May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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A Coach’s Reflections on Journeys Traveled

MTA hosted a moving brunch and court-naming ceremony to celebrate my coaching retirement after 16 years of coaching basketball for the MTA Lions (12 years as Varsity Head Coach) as well as the 139 student athletes whom I had the privilege to coach. The following are the words I shared at the memorable occasion.

I would like to begin by thanking our family and friends for taking the time out of your busy schedules to be here today. I would also like to thank Rabbi Taubes, Dr. Taylor, Rabbi Beitler as well as the rabbeim and faculty of MTA of for all of their leadership and support over the years.

A special thank you goes to Coach Dr. Jonathan Halpert who has been a dear friend and mentor to me, as well as to Shuey Jacoby for going above and beyond in spearheading this event. I have a great deal of appreciation for the chair people of this event, for the many assistant coaches who I had the honor to coach with as well as to my many talented coaching colleagues in the Jewish basketball world across North America who we have competed with and with whom I have forged wonderful friendships with.

Most of all, I am forever indebted to Amy and our beautiful children for their encouragement, love and support along the journey.

Last, but not least, I would like to thank each and every one of our student athletes that we’ve had over the years. Today is just as much about you guys and the journeys that we traveled together over the years.

With 352 games, well over 200 wins, over 100 losses, two Yeshiva League Championship seasons (one as an assistant coach), six trips to the semi-finals, 13 Saracheck Tournaments, 1,440 quarters, over 45,000 minutes played, roughly 500 practices, numerous games scouted, game film watched, practices planned, xs and os diagrammed, thousands of strategy sessions, laughs laughed, tears cried, players celebrated and consoled and literally 10s of thousands of hours spent on this endeavor over 16 years. What has this journey meant?

To properly answer that question, allow me to share some excerpts from an article that I wrote in the spring of 2011, entitled: “Cherished Tales From the Yeshiva League Hardwood.’

“The real question though is: what is this journey REALLY all about? Why does the fall and the onset of the yeshiva high school sports experience mark such an exciting and worthwhile time? Why do players and coaches spend literally hundreds of hours each season working, sweating, growing and building their teams? What is the real value in investing so much time, effort, sweat and tears just to be able to throw a round leather ball through a round metal ring one more time than the next guy? Better yet, why do yeshiva high schools condone and support it? What is the intrinsic value in spending so many hours mastering the intricacies of the pick and roll at the expense of an extra hour or study or Torah learning?

History repeats itself again and again on this cherished journey that is yeshiva high school sports. While attending a recent event, I approached one of the teenage attendees who happened to be a senior at another yeshiva high school in the NY/NJ area to ask him how the sunset of his senior year of high school had been going. The young man I was speaking with appeared to be in less than a jovial mood. Perhaps due in part to his knowledge of the fact that I am now into my bar mitzvah season coaching basketball in the Yeshiva League, he felt comfortable giving me a window into what was on his mind.

He proceeded to tell me that he had been a senior leader on his very strong varsity team that had somewhat unexpectedly been knocked out of the Yeshiva League’s playoffs just days before, in what turned out to be a very exciting and close game in front of a large crowd. He proceeded to describe for me the ups and downs, the high hopes and dreams that he and his teammates had harbored all season, followed by the crushing and bitter disappointment suddenly brought on by the bounce of a ball, marking the exit from the postseason and from his team’s lofty dreams. He recounted the fact that he and his teammates had invested over 100 hours of their lives that year towards the goal of capturing the winner’s circle and the championship crown. In light of the crushing and bitter final result that he and his team endured, he was suddenly questioning what it was all worth and why he made such a deep and unwavering investment in emotion and time in order to unsuccessfully chase a fleeting dream?

I must admit that after nearly two decades as a player or coach at the high school level, this had become an all too familiar topic to me. While the fact that the high caliber of players that I have often been fortunate to coach have afforded me the opportunity to partake in something that I never experienced in my playing days, two league championship seasons (one as a Head Coach and a previous one as an Assistant Coach), the stark reality is that I have still been on the receiving end of crashed hoop dreams and premature playoff endings far more than the reverse, both as player and coach.

I proceeded to sit the young man down to relay to him (and subsequently to his parents) my belief that he had just gained a priceless experience, something extremely meaningful and valuable that he would certainly hold onto forever. Being that “misery loves company,” I soothed his pain somewhat by reminding him that my very strong MTA Varsity had just followed a successful 13-1, division winning season in the Yeshiva League (21-6 overall), by falling soundly in the playoffs to the red hot SAR Sting (masterfully coached by my friend and our former MTA point guard, Rafi Halpert).  I relayed to him my snapshot image of suddenly having found myself in the all too familiar post playoff locker room with the backdrop of 15 high school young men burying their faces in their jerseys and sobbing as they awaited my annual post playoff speech (I think I have that speech down pat by now!).

I then paused to share an observation with my young listener. I relayed to him my strong belief that for the vast majority of yeshiva high school athletes (in fact for the vast majority of high school athletes in general), their experience as members of a yeshiva high school athletic team marks the first time in their lives that they so completely and wholeheartedly throw themselves into and commit themselves so thoroughly to a cause and a common goal.

Naturally, most high school males are at the “macho” stage of their lives in which they avoid risk taking, certainly public risk taking, in order to avoid at all costs the possibility of failing while in the public eye. Yet it has always fascinated me to watch from my close-up vantage point how high school athletes so readily check their “macho-ism” at the door and for the first time in their lives are willing to lay it “all” on the line, in the all-or-nothing pursuit of high achievement. While the reward for the lucky few is overflowing satisfaction, the crushing pain for the overwhelming majority is joined by the unfortunate perception of publicly falling short of the goal.

For many, the yeshiva high school sports journey is also the first time that they truly experience being part of something far bigger than themselves. They are part and parcel of a greater cause where their very skills and personalities must properly mesh with others in order to build something greater than the sum of its parts. For many it is also the first time that they will experience the hurt and tears brought on by failing at something that they care so much about; at the same time a chance to bask in the glory brought on by the big wins and successes. It is the chance to chase dreams, to chase epic moments and the chance to give so much of themselves towards the common goal.  It is the chance to cry, the chance to laugh, the chance to fall and the chance to rise yet again to fight another day. Yet all of it, both the tears and the laughs, the joys and the stumbles, are what “it” is really all about.

Theodore Roosevelt once said:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

I would like to suggest that Roosevelt described both the very journey that is the yeshiva high school athletic experience, as well as the very real journey of life itself. I believe firmly in the idea that the ups and downs of the high school sports journey mirrors life itself and I try never to miss an opportunity to use the ups and downs of our seasons as teaching points for our players.

I will never forget the strangely depressing feeling that our 2004 undefeated (in the Yeshiva League, 21-2 overall) championship team felt at our post season awards dinner.  While we were thrilled to have succeeded in achieving our ultimate basketball dream, we were depressed at the realization that our journey had come to an end and our players would be dispersing into various directions to take the next steps in their lives. It was then that it became apparent to us that it really is all about the journey and not about the destination. The journey itself is the ultimate reward, the trophy simply there as a testament to the path travelled.

The yeshiva high school sports journey plays an irreplaceable role in the lives of those who take it and it is those who “smell the roses” and recognize and cherish the deeper meaning of the journey that ultimately feel most fulfilled. In Hollywood, it is always the winner and the victor who is celebrated in the end. Unlike in Hollywood, the journey of real life and the journey of the high school athletic experience are paved with ups and downs, laughs and tears, successes and failures. Every aspect of the journey leaves the traveler with life-long lessons and memories to cherish. The journey itself is the reward and I am forever grateful to have the opportunity to travel it.”

That letter that I wrote four years ago sums up much of what teams have had the pleasure to experience and grow from over the past 16 years.

So why would I want to conclude this experience and embark on an entirely new journey?

As Koheles famously teaches us, there is a time for everything in life and every season has its time. At this stage in my life, my passion and inspiration is pulling me away from coaching as I have a desire to spend more time at home with my family and watch my own children grow. I also wish to continue to devote myself to the growing demands of a family business. In addition, I have a new journey that now inspires me more than the Cherished Tales from the YL Hardwood. A couple of years ago, shortly after I undertook to attend Daf Yomi shiur at 5:30 a.m., my son Charles asked me one day why I would be so crazy to get up at 5 a.m. to learn Torah. It was at that moment that I realized that instead of coaching I am inspired to spend as much time as I can committing myself to Torah learning and to being the best role model for my kids as far as what’s really most important in life. From one journey to the next it’s always important to follow and commit to what most inspires you at that point in your life.

So I’m hereby happy to be handing the coaching reigns over to the next coach and I look forward to attending some games and rooting for the Lions in future seasons. Once an MTA Lion, you become a Lion4life! Thank you.

By Daniel Gibber

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