March 31, 2017

Who’s Driving This Thing?!

By Domenic Fraboni

By: Domenic Fraboni

The story of a group of

 Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) students who take command of a full-court, Special Olympic basketball team in its inaugural year and the invaluable lessons, memories, and skill set the experience brought to their health care education.

Just as they did last year, the crew of Mayo Physical Therapy students took on the duty of coaching some of the most talented Special Olympic basketball athletes in the Rochester area. This is the same team that took home the championship in their Division of half court basketball at the State Games the year prior. This is the same team that did not lose a single game the entire year. This is the team that could have easily gone on to repeat in this season if they so chose to. However, in a Michael Jordan-esque move, the players decided they wanted something new. They were over this 3-on-3, half court version of basketball that they had seemingly mastered. It was time to move on to bigger and better things: full court, 5-on-5 basketball.

To comply with the teams wishes, the Rochester Area Special Olympics (RASO) registered a second full court team for the first time. The other full court team has been ballin’ it up at the full-court level for some time now, and they were more than thrilled to have some up and coming competition in the area. The greatest twist of events came when they were choosing who should coach this newly formed bunch of scrappy full-courters. They tapped in the DPT students that have been constantly looking for more opportunities to deepen their involvement over the past year with this amazing organization. The DPT Students gladly accepted the challenge. With a team of 13 athletes at the ready, it was now time to get to work.

Coach Nick schooling up the athletes on the bench before he subs them into the game.

With a staff of seven DPT coaches, all of which had experience in playing and/or coaching, the PT students figured this would be an easy gig. Right? Wrong! What they didn’t initially realize was that none of these individuals had played organized, full court basketball before (with the exception of a couple players). They also quickly understood that the skill level range and spectrum of intellectual ability differed greatly among the 13 players. Where some of the athletes could be coached on the in-game nuances like pick and rolls, back door cuts, zones and presses, or a run and jump, others on the team would need to be reminded that they can’t pick the ball up and dribble again right away. I believe it is within these differences that the DPT students were able to grow tremendously as coaches, but also as future health professionals.

Breaking it down before tip off!

More about that growth as future health professionals later. For now, basketball. The first few practices were not the prettiest. The players weren’t used to having to run up and down the court. Some could not dribble with their left hand. Some could not really dribble well with either hand! Passes were all over the place. Drills proposed by the coaching staff were slightly too complex and did not run very smoothly. The athletes with slightly lower basketball ability would get lost in the shuffle during the scrimmage time at the end of practices, and this was frustrating for both them and the coaches. How could this be fixed? The coaches went back to the basics. After that, practices always began with fundamental drills like dribbling, passing, and basic shooting. The team was split up into small groups of similar ability so that they could be coached to their level, and the coaches found that 3-on-3 scrimmage would work better so each player could get more time with the ball. Things were actually coming together. Then game the first day of competition: Area Games.

Area was held at Gustavus Adolphus College (thanks Gusties!) on February 12th. The Rochester Flyers full court team had two games against Division 3 opponents. The first started out kind of rough. The other team jumped out to a 12-2 lead and needed to be calmed down before rallying back to lose only by 5. The second game was another story. The Flyers jumped out to a very early lead and never looked back, winning by about 30 points. The best part of that game was the very end. There were two players on the team that hadn’t scored yet. Our goal was to get them to put the ball in the hoop. With 45 seconds to go, on of the best players on our team (and someone who values scoring points himself above all else) got the basketball with an open layup. Instead of shooting the ball, he turned to his side, passed to his teammate who hadn’t scored yet, and they shot and made the basket. Proud coaching moment right there.

A lot was learned during these first two games. There were many ways in which our team could improve, but also our team never played better than when it played together and utilized the skill set of everyone that was a part of our basketball family. Since earning second place at the Area games, our team has gone on to receive the 2nd place prize at the Regional basketball games at St. Olaf College and 1st place for Division G at the State basketball games at St. Thomas. In our championship game at State, every single player on our team scored a basket. Now I call that a team victory. If you would have any interest in getting in some Special Olympics coaching experience yourself, you can sign up here or get in touch with me at

Team photo after winning State!

Time to hop back to health professional growth and development. Every single person that walks into our exam room for physical therapy will have a different story. They will have a different profession, different cognitive ability, different preferred learning style, different barriers to learning, and ultimately will need to be taught very differently than the person who was in the exam room with us for the previous appointment. Just as these thirteen athletes were so beautifully different in the way we needed to coach them, so we will need to differently teach and treat each patient we ever encounter. The soft skills and knack for patient interaction I feel I have gained as a coach over the past six years is something I could not do without in my practice. I think every medical professional, future or current, could greatly benefit from working with individuals with varying levels of intellectual ability. They could also have a darn good time while doing it.

Author Bio: Domenic Fraboni is a second year Doctor of Physical Therapy Student in the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences. He has coached Special Olympic athletics for the past six years in basketball, track and field, power lifting, volleyball, and flag football.

Acknowledgements: I need to just thank the Rochester Area Special Olympics for allowing our students to coach this team and to all of the athletes for the passion and effort they bring every week to practice and competitions. I also need to thank all the other amazing classmates of mine that helped coach the team! we rocked it.

Tags: Uncategorized

Please sign in or register to post a reply.
Contact Us · Privacy Policy