It's How You Play the Game: St. Louis Program Trains Volunteer Coaches to Put Fun, Teamwork, Leadership before Winning

By Dreiling, Geri L. | National Catholic Reporter, April 7, 2006 | Go to article overview

It's How You Play the Game: St. Louis Program Trains Volunteer Coaches to Put Fun, Teamwork, Leadership before Winning


Dreiling, Geri L., National Catholic Reporter


Six basketballs pound the gym floor's light gray tiles, erratic drum rolls for 11-year-old boys preparing to shoot. Balls hit the glass backboard with a thump and bounce back out onto the court; rubber collides with an orange metal rim and ricochets off; sometimes, the off-white, funnel-shaped net snaps as a ball swishes through it.

It is mid-February, a Wednesday afternoon, and the start of the St. Margaret of Scotland's fifth-grade boys' basketball practice. The Dragons play in the Catholic Youth Council's South City division. In next Saturday's game, they'll square off against Immaculate Heart of Mary, a team they've played once before in the regular season. Though they won the first game, there's no guarantee the Dragons will repeat the performance.

The players are diverse. Some, like my son, attend the parochial school. Others are students at Sherman Middle School, a public school three blocks away. A few go to magnet schools and live in the parish boundaries. They aren't all Catholic. But on Saturday, during basketball season they can be found at St. Margaret; the school gym transformed into a bustling neighborhood gathering place.

The boys display a wide range of skill, ability and physical development. There are kids who have had growth spurts and others impatiently waiting for one. Some are blessed with natural athletic ability and grace, leaping high into the air for rebounds and dribbling down the court at top speed. Others have the gift of stubborn perseverance, sending one ball after another toward the basket in an attempt to get it right.

Parents look to the coaches, Don Burrus, 71, his son Brian, 35, and Don's granddaughter, high school senior Katrina Kuehn, to transform individual players into a team.

A passion for coaching runs in the family.

Don Burrus has been coaching for more than 50 years, much of it spent as a football, basketball, baseball and track coach at Bishop DuBourg High School in St. Louis. The girls' basketball team he coached went to the state championship three times; coming in fourth twice and second once. Many of his student athletes went on to play college ball. It isn't unusual for Dragons to go up against a team helmed by a coach that once played for Burrus.

He doesn't have any children or grandchildren on this boys' team. Asked why he volunteers many hours every week, Burrus, who played on St. Margaret's eighth-grade baseball team when it vied for the Catholic Youth Council championship at Sportsman's Park in 1948, explained, "Guys gave hours of volunteer time to me when I played at St. Margaret's."

Brian was 18 when he first coached a St. Margaret of Scotland team. After he returned from college, he joined his dad at Bishop DuBourg. But after marrying and starting a family, he left teaching for a private sector job working with computers. Now he volunteers to coach boys he didn't know before the season began.

Brian totes a three-ring coaching binder packed with drills, tips from basketball clinics, a list of 30 skills the coaches want the team to improve on during the season, a list of coaching responsibilities and a list of parent responsibilities. Brian also has a new form he's developed that will be put to the test during the next game. It tracks playing time for each player. The Dragons have already qualified for the playoffs and one rule during playoffs is that every player must get six minutes of playing time. Brian wants to see how they're holding up against the ideal.

Katrina Kuehn keeps a watchful eye on the boys as they arrive, grab a ball and begin shooting. When a player struggles, she steps in to help: "Flip your wrist," "Tuck in your elbows," "jump!"

When practice starts, the coaches don't stand on the sidelines debating what drill to work on next. They've figured that out before practice, zeroing in On the top 10 or so skills that need the most attention. The drills, scratched in pencil onto a yellow notepad, might include running, dribbling, lay-ups, shooting, work on the rotation and four corners offenses, four-on-four full court, scrimmaging.

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