My son’s basketball squad (Team 4, the "Red team") is not exactly tearing it up right now. They are now 0-5, completing a cycle of futility after the dreaded Team 2 (a/k/a the Gold team) edged them by the score of 70-6 on Saturday at lovely Highview Middle School. As the carnage ensued, I was reminded of the scene in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” when the teachers at the prep school played rugby against their young students, cheerfully drubbing them and leaving the kids a battered, muddy pulp. It was kinda like that on Saturday.
But what can we learn from losing 70-6? More than a few things, I think.
First, there are times in life where you are going to lose, no matter what you do. We knew as coaches that our team, which features a few kids who have never played organized basketball before (and based on the evidence, still haven’t despite our modest coaching efforts), had no shot. For some reason, the grandees who run the program didn’t consider the wisdom of balancing the teams. Our inexperienced 5th graders were playing a team that was filled with experienced, talented 6th graders. The result was unsurprising. Ben is one of the more experienced kids on our team. He is not a big kid, though – about 4-8 and less than 80 pounds. He knew what was coming but he didn’t have the physical skills to deal with bigger, faster, more aggressive kids. And some of our kids are less physically equipped than Ben.
Second, you can learn from adversity if you are willing to. Our opponents, for whatever reason, did not decide to show our kids any mercy. They sat in a half court trap defense and whenever our kids tried to cross the half court line, simply trapped our kids, overpowered our slightly built guards, stole the ball and drove in for a usually uncontested layup. It happened over and over. We tried the usual coaching techniques – spreading the floor, having different kids bring the ball up, keeping someone back, but none of it seemed to matter. But we’ll be able to use what happened to help the kids understand what happened in the next practice.
Third, you can learn sportsmanship. The coaches of the other team are high school kids and I think that’s why they didn’t call off the dogs. They have not learned from Shakespeare that the quality of mercy is not stern. In fact, the most obvious literary comparison would be “Lord of the Flies.” But the kids on Team 2 knew what had happened and they did not celebrate their win. They sensed that what happened was not a happy event. That gives me a lot of hope, because kids can be cruel. These kids were not cruel. They were simply very good.
And our kids can get better. As the game went on, we started to see a little more fight in a number of kids. Even when you are getting beaten badly, we do tend to “play up” to the level of competition. And after a while the kids did. Ben fought hard, got some rebounds and even forced a few turnovers. As a parent, I’m less concerned with the results than I am with the effort. Ben gave a great effort on Saturday.
Meanwhile, we’ll practice on Thursday and the kids will play again on Saturday. My guess is that they will play much better.