We all need a game plan for life

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series.

In this article, I will describe the similarities between coaching basketball and coaching clients with chemical dependency — alcohol and other drugs. In my book “Coaching Chemical Dependency” there is a chapter that identifies similar behaviors and a coach – counselor’s attempt to deal with these behaviors.

For example, when players come to the gym for tryouts, if the coach is new, he or she knows very little about the 50 to 100 kids trying out. I’ll make a blanket statement, that within 15 minutes, I’ll tell you the best 10 to 15 players on the court. It will have nothing to do with how high they jump, how well they handle or how good they shoot.

It will, however, have to do with how they pass the ball, when their teammates are open, if they play both ends of the court, offense and defense or do they play with the ball and loaf or defense. It will also have to do with how they run. But more than anything else, it will have to do with heart and hard work.

When I played, most players were bigger than me. I worked my butt off and was able to compete with them. When I went to college and played at Fredonia State, I continued to work my butt off and had a great college career. When I went into coaching, there were coaches smarter than me with better players but they never outworked my teams and we competed and beat many of them.

When I went into counseling there were many counselors, once again smarter than me, but didn’t work nearly as hard. I spent 35 years watching gifted people with excellent skills fall by the wayside because of lack of effort. The point I’m trying to make is in both disciplines, the kids, your clients, are going to pick up what length you are willing to go to help them and if you mean what you say.

For example, in counseling we have a label for those clients that are non-disciplined and try to circumvent the rules and authority. We call this “oppositional defiance” behaviors. Whether it’s a kid coming to practice late repeatedly or a client coming to group late, it’s the same idea. I deal with this type of behavior head on.

If I allow both to continue, I’m sending a message that because you may be the best player or the smartest person in the group, you’re different. I don’t want a hand, I want a fist, five fingers apart is the way we will play and operate in group and treatment. Some methods for both, are make the person who is late stand on the sidelines while his teammates run suicides for his late behaviors.

In treatment, up the number of days for his groups, while his group member visits stay the same. For those of you that don’t believe in discipline, that’s your problem, not mine. For the “star” that never passes the ball, but wants it passed to him, there is the bench. I tell them “treat others the way you want to be treated.” And if you’re not signaling your teammate for a good pass or giving him the ball when he’s open, then you are practicing selfishness and thinking T-E-A-M is spelled “me” Instead of “we.” Conversely, in chemical dependency, the inflation of the ego and loss of humility can prove to be fatal in many ways.

The big book talks about “absolute honesty,” but from 35 years sober and counseling I’ve never met anyone that is absolutely honest. That’s OK with me, as long as clients and players are striving to improve themselves.

Another aspect that has been lost in coaching and counseling is “attention to detail.” Without a doubt, the best coach that I ever worked with or knew, was Bob Muscato of Cardinal Mindszenty High School. I was fortunate to serve under him in the ’60s as JV Coach. What he did, I followed and it produced two JV Championships in the tough Bishop Smith League.

Posting the practice with time breakdowns and station drills was unheard of in the ’60s. Skill sessions or going over assignments daily were numerous. Giving players things to do on the court and holding them accountable produced above average results. This is what coaching is all about. Likewise in counseling, proper treatment plans based on both client and counselor’s thinking. Goals to be accomplished by time limits. Even though it is true that counselors practice “unconditional acceptance,” the behaviors are still confronted in REBT terms, the counselor directs the game like the coach.

One of the greatest attention to detail stories I ever heard was about John Madden, the great football coach of the Oakland Raiders. He stated “I thought I knew X’s and O’s and football until I went to Coach Vince Lombardi’s football camp.”

In one segment, Coach Lombardi spent six hours talking about one play, the Green Bay Sweep. He said that when we run it, if the opponents do this, we do this. If they challenge this, there is no place for that on our team. For the person that doesn’t do their REBT sheets and homework, the group gets double, triple sheets to do because of the inappropriate behavior. Many, many times the kids on the team will handle the task as the group members will do the same. Unless the player or client has a “narcissistic personality disorder,” most will come around and become a contributing team or group member.

Next week: Part two.

Mike Tramuta has been a CASAC counselor for more than 30 years and currently runs the REBT program on Thursday nights at the Holy Trinity Parish Center from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Call 983-1592 for more information.