Pro/parent partnership nets success

Jodie Harrison parent coaches rely on the pros to teach players skills they need

Parents who coach in the Jodie Harrison basketball program say they are amazed to see how much the players develop over the course of the season.

"It's such a great program, because the kids grow so much from the first game to the last game," said Virginia Malinas, assistant coach for her son Carson's fourth-grade team and her daughter Sofia's seventh-grade team. "They look like a different team, and it's so wonderful to see them all develop and grow."

The parents are also quick to admit they're not the ones who deserve the credit.

"The professional Breakaway Basketball coaches they have are great people," said her husband, David, the head coach of his kids' teams. "They afford the opportunity to make it easy on us coaches.

"They give us things to reinforce as coaches in the game," he added.

The Breakaway Basketball staff runs practices during the week, handing over the players to the volunteer parent coaches for the final 10 minutes. Then the parents coach the teams during weekend games.

Bill Cotter, who coaches his third-grade daughter Logan's team, also highlighted the work Breakaway staff does with the players, even at the younger ages.

"I do think there is improvement over the year's course, largely attributable to the work the Breakaway folks do with the girls," he said.

Mike Murphy, coach of his son Will's second-grade Boilermakers team, agreed.

"I love that they partnered with Breakaway to help support the program. Breakaway does a great job educating the kids on the sport and training them."

The parents' objectives as coaches, then, is to help the kids execute those skills while facing an opponent.

"That's part of what I pride myself on doing, putting these kids in situations where they can develop but not lose confidence," David Malinas said.

He recalled one game when he had to call a time out after an opposing team had a 5-foot-2 player guarding one of his 3-foot-5 players.

"You can't coach height, so make a switch," he said. "The players on the court should look out for their teammates. We pride it on being a team sport and everybody doing their part and contributing to their team in their own way."

Cotter said he tries to channel his favorite fictional coach, Ted Lasso, and make sure win or loss, baskets made or missed, the kids had a good time.

"That's my goal. I know it's a modest one," he said.

Like many others, his favorite part of coaching is watching the kids' excitement when they make a basket.

"It's fun to see their faces light up," Cotter said.

Murphy, who also coaches Falcon Football, thinks basketball is a great sport for younger kids, as it doesn't require a lot of strategy.

"You can have individual plays within basketball," he said. "A kid can take the ball and dribble down the court and shoot, versus football, where every player has an individual responsibility to make the team run at an efficient level."

And like his fellow coaches, his emphasis is on fun, not wins.

"You're there to help develop the kids," he said. "You have very low expectations on what their skill sets should be."

Sometimes the younger kids need as much help off the court as they do on it.

"I am the assistant coach, so I try and be there for the kids if they need help with their shoelaces or who they are guarding or who's in, who's out," Virginia Malinas said.

As the players get older, the lack of coach-led practice time during the week can become more of a challenge, David Malinas said.

"It's a bit tough in terms of getting cohesiveness with your team. If you want to run specific set plays or something, you don't have a lot of time to get those in," he said. "As a coach, you need to be focused and you can't throw too much at the team."

The program's popularity is a bit of a double-edged sword, Murphy said.

"You have a lot of kids participating, which is great, but you have the challenges of being able to utilize enough practice time to prepare kids," he said.

The coaches all had nothing but praise for the program as a whole. Cotter said Jodie Harrison has been a positive experience for him and his daughter.

"I know she looks forward to it, as do I," he said.

The league benefits more than just the players and coaches, in Murphy's opinion.

"I think the program itself does such a good job of bringing the community and the kids together," he said.

The Malinas family, who moved to Hinsdale in 2020, has participated in a variety of sports programs while living all over the country.

"We've seen lots of different school district and sports programs, and this is by far the best recreational program," Virginia Malinas said.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean