Let the children play

It’s that time of year when the parents of America and their celestial charges embark on the quest for the holy grail of sports, a recreation basketball title. Gyms are filled with little “comets” buzzing around in their 84-foot by 50-foot orbits in pursuit of a plastic trophy signifying that they are not inferior heavenly bodies but are indeed shining at absolute magnitude as they pursue universal athletic excellence. Or not.

Someone said sport is a mirror or reflection of society, but in some cases the mirror is cracked because the gyms many times are filled with crackpots masquerading as coaches and spectators with a dream of creating or discovering the next NBA star, many times resulting in simply — a supernova.

Sadly the plastic trophy may signify empty space because it fails to represent rising sons but instead falling stars. For what is being “taught” is not excellence in sportsmanship and fair play, but win at all cost attitudes that foster narcissism and the belief that “team” does indeed contain an “I”.

An attitude is created whereby the ability to dribble a sphere through one’s legs is somewhere near the outer limits of spatial ability and a gift bestowed upon only the most worthy of celestial beings or our little “angels” in shorts and Michael Jordan over-priced basketball shoes.

We need to consider a way to bring our recreational “leaders” back down to earth along with the parents, and reinforce the idea that “rec-ball” is just that: recreational. We need to help them understand that our little brown and white dwarf “stars” are actually children wanting to learn a sport — not black holes looking to gobble up every award in sight.

Enough “astronomy.” A trip to many recreational gyms on a Saturday morning will showcase parents and spectators screaming at players, coaches and referees in an effort to swing the all-important championship of the world in their favor, giving them one opportunity in a lifetime to hug the plastic grail. At least until next year.

Former stars of leagues long since passed may be seen coming out on the floor to intimidate coaches and referees in an effort to win the game for the only team entitled to the win: their team. Mothers holding babies and screaming in their ears in an effort to get Johnny or Jenny to “put the ball in the basket,” dribble, shoot, get up off the floor, stop picking your nose!” Or many times, “stop crying.”

Yes, many times these 8-12 year olds are brought to tears over a lost basketball game. And then, when it happens, the parents/coaches act surprised as if, “oh, not to worry, it’s just a game.” Well it wasn’t “just a game” five minutes ago when they were screaming for victory at all cost. It wasn’t “just a game” when the little dwarf stars were representing a family sports “dynasty” sitting in the bleachers. And, truth be known, dad probably sat the bench on the high school team anyway.

Most successful athletes know where to draw the line with their children’s pursuit of a sport. They know the sacrifice it takes to develop an athletic skill, the time involved that may be better spent learning how to read. It’s usually the ones who didn’t make it that insist their child kiss the plastic grail. The ones who insist on a full court press when up 30 points in a game. Teaching their team that “when you’ve got ‘em down, better stomp on ‘em.” There’s a lot of that going on in our recreational programs today. So what can be done?

▪  Change the philosophy of the coaches on the floor.

▪  Meet with parents, coaches and referees, not just at the beginning, but throughout the season to discuss issues within the league.

▪  Reinforce the positive aspects of the game. What we should be about. Learning a sport, learning how to cooperate with others, learning that practice is what it takes to achieve excellence in anything we do. Key word, “learning.” Word omitted, “winning.”

▪  Zero tolerance for those who disregard the rules and expectations of the league.

▪  Qualified officials who understand the difference between an 8-year-old and an 18-year-old.

The universal truth here is that we’re all losers if we don’t find a way to make recreational basketball better. If you’re a recreational leader and you’re doing it right, don’t bother to write.

Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.