I just finished my week of training the Mazar men’s and women’s teams and, as always, I had a fantastic time working with both groups. I’ve written about the men’s team’s progress, and they’re definitely making great strides. I played a quick game of 2-on-2 after practice yesterday with Sayed Mohammad, Mojeeb and Basir – the three top players on the team – and was very impressed. Playing along with them gave me a new appreciation for how fast they are and how well they’re picking up the subtleties of the game like floor spacing, pick-setting and team defense.

The women’s team seems to have hit a bit of a plateau in their development and I had a bit of trouble figuring out how best to motivate them to learn new skills and implement team concepts this year. They’re all fairly young – late teens to early twenties – and my sense is that nearly all of them see any practice activities other than playing games as a necessary evil that they need to endure but would rather skip. I have a feeling that I’d overhear them reciting Allen Iverson’s legendarily derisive rant about practice in Dari if I could just understand them better. “Practice. We’re talking about PRACTICE. Practice! Not a game. Not a game. Practice.”

Image

Teaching the team how to throw hook passes. Note the happy expressions.

Thursday’s session was particularly difficult, with all the players moving at half speed and seeming half-asleep. Even the jokes and bad attempts at speaking Dari – usually guaranteed to get laughs – couldn’t get them out of their funk. On Friday I was determined to find a way to get their energy level up and force them to have fun, whether they liked it or not. My solution was introducing the team to the classic shooting game of H.O.R.S.E. (or A.S.P. in Dari – HORSE would have taken forever) with the explanation that the winner of the game would be crowned the best shooter on the team. I figured this would get them working on their shooting technique, but would also engage their competitive natures, and it absolutely did the trick. Despite my ongoing insistence that they could shoot from anywhere they wanted when it was their turn – literally anywhere, ladies! – they completely ignored me and every single player took the exact same right handed layup for the entire game. Creativity was not an option, only victory. Nevertheless, they were laughing and shouting every time a player missed her final shot and was named an ASP, and looked over to me with huge grins every time they made a shot to avoid receiving a letter themselves. We followed that with a full-length game, and everyone had a great time. As always when they’re in top form, the women alternated between euphoria after made baskets and angry head slaps after an opponent did something they didn’t like (even if that thing was perfectly legal). I called at least two fouls for slapping. Good stuff.

Image

“Lickety brindle up the middle!”

After the practice was finished, several of the team members asked if I would pose for a group picture. This naturally turned into at least 15 minutes of photo snapping with different cameras, combinations of players, and poses.

Image

Mazar #1!!! (Except for Fereshteh. She’s the cutup.)

Many thanks to my interpreters, Jamil and Tawab, who both did an excellent job of turning my rambling basketball English diatribes into understandable Dari for the players.