My old coach, and how he taught me to count to ‘zehn’

Bob Quall is a two-time United States Tennis Association national champion, and a former Merced County Superior Court judge. You can email him with comments or suggestions at:

Who has been a big influence in your  life?  Parents of course!

Teachers probably would be second. Who is your favorite teacher? I have had numerous great teachers but the one I remember the most is Jim Burke.

Coach Burke was my 4th grade teacher and 7th and 8th grade basketball coach.

Coach Burke was so positive and energetic that his temperament and philosophy  of life was contagious.  Nothing was impossible, especially on the basketball court.  Our 8th grade team had ten players, seven of whom played college basketball.  Three played at Division 1 schools.  I believe that our teams success was due to Burke’s commitment to bring out the best of each individual player.

Coach Burke’s innovative plays were unmatched even in my high school and college days.  The “trick” play that always worked went like this: When a ball would go out of bounds behind our goal, I would retrieve the ball.  Then  I would call out to Arlen, our center, “Coach wants you to throw the ball in”!

I would then toss the ball to Arlen, who would turn and lay it in!  The player guarding every time made no attempt to guard him.  Of course that play only worked once a game, but in some games that became a crucial basket.

Burke also trotted out several other trick plays  that worked 90 percent of the time. When I arrived at high school and college I explained the out of bounds play and the coaches immediately rebuffed it.  After explaining that it had almost always worked in the past the high school and college coaches agreed to test out my “trick play.”  Worked almost all of the time. If the defensive player smelled a rat, I still had  three seconds to throw it to another player.

Burke on one occasion had the starting five eat a clump of garlic so that when we breathed on our opponent, the player would be disorientated someway.  I never thought that worked, and it didn’t.  I and the other players couldn’t get close enough to breath in their face.  It did make for a nasty locker room—I am not making this up!

Coach Burke developed an unusual way to control his temperament when a player did not perform as requested.  Instead of yelling or swearing or berating the player, Burke would count up to ten in German — eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf, sechs, sieben, acht, neven, and zehn”  By the time he got to “zehn,” he had calmed down, but the player knew he better not make another bad pass!  After the countdown was over, Burke would calmly point out the mistake and how to correct it.

If Burke only got to “sechs” and quit, you  knew that your bad pass wasn’t that bad.  If he got to “zehn” you were headed for the bench.

Sixty nine years later, I can still count to ten in German and I am a Norwegian!

I saw Coach Burke 25 years later at the high school reunion in Greenville that I attended  (even though I went to high school in Spokane), and counted up to ten in German!  He laughed and reached in his pocket for some garlic!  Just kidding.  Loved that guy!

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