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Coach Nicol gives Tobago lads a treat

Friday, May 24, 2013
Coach Chris Nicol from Grande Prairie, Alberta, and some of his newfound friends in Tobago.

Last year’s 25th wedding anniversary for Chris and Aum Nicol from Grande Prairie, Alberta, turned sour when 24 hours after arriving in Tobago, Mrs Nicol had to return to Canada due to breast cancer. After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation which was completed in January, the couple returned to Tobago to celebrate her recovery and their anniversary. 


As part of the healing, they opted to pour their blessings by using their skills while in Tobago. 


Chris is a college basketball coach and professor in Grande Prairie, Alberta. He offered his services for a free coaches clinic and basketball camp for the youth of Tobago. 


On May 18, 12 local coaches attended an intense two-hour clinic with Nicol. He shared his coaching philosophy and while there was conversation on cultural differences in expectations, the youth on camp day responded positively to Nicol’s coaching style.


For Saturday’s camp, he asked for 15 to 24 players. Organisers from Tobago’s Ministry of Sport, Carolyn Daniel-Smith, Gerard Franklin and Allison Lawrence were in touch with the couple and the camp topped at 40 players between ages 12-18. There was plenty of Gatorade, water and basketballs. Coaches from Friday night’s clinic assisted and give one-on-one attention to players.


Nicol believes that when a player loves a game, it’s because they are having fun. His wife interviewed players Nicholas Murray, Salanna Scott, Natalie Nedd, Michelle Noel, Arod Philips and 0’Neil Murray and they all agreed that they learned valuable skills by having fun. Nicholas Murray says that there were some skills he just learned and that by understanding the purpose for the drill it makes it easier to understand why it is important in a game situation,” instead of just telling us to dribble up and down.” For example, he learned that when running backwards, having one’s nose over toes prevents imbalance.


The morning involved all 40 players where Nicol put players through fundamental skills with drills that brought forth enthusiasm from attendees. Nicol appreciated that some of the Tobago coaches from Friday’s seminar came back to assist. Nicol coaches by example and did as much as his 52-year-old frame could do. If a competitive drill involved the losing team doing a push up, coach Nicol did a push up with them. 


Many local coaches spoke of Nicol’s passion for the game. Whatever he models, he gives licence for his players to copy. He models hard work, passion for the game and integrity. 


After lunch, Nicol worked on a beginner’s group on dribbling and shooting. He marvelled at how hard it was to practise in the hot sun but remembered he was the one in a foreign land and the locals understood the heat and sun. 


After lunch with the sun blazing hot, Nicol began working to pull energy out of the beginner players. The young players worked hard on shooting skills through a variety of drills disguised as games. 


However, according to 12-year-old O’Neil Murray, other camps’ coaches shout or yell. “I wish he could be my teacher,” he said of Nicol, who helped develop skills through fun learning games and modelling the kind of energy he wants his players to have.


Nicol has coached 31 years and his main tenant is not only to develop good hard-working players in the short term but good hard-working people in the long term. Working with the older players later in the day, Nicol challenged them to each step up to be leaders. He asked the local talent: “What would happen if you gave 100 per cent to your practice? What example are you giving your teammates? If you shout or cuss at your teammate, will they want to work with you on the court when you don’t work yourself?” With his real-life stories to share, the players were made to think carefully of their own skills and roles on and off the court.


After this motivational speech, Nicol began drawing out offensive and defensive plays. The senior players returned to the court to practise with clouds that only threatened rain. Nicol challenges players to be thinkers about the patterns in offence and defence. He did not shout or belittle players. He gave instructions as a matter-of-fact and embraced player and local coaches’ questions which he took the time to answer. Players and coaches knew at all times what was coming up and what was expected of them which is good for the minds of anyone wanting to learn. Explaining the target for a practice allows players to focus and set their own goals.


For Nicol and his wife Aum the camp was everything they hoped for. With the help of the Tobago House of Assembly Youth and Sport Division, Gerard Franklin, Carolyn Daniel-Smith, and local coaches, the first Hoopnics camp in Tobago may develop into exchanges or a return trip for the Nicols. The Tobago youth embraced Nicol’s coaching style and definitely want more. The best part for the couple was hearing players say, “Coach? You coming tomorrow?”


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