High school coaches are supposed to push their players to be better.
Nobody does that better than Coach Jason Dudzinski of Fayetteville-Manlius. Dudzinski, who has been a basketball coach for multiple decades, always gets the best out of his players, whether they are on or off the floor.
It all started on a wintery morning in the cafeteria, when he asked me if I would like to help him coach the Junior Varsity team. Being the sports fanatic that I am, I responded by nodding my head before he even finished the sentence.
A few weeks later, he showed up to school with a jersey for me. It wasn’t just any jersey; it was number 23, the same number as LeBron James, my favorite basketball player.
As excited as I was about being a part of a team lead by Coach D, there isn’t a thing in this world that could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. The confidence. The toughness. The passion. Those are the things that my teammates and I fed off of and what made everybody play hard.
The passion began to transfer to the players right before tip off, when him and I met the team in a corner of the gymnasium and huddled up in a circle with our arms locked together and focused on the game. It marked the start of a fun and intense night on the sideline.
He lead by example refused to take a play off and he wouldn’t let any of the players think about resting.
He had three rules.
To respect each other. To always play hard. And to never play the score because he would never coach the score.
It didn’t matter if we were up by 40 or down by 40. He was going to be the mouse in everyone’s ear and on top of his game no matter what.
When sweat was dripping from the chins of the players during a game break, he motivated everyone in the huddle with encouraging words. Even when the game wasn’t going our way, he would tell us that, if we play hard, good things will happen.
After a game, whether it was a win or loss, he started by pointing to the white board, which had the ingredients we need to win, and let us know what we did well on and what we failed to do. Sometimes, the mood in the locker room after a win was more somber than it was following a loss.
Coach D didn’t worry about winning; he just wanted to be successful, which meant something different from game to game. Before each game, he set a new objective for us aside from what was expected out of us. If we reached the objective, we were successful, no matter what the score was. If we didn’t, he let us know and then went into detail about what he was expecting so we could do it better next game.
During the game, beads of sweat would be pouring down his cheeks and he would still be pacing up and down the sideline as the ball was walked from one end of the floor to the other surveying the opponent’s setup with a destroyed piece of paper that reminds him of some of the army of plays.
Throughout the season, Coach Jason Dudzinski used his army of plays to accomplish his goal of making his players better, both on and off the floor.