Follow The (Not) Bouncing Ball

I coached my 8-year-old son Jonathan’s basketball team this winter. Lest you take this as proof of my coaching prowess, I share with you in its entirety, the transcript of my “job interview” with the guy who runs the third grade basketball program:

Guy who runs third grade basketball program: “Do you have a son in the third grade?”

Me: “Yes.”

GWRTGBP: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

Me: “No.”

GWRTGBP: “Practice starts Saturday; pick up your uniforms and whistle at the front door.”

With that settled, and still giddy in the knowledge that I had survived the grueling vetting process, I drove home thinking about how to structure our practices.

If you’re not familiar with basketball as played by 8-years-olds, I can tell you first hand that it has a tendency not to resemble the real thing. The problem, I discovered, is that the ball itself holds so much fascination, that the kids do nothing but chase after it, each hoping to get his hands on the magical orb.

As a practical matter therefore, the 8-year-old game involves little real teamwork, and instead, leaves onlookers with the vague impression that they’ve happened upon a contentious, five-way custody battle among competing relatives.

Luckily, however, I came up with what turned out to be a pretty good idea: I told the kids that they were not allowed to dribble (bounce) the ball. Five on five, full court basketball, and the only way you could advance the ball was to pass it to someone else.

This had a number of immediate, positive effects:

  1. The kids became aware of the other players. If you’re going to pass, you need to see where your teammates are, so they all started picking their heads up and looking around.
  1. The kids spread out on the court. Knowing that once you got the ball you’d be frozen in place, there was no point in running over to the kid with possession. Instead, positioning yourself to receive a pass became the best strategy.
  1. The kids worked together. With dribbling off the table, even the best player on the team couldn’t do much by himself. Teamwork became a necessity.

You’ll be pleased to know that the story has a happy ending. After six weeks of practice, we played our two-game season last Saturday. We won comfortably in both instances, largely because the kids on our team succeeded in moving the ball around so well. (Oh yeah, and because I slipped $20 to the referee at halftime, but I’m not proud of that.)

“So what,” you say? Hang on, there is a newsletter connection.

In the game of newsletters, the “ball” (i.e. the fascinating thing responsible for endless distraction) is design. People get so excited about how things are going to look that they tend to forget about the content. Here too, this often leads to an end product that is painful to watch.

That’s why – and regardless of how long the newsletter in question has been in existence – we make sure to separate the writing process from the design and layout process. The procedure is always the same:

  1. Write the newsletter and all of its ancillary sections in a single MS Word (or whatever) document.
  1. Make changes, edits, etc. to the document until you’re pretty much satisfied with the final product.
  1. Then (and only then) drop the content into the design.

Bottom Line: It’s fine to make tweaks and small text adjustments within the final design. That said, if you try to edit – or God forbid, write – from in there, you’re likely to be so distracted by appearances that you’ll end up with inferior content.

Instead, I recommend first shaping the content to your satisfaction, and then, marrying it with your well done design. Don’t make me blow my whistle at you.

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