• Published
  • By Col. Tal W. Metzgar
  • AETC director of safety
As the winter months unfold and temperatures continue to plummet, I have a conditioned response to get excited about winter sports. The change of season brought tailgate parties and midnight madness basketball scrimmages at college campuses across the country. And now, as the winter chill ensues, sports fans are engaged in frequently emotional discussions of college football bowl matchups and the "fairness" of the Bowl Championship Series or "BCS" rankings, and soon, the "March Madness" of my favorite sport ... basketball.

As a basketball player, when leaves started falling from trees I knew it was time to polish my skills for the beginning of the season ... my team was counting on me. This included physical conditioning, mental preparation and time in the gym under the scrutiny of my coach to reinforce the fundamentals of the game.

Those familiar with basketball would probably agree that a layup is one of the simplest shots. Yet, in the heat of the game when adrenalin is flowing and the expectations of fans and teammates begin to weigh on a player, that break-away opportunity to score an "easy" basket suddenly becomes exponentially more difficult. Running down court in a full sprint, out-pacing the competition, a player has one thing in mind ... getting to the basket and scoring! However, the velocity of the sprinting player must somehow be brought under control to convert the horizontal momentum into a gentle, gliding layup. The unconscious calculations in the final steps will bring success or failure. Muscle memory will take over. The fruits of the pre-season drills and countless hours of coaching and rehearsing the fundamentals soon will be realized ... if the player has the discipline to apply them.

From pee-wee leagues to the pros, coaches teach the use of the backboard as the fundamental method to increase the shooting percentage of this seemingly "easy" shot. Laying the ball up gently off the backboard slows the velocity enough and naturally converts the player's forward momentum to an upward vector to gently bounce the ball off the backboard and into the hoop. Sticking to the fundamentals of the game brings individual and team success. Oh, the countless times I heard my coach encouraging me to "use the backboard!"

Safety practices and applied risk management, like using a backboard in basketball, are fundamental in our business. The inertia of "doing the mission" can result in blown opportunities if we fail to grasp the fundamentals. Our actions in those critical moments will determine the difference between mission success or mission failure.

With snow falling across the country and freezing rain and drizzle in the south, we're faced with a new set of safety challenges both on-and-off duty. Each season brings a unique set of challenges to man and machine. Have you taken the necessary actions to achieve individual and team success? Stick to the fundamentals, and "use the backboard!"