Thinking Ahead to Winter

Like most coaches, Sturgeon Bay Boys Basketball Coach Jim Benesh has a few catchphrases. Of all the things he says with regularity, the one that I think many individuals have found to be most true is, “There will come a time when the winter asks what you did in the summer.”

While school sports may be categorized by season, some sports essentially become year round. Basketball is one such sport, as players seeking to excel on the hardwood come to find they must spend hundreds of hours improving their game. Only so much can be done in the practices and games available during the official season, leaving most of the calendar available for players to prepare themselves for when the games really count.

The summer is when players and teams can take major steps forward, putting in work without anyone outside of their teammates and coaches knowing, and sometimes even they are not around to see either. What happens on Friday nights in winter in front of raucous crowds is made possible by early mornings at the gym and late nights traveling back from summer league games in the Green Bay area. There is no getting past the amount of hard work and dedication needed in the off-season for in-season success.

As tough as the summer regimen can be on players, the impact does not go unappreciated, and very often this impact goes beyond an improved jump shot or better court vision.

Former Sturgeon Bay guard Matthew Van Bramer said that even if his squad lost badly versus a superior opponent, summer league games were beneficial for the team.

“Summer basketball helped with team bonding more than anything,” said Van Bramer. “The car ride to the games and the dinner after was always super fun and really helped with team bonding.”

The fun also carries over to what happens on the court in a setting that is less organized.

“Summer basketball allowed us to gel as a team in a less formal setting than a planned practice, while also giving us the freedom to try moves we wouldn’t try in a game,” said former Southern Door swingman Abraham Kielar. “Summer basketball made the game fun again. It’s not like the long winter grind.”

The off-season activities also help teach individuals discipline and dedication. I remember in his youth basketball camps Coach Benesh used to praise those who showed up, comparing our effort with a vignette of our lazy friends eating potato chips next to the pool. While the tendency of young people during the summer might be to relax, seek fun or work for spending money, young athletes must be personally motivated to work hard.

“Summer basketball turned me into a motivated person and made me more responsible because [Coach Benesh] never made us go – it was on us,” said Van Bramer. “We had to be very self-motivated and responsible if we truly wanted to get to the gym and work hard and get better.”

The amount of commitments that some young athletes have during the summer is quite remarkable. An individual might have practices, contact days, league games and open gyms for two or three different sports to balance with a job and a social life, and sometimes the sports and social life meld together out of necessity. Simultaneously, kids must manage the zenith of their sports career, youthful fun with friends, and the growing expectation of earning money for things like a car or a college education.

These are heavy burdens to put on a teenager, but as Van Bramer mentioned, the experience is one that builds not only solid athletes, but solid people as well. Time and effort must be committed to succeed, and it is very rare that an athlete can find success without sacrifice.

So as you go about your summer activities, hopefully activities that involve a lot of quality time in the outdoors, keep in mind the hard work that young people around the county are putting in as they strive to succeed in sports, even if no one is around to see them do it, and even if no one is requiring their commitment.

It might seem a little much to you, but great athletes want to have a good answer when winter asks about what happened in the summer.