A game nobody wins

The oldest boy is playing basketball this winter. I am happy to report he appears to have a brighter future as a basketball player than he does as a soccer player. For one thing, he’s taller than most of the other kids. Now if he would just learn that he’s allowed to jump for a rebound, he’d be on the road to stardom.

My son’s team is made up of role players. On a team of 1st and 2nd graders, every kid (my boy included) is convinced his role is to shoot the ball as often as possible in each game. If this means picking up his dribble, taking a large hop to one side, then resuming his dribble in the clear, in order to get a better shot, then that’s just the strategy adopted. Passing the ball to a teammate is the last resort, only to be considered when one is in danger of being crushed by five closing defenders.

It occurred to me that if I were the coach of such a team, I would tell the boys, “If you want to win games, you’ve got to work as a team.” Upon thinking this, I realized I would say no such thing, and for one simple reason: Nobody wins games in our league. There are no winners or losers, just a bunch of elementary schoolers running around the gym, each craving the chance to add to the number of baskets he’s scored.

Nobody keeps score. Officially. Some of the parents keep it quietly in their heads. The kids try to keep it, but their tallies vary widely. They are much more precise at counting the number of points they have scored individually, which bodes ill in this team sport.

Your 1920 American Industrial League Champions

You’ll never become Industrial League Champs if you don’t learn to work as a team. Also, you may to keep score in some of the games.

Not keeping score is society’s admission that it no longer trusts parents to teach sportsmanship. There may be good reasons for this lack of trust, but it is a mournful admission just the same. It means society doesn’t trust itself to produce humans that are, on balance, kind people. That’s too bad, because nothing improves that doesn’t trust itself.

In our league, and probably most leagues like it, we have limited the chances of gloating, hurt feelings, and the other disappointing aspects of competition. In doing so, we have limited the opportunity to experience the inspiration of contributing to a team effort, and the ideal of putting the team’s success ahead of one’s own. Is the tradeoff worthwhile? Can they make up for lost teamwork concepts when they’re older? I’ll have a more fully developed opinion on that in a few years.

Meanwhile, there are rumors that the refs are going to crack down on traveling and double dribbles. This has to keep the coaches up at night. I would much rather have to teach these kids good sportsmanship, citizenship, civics, and probably even advanced mathematics than how to resist the urge to shuffle a few feet to the right to get a clear shot at the hoop.


20 comments on “A game nobody wins

  1. GoofyEd says:

    The shuffling of feet is rampant at this level. It is also quite apparent, and allowed, at the “pro” level. Sometimes I also wonder about the degradation of teamwork, sportsmanship and definitely the lack of mathematical skills for far too many “professionals”. Enjoy your son at whatever “level” he chooses to play…as I am certain you are.

  2. George says:

    Ahhh..the joys and trials of youth sports…:)

  3. Gibber says:

    They also don’t learn to deal with disappointment.

  4. Margie says:

    We played a lot of different card and board games with our kids. We always kept score – and taught the kids how to be good winners (who didn’t gloat) and good losers (who congratulated the winner.) What a missed opportunity if kids don’t learn these lessons in a setting where there are no appreciable consequences whether you win or lose!

  5. Rules. Who needs em, they just get in the way of basketball at its purist. Getting the ball in the hoop anyway you can! That coming from the master of the double-dribble.

    • You should volunteer to coach next season. They need more purists.

      • And while I’m at it, I’ll even volunteer to take those silly whistles away from that other team who always shows up in those ridiculous ugly looking striped uniforms. Two teams on a court should be more than enough for any one game. We don’t need a third team trying to gum up the works distracting everyone by blowing whistles all the time. Who are those guys anyway?

  6. Ahdad says:

    I reckon they should keep score. How else would they experience the pure exhilaration of vicotry or as it was in my case, the soul-crushing loss of defeat. The blame for not making a goal or poor defence. The ridicule, the self-loathing and endless therapy session that follows.

    Teach them the joy of sport, I say.

  7. That’s how soccer and baseball is, as well. With soccer, I remember the refs stating, this season we’re going to start calling “off sides” – those parents that never played soccer (ME) were always, what’s this constant off-sides business everyone keeps yelling. Every time a whistle, me and another mom would be like- off sides. My hubby would glare at me- that wasn’t off sides. It wasn’t? I thought all whistles were off-sides… my bad. hahahahah!

    …and there is a point, where the kids DO KEEP SCORE. They are highly aware.

  8. AmyRose🌹 says:

    Boys at that age I don’t think quite grasp the fact that there are official rules. All they see is a ball, a hoop, and anyway possible to get ball into hoop. That’s it. As for advanced mathmatics, best of luck with that one! For now the main theme is ball and hoop. Look on the bright side. You could consider those concepts advanced algebra. 🙂

  9. […] son was on a basketball team. If you saw that post, you may think our victory is a decision to keep score at the games, but it’s not. It may be even more valuable than […]

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