Judah's Chambers helps daughter grow on, off court
URBANA — Horror stories about parental involvement — and over-involvement — in youth sports are seemingly commonplace in the headlines.
There are stories about fathers being ejected from games where a child was playing, of mothers confronting the coach moments after a loss to complain about her child’s playing time, of parents who push their children in a sport for so long and for so hard there is no longer any enjoyment for the child, and the individual abandons the sport.
And then, there is the other side; the one that often goes untold. They are the parents who coach their children, encourage and support them while providing a positive role model for the teenagers to emulate.
Judah Christian junior Leslee Chambers feels like one of the lucky ones. The girls’ basketball coach for the Tribe is her father, Chris.
“The rewards are innumerable,” Leslee Chambers said. “The greatest, becoming much closer to my dad, a man with such high integrity. Because of spending so much time together during basketball, he has taught me things that I would not have been able to learn without him being my coach.”
Judah’s team is one of the area’s hottest, taking a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s 6 p.m. East Central Illinois Conference matchup against Uni High at Urbana’s Kenney Gym. Judah is 9-10 overall.
“He has taught me to play with purpose,” Leslee Chambers said. “Basketball will end someday, but my purpose in life never will. Through basketball, he has taught me to make the most of every opportunity, working hard every minute.
“Having this special bond with my dad has prepared me for more than just our next game or the next season, but prepared me for life.”
The family doesn’t just share a passion for basketball when it’s time for Judah to practice or play a game. That’s why Chris Chambers has been comfortable coaching daughters Alyssa (who is 21) and now 17-year-old Leslee. They aren’t playing out of duty but out of delight.
“Dad and I are the basketball watchers of the family,” Leslee Chambers said. “He has passed on his love for watching the game. We love watching our Illini and our Bulls. Mom can’t get us away from the TV during March Madness.
“He has taught me that a great way to get better at basketball is to watch it and increase your knowledge about the sport. Like my grandpa did for him, Dad loves to point out a great play or move, telling me that I need to learn that move next.”
One challenge facing coaches who work with their children is that they can be more receptive to instruction — and criticism — from someone outside of the family. For Leslee Chambers, that remains a work in progress.
“Over the years, I think I’ve gotten better at being a teachable player,” she said. “It can be difficult as a player to switch from respecting him as a parent to respecting him as a coach.
“I think it is easier being corrected by a coach I am not related to because they don’t know me as well. Dad’s patience with me is incredible. I want to become even better at listening to his instruction. I know that he knows what he’s doing.
“There has not been much frustration about having my dad coach me because he knows how to do it right. It is not easy to separate being the parent from the coach, but somehow he does it incredibly well.”
Even in the offseason, when Leslee Chambers acknowledges that at times, “I am being lazy,” she understands the purpose behind the prodding of her father/coach.
“He pushes me to go the extra mile and work harder than before,” she said. “I take it as a challenge. I love being pushed to get better.”
Chris Chambers, however, said he doesn’t need to harp much about the importance of a commitment to improve.
“Leslee is a very hard worker in season and out of season,” he said. “She knows the game well and is continually growing as a player, leader and person.”
Whether he was coaching Alyssa — whose teams he started working with when she was in sixth grade — or Leslee, Chris Chambers said his basic approach has remained constant.
“Things are similar, except I probably pushed Alyssa harder during games but push Leslee harder individually and in practices,” he said.
With experience as a varsity coach, Chris Chambers believes he has undergone a positive transformation.
“I’ve been better over the years not to teach or talk too much right after a game,” Chris Chambers said. “I used to think that the hours after were a great teaching time because the game was fresh in our minds.
“My wife, Pam, reminded me that girls need a little time to unwind before I start trying to teach or point out something important. It’s especially important to wait after a loss because she’s already disappointed in the loss and doesn’t need me to pile on with things to improve on the next time. That can wait until another day.”
Leslee Chambers’ appreciation of her situation has increased as she grows to understand the limited nature of the venture.
“A good friend of my family reminded me to cherish every moment I have with my dad as he coaches,” she said. “We only have this special opportunity for a short time. He reminded me that this is such a special bond Dad and I have, and to not take it for granted.
“I can’t wait to share the rest of this season and then my senior year with him.”
Leslee Chambers’ enthusiasm for having her father as the coach is reflected by her court demeanor. Rarely does she lose the smile that she brings into the gym.
Others notice, too.
“Leslee is one of the most positive and inspiring people that I know,” Chris Chambers said. “She’s always encouraging and challenging others to better themselves. Most games she smiles a lot and interacts with the other players and refs.
“Many times I’ve had refs ask me, ‘Is she always that happy?’ and I say, ‘Most of the time, that’s what she’s like.’ ”