Just put the ball through the hoop; it’s that simple

The most recent video gaming system we have is a PlayStation 2 from around the turn of the century.  The older boys turn to it when they need a change from their small screen games.  “Can we play a game on the TV?” they ask. This is my chance to tell them about the olden days, before Wi-Fi, when the only choice we had was to play our games on big screens plugged into the wall. Those were hard times.

After my sermon, if no good sports are on TV, I might let them use the appliance to play like the old people did. Their favorites have been Simpsons games, from back when young people used to watch that show and use products associated with the brand. These are one-player games, and I have two boys chomping to play, which means taking turns, a rotten system for having fun.

To overcome this difficulty, Big Brother and Buster have begun competing at sports games. In these long, school-less days before Christmas they’ve discovered a college basketball game. Seeing them play this together is much more entertaining than watching them destroy Springfield with the Plow King truck.

Big Brother plays on a real basketball team and has a good understanding of the rules. He knows what all the buttons on the game controller do and how his virtual players respond to his actions. Buster knows the ball is supposed to go through the hoop. You get points for that. He’s happy just to hold a controller in his hand, as long as he’s mostly sure pushing its buttons has some vague relationship to what’s happening on the screen.

This disparity of understanding leads to a mismatch. Buster has won every game so far. Instinct? Luck? Virtual motivational skills? I don’t know, but it’s funny to watch.

Our strategy is to win.

Our strategy is to win.

Once the score gets into double digits, Buster has to ask who’s winning.

“You are,” Big Brother moans.

When I ask him how the game is going, Big Brother complains about his team. “It’s not me. My players can’t make any shots.”  That may be true, but a coach takes responsibility for making his players better.

Big Brother starts out playing as our Spartans, but last time he got so discouraged he switched, in an act of outright betrayal to his father, to the University of Michigan. Buster doesn’t care which team he plays; he’ll motivate his guys to put the ball in the basket.

“Hello, Blue Jays,” Buster mocked as his big brother’s new, blue team took the court.

“They’re not Blue Jays,” Big Brother bristled. “They’re called Michigan Wolverines.”

“Hello, Michigan Wolverine Blue Jays.” Buster’s already taken trash talk to an esoteric level.

Big Brother has been a good sport, but sometimes his frustration gets the best of him. He tries to trick his brother into taking full court shots. “Shoot it from there and you’ll get 9 million points.”

Buster doesn’t need 9 million points. He’s already up by 21 with two minutes remaining.

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.