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October 1, 2010 > Tuning up for regular season

Tuning up for regular season

By David J. Nicolas

September takes on many meanings for athletes. There are teams winding down their seasons and fighting for a playoff spot, like the San Francisco Giants who are right in the thick of things in the NL West in the final weekend of MLB, where an error or disastrous injury can mar a spectacular though tortuous season.

For others this month signifies a fresh start. Youth and collegiate athletes return to their battlegrounds and dust off their helmets and pads. Others endlessly search for the tennis racquet that was chucked into the garage, traded for a video game controller after last season's end. But for a coach like Craig Ashmore the time after the final game of the year provides a new path for athletes to develop.

This winter Newark Memorial's Ashmore will enter his 21st season as the boys basketball head coach. Newark Memorial has reached the California Interscholastic Federation State Basketball Tournament Championship three of the past five seasons. Being undersized, lacking a traditional point guard player, and having troubles from perimeter shooting didn't stop the Cougars from muscling past a surging De La Salle squad and a second place finish in state against Westchester last season. Do the players deserve a break?

"Without a doubt. Mentally and physically kids need time away," Ashmore said. "When a kid goes on a week vacation with his family I'm happy about it."

The 23-year veteran coach of youth sports is easy to say even coaches need breaks. But according to Ashmore there is a correlation between hard work in the off-season and to the athletes who are able to maintain a high level of play in the regular season. Rose Borja sees the same importance in preseason preparation.

"Preseason is the time to fine-tune the team before league season begins," head coach of Moreau Catholic's girls tennis team said. The Lady Mariners finished last season with a 9-7 record in the Hayward Area Athletic League and earned a 10-12 record overall. Borja referred to preseason competition as a win-win situation.

"It's a good start going into the league matches if you win your preseason because the player's confidence is built up and it gives the coaches a chance to see what needs to be improved before the league season start," Borja said.

Coach Dong Pham of the Milpitas girls tennis team said preseason play allows athletes to gain some game experience and an ability to relax as the official schedule nears. He admits winning early can get a team into the right mindset.

"The more you win [during preseason] the more confidant your game will be," Pham said. And the Trojans have plenty of swagger with four straight victories and one loss so far in their young season. They are 5-1 overall.

Yet teams don't have excellent seasons without constant practice, and it's nothing new when Ashmore or another Newark Memorial coach gets a phone call or text message about a player who wants to shoot extra baskets in the gym. They encourage their athletes to ask. This openness between players and coaches also provides an opportunity to build relationships beyond a one-dimensional follow-orders-or-else-run-laps mentality, fostering a formidable unity by the time a season officially begins.

"The off-season is huge because it shows character," Ashmore said in between shooting drills with a player almost three months before the upcoming season. "It reminds players need to be committed and work hard. And then all of a sudden working becomes fun."

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