Youth Basketball. Wow.
March 5th, 2017
Youth sports never fail to deliver. Well, I guess that depends a bit on where you set your expectations. If you’re hoping to see athletic prowess, engaging play, and demonstrated facility with the rules of the game, then not so much. But if you’re there to revel in adorable mayhem mixed with sheer joy, you will not walk away disappointed.
My first grade son is playing basketball this winter. It’s an absolute riot. He romps up and down the court with his too-large t-shirt tucked into athletic shorts and snazzy UK socks that come almost to his knees. He doesn’t quite grasp the concept of man-to-man defense yet, but will gamely windmill his arms in the general direction of any player who gets close. Usually it’s a player on the opposing team, but not always.
We have a basketball hoop in the driveway and he practices his shots for hours. Thus far, these efforts haven’t seemed to yield positive results on game day. The regulation hoop is several feet lower than the one he practices with, but I think the emotional overload of gameplay gets to him and he launches the ball joyfully but recklessly in the general direction of the backboard then sprints for the other end of the court. Rebound? What rebound?
Dribbling requires hand-eye coordination possessed by few six-year-olds but they make a glorious attempt. They ostentatiously bounce the ball a couple times before tucking it under an arm and charging across the floor. Once they get near the basket, they may bounce the ball once or twice before shooting. But perhaps not. Or maybe another player (again, usually from the other team, but not always) will try to grab the ball out of their arms before they can make the shot.
The teams don’t keep score at this level and for that I am grateful. Unlike in soccer, where scoring is somewhat rare and it’s easy to keep track in your head, keeping an accurate accounting of the score in basketball is tough for little brains so unless a parent is keeping tabs from the sidelines, they really don’t know if they “won” or not. I recognize that, at some point, part of playing is learning to lose gracefully, but it’s a hard lesson when you’re six (or thirty-six, for that matter) and I’m just as glad to skip it for now.
The point of youth sports is to enjoy. And when done right, that’s exactly what happens, no matter what the ability level of the players. A friend of mine recently captivated our Facebook network – and a local television station – with video of her daughter’s basketball game. Her sweet girl has cerebral palsy, but that doesn’t keep her from participating. Her teammates zealously pushed her across the court and then several coaches hoisted her, wheelchair and all, into the air for a slam dunk. You’ve never seen a smile so big in your life.
For the kids on the court, it’s all about the team effort. The little guys on my son’s team cheer frantically from the sidelines for each other and heroically try to pass the ball to one another, although such attempts at teamwork almost inevitably result in ball possession by the other team. They celebrate every basket and hug enthusiastically no matter the outcome of the game.
Through it all, my son’s coach is a vision of persistence and affirmation. She patiently explains for the six hundredth time what the concept of a lay-up is, doles out endless high-fives, and never ever seems perturbed when someone aims at the wrong basket. She keeps it fun and that’s the greatest lesson I want my young athlete to glean from the experience.