Game Day Thoughts

Today is game day. (And yes, I am going to write about basketball once again. I’d like to say this is the last time I’ll pour my thoughts onto the page on this subject, but I don’t want to lie. I’m sure at some time or another I’ll be back to it. ) The anticipation of another chance to compete is in the air. This time after eight straight road games, the girls are finally playing a home game. If you’ve read my previous post, you know it’s been a long first half of the season for this inexperienced varsity team resulting in nine lopsided losses.

With an almost three-week break between games (due to the holidays and COVID postponements), I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and had some insightful conversations about the situation my daughter and her team finds herself in this season. What is it about watching my daughter’s team lose by 50 plus points that makes me so angry? What is it that makes me passionate enough that I feel the need to write about it twice? What I realized is that the tactics and strategies used to win these game go way beyond the necessary means and in doing so humiliate and do harm to the other team. It violates my core value of compassion and that’s what triggers me to speak up.

Think back to when you played basketball or to one of the most memorable games you watched. What made it stick in your mind? Why do you remember that particular game? There are several games that instantly come to my mind. The ball leaves the finger-tips of the shooter’s hands as the clock zeros out. Boom! Swish! Three-points! The team wins! The crowd roars! The players are elated. It was a hard-fought win. These are the games we remember. Not the ones where they beat the other team by 50 or 70 points. What does that prove? What do players learn from crushing a non-competitive opponent? Anyone can beat a team that is smaller, less experienced and less skilled, but to beat a team that is highly competitive or better than you, that’s what it’s about. That’s where you learn.

A coach has various skill sets among their players. Some players are excellent shooters, some are quicker and others shine on defense. Some of these assets the player can improve upon (ball-handling and shooting) and others are out of their control (tallness and age). Some players are natural athletes, while others have to work at it. Some players have families that can afford to send them to expensive basketball camps and let them play on travel teams in the off-season, while others cannot. The players on both teams come to practice, work hard and play hard. With their player toolkit, the coach has different strategies they can use on both defense and offense to win the game – that’s a given.

When playing defense the team usually plays either a form of person-to-person or zone defense. When the ball is in the back-court, the team can choose to fall back and wait until the ball crosses the half-court line to start defending, use a simple person-to-person where one player defends the person taking the ball out and another defends the one receiving the ball or a full-court press where multiple players defend one player. When I was playing basketball, the third form of defense was reserved for the last quarter of the game and even then only when it was a close game. From what I’ve observed lately though, this type of defense appears to be the norm for the whole game. I guess the strategy is to get a huge lead early on so that you can coast through the rest of the game (boring) and then drive the score up as high as possible. That’s a grand strategy; however, I argue once you have a 20 point lead, the most-aggressive type of defense is no longer necessary or a show of good sportmanship. Using this type of defense in the third and forth quarter when a team is beating another team 41-7 seems more like bullying than health competition. It’s at this point my compassion trigger goes off.

I am working on letting go of what I can’t control as much I can so I can enjoy watching my daughter and her team play. She is resilient. Her team is resilient. They are improving. In the last game the played prior to the break, the opposing team did indeed drop back and stop defending in the backcourt. They still beat my daughter’s team by over 35 points, but her team was actually able to inbound the ball, they were able to run their offense, they had fewer turn overs and it was a more enjoyable game to watch. (Thank you coach!). The other team didn’t go easy on her team by any means, they played just as hard, they simply used other strategies.

I am not one of those people that thinks we have to give out participation awards, but I do think there is room for compassion in sports. Basketball is a metaphor for life. What do we want to teach our children? In the face of adversity my daughter is certainly learning resilience, not to give up and to keep trying. Yet she’s also in an impossible situation. On the flip side, what are the girls on the other team learning? They aren’t learning new basketball skills, they aren’t learning compassion, they aren’t learning empathy. They are learning it’s OK to crush and dominate another team simply because they can. How does that translate into real life? Would you want to work with someone who is smarter than you and could take advantage of in a business affair because they can or someone who is trustworthy and has your best interest in mind?

I recently read this quote on Twitter:

“PARENTS: When you blame other things (officials, coaches, conditions, circumstances, teammates) for the situation your son or daughter is in, then you’re essentially teaching your child how to be an excuse maker. Set the standard. Be the standard!!” @CoachBelcher

While to a large extent I agree with this Tweet, in this situation I believe it is the ego of the coaches that lead them to run the scores up other teams. So yes, I do blame the coaches in this case. I would say, what are you teaching your players? What excuses are blame coaches making when they take away a parent’s voice to speak up for unreasonable situations. Yes, when my daughter makes a mistake or has a bad game, I expect her to own it and she does – there is no blame in that situation. It is what it is.

It is unfortunate that her team is in a building year with only two returning varsity players. She is a freshman playing against girls with two and three years of experience – that is out of her control. I am working on focusing on what I can control, which is supporting her, uplifting her, checking in on her and cheering her on. At the same time, I can’t stop being her voice. I am her mom. That’s my job.

In a few seasons her team will have the experience they don’t have now. I am confident this will translate into success in games. Their success will be all the more sweeter because of this season of trials. However, I hope they will remember what it feels like to be on the losing team and show some compassion and humility to their opponents. If they are winning by 20 points, I don’t want to see them pressing the other team and if my daughter has 20 points I hope she’s sitting on the giving another player the opportunity to shine cheering them on. Everyone has a role to play and each game is different. She’ll have her chance to play four quarters when the score is close.

After writing this post, I read the comments on Facebook regarding an article posted about a coach who was suspended one game for running a score up 92-4. The majority of the posters felt it was wrong for the coach to be suspended for doing his job and that the woke, liberals were the problem. The other team just needed to work harder. Reading these posts made my heart sink. My response, what would you tell your daughter if she were on the losing team? What would you say if you knew she was playing hard, practicing hard? Try harder? What would you tell her when the other kids at school were making fun of her? Suck it up? What would tell her if she wanted to give up? What if every coach in the league had the same mind set game after game? Should the coach have been suspended? I don’t know. I’d say the school made the right decision. However, a better solution would be a change in HS basketball rules (is there a way to propose new rules?).

I would propose a rule similar this to make the game more exciting and challenging for everyone again:

  1. No back-court press until the second half -OR-
  2. No-back court press by a team winning by more than 25 points