This basketball season has been a challenging one for my son and me.
My son is 10 and in his first year with this select league, and I have been helping coach.
Although the experience has had many bright spots, the level of competition and how to handle it at this age has been an education — for us both.
The funny thing is, both he and I are extremely familiar with the often combative world of youth sports. He and his brother have played on multiple teams and have both been in select soccer for years.
But this basketball season has proved to be much more intense; both in time spent and emotions involved.
Basketball has long been the favorite sport of my son and me, and one at which we both excelled.
This season, the fifth-grader, a veteran of the rec center league, begged to be a part of the select program. As a result, he was now just one of many talented players, rather than being among a top few.
From a coaching perspective, it was a windfall: the head coach and I could run plays, teach the kids moves, and actually have them retain and execute what they were taught.
As I told friends at the beginning of the season, “It’s like real basketball!”
For the kids on the team, it meant more to learn, more aspects of the game to address and, most significantly, more pressure to succeed.
To this last aspect, some kids responded well and some did not. My son was among those who initially struggled.
Instead of fueling the added pressure into game-time intensity, he went the other way. And his self-doubt began limiting not only his success, but his enjoyment of the sport.
I could see this was happening, and knew what he needed to do to succeed. In my mind it was easy; just go all-out, be more aggressive and get fired up.
But I couldn’t convey that to my son in a way that was useful to him.
At first I told him: “You just need to try harder.”
But he would tell me: “I am trying hard!”
I honestly believed him. It also reminded me that I didn’t even start playing basketball until I was 13, and likely didn’t get to any great level of intensity until I was 17 or 18. He is still just 10.
So then I tried not saying anything to him about basketball when we weren’t on the court.
That made him think I was mad at him.
It was around then that I also noticed that if he scored a basket, it would spark his intensity.
So I told him to find a way to score early, knowing that would get him going.
I also started telling him just to have fun and not worry so much.
The problem with that tack was he could tell that it was just words. That even though I said that, there still was the same resounding sentiment to do well or get pulled from the game.
Since then, I have put my full support behind the “have fun” approach, although I always include “and work hard.”
I think he is starting to believe it — as are other members of the team.
At halftime of our game the other night, we were behind by about 16 points, and I told the kids on the bench: “You know what, let’s just have fun out there. Play hard, but have a really good time!”
One of the boys smiled and said, “It couldn’t hurt.”
Another one added, “Yeah, we could still learn some things.”
That made me smile as well. And, the team did much better in the second half.
At any rate, I think my son and I have both learned a lot this season — about basketball and ourselves.
Now I think we are both looking forward to more days of working hard, having fun and learning the true meaning of success.