-ranked team in 5A during their playoff run this year!  Our entire campus and community celebrated their success!  However, the extra games postponed all of our basketball players joining our huddle on the hardwood for several weeks.

To make up for lost time, the weeks have been fast and furious since our multisport players arrived.  We started by playing 10 games in 12 days (all on the road) and finished with 12 games played and only 6 days of full-team practice.  I might have failed to mention it earlier, but this is my first year (back) at Texas High School.  With the hottest buzzword in coaching being “Culture” right now – fellow coaches can imagine the challenge it’s been to create change given so little time together that isn’t installing a new philosophy or preparing for an opponent.  This new strategy of #BalancingTheHolidays is going to allow for practice to take precedence over playing!  We will practice 5 straight days during the last week of December, spending time to “cut deep” in several areas that need attention instead of playing more games.

Before giving our players 7 days off for Christmas (the state of Texas, UIL, requires 5 days minimum), we chose to begin building our Culture in ways not seen in a Win-Loss record.  We took our players to serve at Mission Texarkana, a local ministry to the residents of our community by providing daily meals, food pantry items, and vocational assistance.  In addition, following the conclusion of our final game of 2019, we took all of our players bowling as part of our team Christmas party, as well as giving each player a hearty holiday hug from our coaching staff and sending them off with a small gift.

In summary, balancing the basketball season is a challenging act.  We all want our teams to be playing their best basketball at the right time.  Our choice to balance the holidays so that our coaching staff and players are able to spend valuable time with family and friends is a risk by sacrificing the traditional holiday tournament, but we believe the reward of rest and renewal will far outweigh the risk taken with some extra time off and no competitive contests until 2020 rolls around.

I hope those in the profession will self-scout as they read this story.  What is your Why?  Why are you playing that Christmas tournament?  Why are you scheduling that practice the day after?  My challenge this year is simple: Take the risk to rest!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jacob Skinner
THS Class of 2003
Head Coach, Boys Basketball
Club Sponsor, Fellowship of Christian Athletes

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