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Guilford Basketball League coach Christian Appleman recently was awarded the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coach Award—being one of only 25 coaches in the nation to earn the honor for his impact on youth sports. (Photo courtesy of Christian Appleman )
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Christian Appleman has seen the field from many different perspectives in his near three decades coaching on the sidelines and recently reeled in some national recognition for his life-influencing work.
The Guilford Basketball League (GBL) coach and town resident was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, and tennis) at Penn State University—including being a punter on the Nittany Lions’ 1987 NCAA national title team. Upon graduating in 1989, Christian began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for both the men’s and women’s hoops programs at his alma mater before heading the school’s tennis squads. He then returned to the hardwood from 1996-2003 as an assistant with the Lions men’s basketball team, which included a Sweet 16 bid in the 2001 NCAA Tournament.
Christian then tried his hand at youth sports and has coached 11- to 13-year-olds for girls’ travel hoops in the GBL. Christian’s efforts have netted him a big-time personal honor as he was recently named one of 25 nationwide recipients of the Positive Coaching Alliance’s (PCA) Double-Goal Coach Award for his positive impact on youth athletes.
“Basically for the last 26 years, I’ve been coaching some sort of basketball or tennis and it’s been great fun,” says Christian, a men’s tennis assistant coach at Yale who’s also the school’s Director of Tennis Operations and Assistant Director of Athletic Facilities. “As a coach, you don’t seek recognition or to win awards, but I’m so grateful that people took the time to write letters and to even be considered for a national award in my own town. It touches my heart and the PCA is a great organization, though I do it all purely for the love of the game and the kids.”
A proud member of the GBL for the last three years, Christian emphasizes the same two main lessons of reverence and cohesiveness to athletes of different ages in both his sports.
“The GBL is so well run by its Board of Directors and presidents and the league really makes you want to get involved as much as you can,” Christian says. “I feel that every good idea you have as a coach is stolen by some coach who preceded you, but I try to treat them all with respect and to respect the game and their opponents to the point that you will give up yourself every day at practice. I also like to teach teamwork with basketball in things like help defense because nobody, even Michael Jordan, became who they are without the help of their teammates. It all leads to a pure way of playing the game.”
Marty Kellaher, Christian’s assistant coach for the last three campaigns with the GBL’s 6th-grade girls’ travel squad, explains that Christian cultivates a positive atmosphere for youngsters to grow their game.
“He takes all negatives out of the girls’ basketball experience. Regardless of the result of a play or a game, Christian is constantly encouraging the girls and teaching fundamentals and development. This frees up the girls to try new skills in games,” says Kellaher. “The girls know a missed lay-up with their opposite hand will be celebrated for the effort without a thought of the missed two points. The result is a group of happy girls who compete hard and win most of their games.”
In taking away a great deal of satisfaction from his occupation, Christian adds that there is no one grand payoff from it, but rather, a snap shot of several miniature moments of realization.
“The rewards you get are the small things, like when the kids are encouraged after a good pass or play and you then see their faces light up. It’s also great seeing the kids when they get those light bulb moments and implement the skills from drills in competition,” says Christian, who is married to Erin Appleman, the head coach of the Yale volleyball team, and is also the father of two children in Emma and Justin. “Another part of it is them trying new things, whether it is a new shot in tennis or rotating on defense in basketball because you can’t put a price on that value of when they gain that confidence.”
By guiding both collegiate and grade school student-athletes, Christian views the former scenario like a painting that needs some fine tuning and the latter as dealing with a blank canvas.
“With college athletes, they’ve already come in as good players and hold a certain set of beliefs, so we have to let them know that we do things differently. They then start to see how we go about our business and fall in line,” Christian says. “With youth, from that first day of practice, they are new people, so there is no tradition and you have to start from scratch. It’s important that you set the stage of how to do things right away. It’s nice how you can mold and shape these kids and to teach them from the ground up about the process is really fulfilling. Both levels are equally fun to coach and all of them want to be coached, so you have to be on your best game, as well.”
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