Does Winning Have To Be Everything?

20170928_234413893_iOSMy fifth grader recently finished up her first season of basketball. She’s been learning the basics, since third grade and attended Coach Huger’s Basketball Camp last summer and fall. This, though, was her first year where she got to play actual games and not just a scrimmage at the half time of someone else’s game. She spent countless hours in the driveway shooting hoops and dribbling. She loves to play. Nevermind she’s this little, waif of a girl, she is tenacious and not afraid to shoot. She was ready to play.

Her coaches were awesome and gave all the girls on her team equal opportunity to play in games, even when they weren’t winning, which was most of the time. In fact, her team didn’t win one game all season. They lost a lot and by a lot. However, she didn’t let that get her down. She kept practicing and pushing forward.  She and her team made strides and improved immensely as the season progressed. By her last game they only lost by single digits. It didn’t matter to her that she lost (OK maybe it did a little as who doesn’t like to win once in a while?), only that she played her best. She learned and she grew as a player. I am proud of her. Not because she scored baskets or got to be the point guard once in a while, but because she is a team player and worked hard.  At basketball camp she was on the team that won the end-of-camp tournament both times. However, the best sport trophy was the one that made me proudest.

Juxtapose her experience with that of my oldest daughter. She played her last game as a ninth grader after spending countless hours on the bench. From seventh grade through ninety grade her playing time in games wasn’t more than an entire game total. I am just as proud of her as my younger daughter though. I cheered even louder and encouraged her even more for those last few minutes or seconds when she got in to the game. I don’t think I could have been more excited when she was finally in a position to shoot, was passed the ball and scored a basket in the very last game she played.  My heart broke for her on those games when she didn’t get to play at all. I think my heart ached for her more than her own disappointment in not getting to play at all. And why didn’t she get to play, I thought to myself after every game when she didn’t even when her team was beating their opponent by more than 20 points. She worked hard and she practiced hard.

Our school district has a strict policy about asking the coaches about “playing time,” so I kept my mouth shut as my disagreement in coaching philosophy grew.  I watched as her love for playing the sport and being on a team dwindled to nothing. She has no desire to play any more. She, too was a small side. However, she was more timid than her sister. As  parent I understand that not everyone can be a starter or the MVP of the team. What I fail to understand though why all players aren’t developed as opposed to only those that showed some natural ability.  In the beginning she went to basketball camp and practiced in the driveway; however, her enthusiasm diminished as even though her skills improved, her playing time never did.

As I was prohibited from asking the coaches about playing time, I encouraged her to talk to them to find out what she could do to improve and see more time in the game.  After finally finding the courage to ask, she came home more discouraged than ever when she was given a vague answer of “improved basketball skills and knowledge of the game overall.”  What??? The lowest day came when the coaches dismissed her and a couple other players from practice early to work with the starters as they weren’t “needed.”  I only heard her side so I don’t know if that was meant, but it’s what she heard.

10984214_10153569454479046_6742827290618213911_nI was frustrated to learn later that she and several other players not deemed “good enough,” sat against the wall during many practices and watched the starters scrimmage and learn the plays. She wasn’t even given the opportunity to learn the plays during practice. Is it any wonder that when put in the game she had no confidence. If she made any small error I could see her eyes travel immediately towards the coach’s, waiting to be pulled out. Sure enough as if it were a self-fulfilling prophecy, she’d be back on the bench in one or two plays. Even the very best players make mistakes in games, they: foul, travel, miss shots and rebounds, throw bad passes, and step out-of-bounds. The difference is they have the confidence to know they won’t be pulled from the game if they aren’t perfect. Mistakes are part of the game. A field goal percentage of 50% and above is considered good. That means most players miss at least one basket for everyone they make! You have to shoot to score. If a player is not given the opportunity to play during practice or allowed to gain experience in actual games (in middle school!), how will they ever grow into the players they could be? Is it politics? Coach ego? The drive to win? I’m not sure, but it sure sucks. I can understand the “must win” mentality at the college level and obviously at the pro-level as those coaches are being paid mega-bucks to win.

As far as I can tell even the starters of our winningest team didn’t go out to play Big 10 basketball or even little 10 basketball. Our stands are not crawling with scouts. Would allowing all team members the space and time to make mistakes and become better players in lieu of a perfect record be that horrible? I worry that this same fate is in store for my younger daughter as she moves into junior high in the coming years. I want her to learn that hard work does pay off in the end. I want her to know that winning isn’t the end all and be all. I want her to have a positive experience and good memories. I have fond memories of my time as a basketball player. Granted I played in our local CYO league, but I got to play the game I loved without worrying about being judged or punished for not being perfect. I may not have scored every game and our team definitely didn’t win every game, but when I look back on that time I remember the laughter, the camaraderie and the excitement of playing on a team and being part of something bigger than myself. That is what I want for my daughters.

I truly don’t get the need to win at all costs. Why is winning more important than encouraging and developing all our young athletes into becoming better players? I don’t think we need to give our kids participation awards to make them feel good, but I do think we need to give them all the opportunity to be better. Just think how good Michael Jordan’s high school team might have been had his coach spent time developing him instead of cutting him from the team. Luckily for basketball fans (especially those in Chicago), Jordan didn’t get discouraged. He continued practicing and practicing to improve his skills instead of giving up and believing he’d never be good enough.

Life is unfair. I get that. It’s a lesson we all learn sooner or later.  However, I’d rather it be later than sooner. What do you think? Do we place too much emphasis on winning in middle school/high school sports?




Red Rover, Red Rover…

a-to-z-letters-rDoes anyone remember that asinine game, called Red Rover? It seemed all my gym teachers loved to torture us, I mean, force us, I mean, let us play this game as a special “treat.” Oh sure, some kids that got all excited and couldn’t wait to play. Me, not so much. And to up the fun even more, the teacher couldn’t just let us count off to get the two teams, she had to do the whole “captain” thing. Inevitably I’d be picked last or close to it, which really didn’t bother me all that much, as I was hoping not to be picked at all.

Once the teams assembled, I tried to get on the end of the line. Being the skinny, geeky kid, the other side always ran toward my arms. At first I’d try to hold tight so the opposing runner couldn’t break through my arms, but quickly realized it was better to just let go and avoid getting my arm broken. And in the off-chance, the other team actually chanted, “Red Rover, Red Rover send ‘Shar’ right over,” dread filled me as I ran over and get stopped every time:( I wonder who even made that dumb game up. My daughter tells me they still play this disturbing game at her school too. Luckily she’s a bit more athletic than I am.  Why, I have no idea. It’s not even remotely fun.

Next to math, phys ed was my least favorite subject. Maybe if I’d put more effort into it back then, I’d be better at exercising now, though. I mean I want to look good and be healthy, but when I try to exercise, something always thwarts my attempts. Recently I started a running program (those that know me can stop laughing now). I got this app called the Couch to 5K. You alternate walking and running until you can run 5 kilometers. I downloaded it to my iPhone. It’s really pretty sweet in that it tracks your route, speed and tells you when to walk, when to jog and most importantly when to stop!

The first time I tried it out, the girls wanted to come along. About half way through and a mile from home, my youngest stopped dead right in front of me during a jog segment. I couldn’t stop and ended up tripping over her and landing on top of her. She scraped her leg and I banged up my knee. I ended up carrying her home. Day 2 went without a hitch, but on Day 3 the app crashed in the middle of my workout and I lost all my data. Then today when I tried again my iPhone died. So much for the tracking data. On the upside, I know I did better today and wasn’t quite as winded when I made it home. Maybe I’ll actually run a 5K someday. We’ll see…


Old Lady Bikes and Cry Babies

My Old Lady Bike
My Old Lady Bike

This evening the blustery winds of Northwest Ohio finally died down and the warm sun came out.The two weather occurrences haven’t convened at the same time in quite a while. And so after a long week of dreariness the girls and I decided to take advantage of this gift and take a bike ride together. A great idea so I thought. My ideas always start out as great you know.

As a young girl I have fond memories tooling around on my banana bike with my sister and friends. The wind in our faces, the sun on our backs we popped wheelies and rode with no hands. We took our bikes everywhere. I remember saving up my babysitting money to purchase a powder-blue ten speed bike with the word “Trans Am” written on the frame and racing handle bars. I thought I was so cool on that bike until only a few years later when I got my coveted driver’s license. I don’t know where that bike is these days. For awhile I did have a mountain bike, although I never did ride it on any mountains or for that matter any trails of any sort. I pulled it out of the garage last summer when my oldest finally learned to ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. Unfortunately, only one of the hand brakes worked, the front tire was flat, the gears rusted and the seat a little wobbly. I persevered though and via a you tube video actually replaced the tube in the tire and fixed the breaks. I greased the gears, but was never able to get the seat to quit twisting around as I tried to ride.

This year, I decided to give up on the high tech, biker bikes, and got myself an old-lady bike. Yes, I bought one of those bikes I used to make fun of my mom for riding. Now they are called cruisers though and seem to be making a come back in stores. I am happy with this simple bike with coaster breaks, no gears to change and a nice cushy seat for my much bigger bum:) Luckily, my kids aren’t quite old enough to be embarrassed by me yet! They were eager to take a ride with their dear old mom. So we headed out. My nine-year old took the lead, ringing her bell with a smile and a wave. Next, the five-year old, struggled to get her bike with training wheels up over the driveway onto the road. I brought up the rear.

A smile on my face, the kids laughter in my ears, the ride started off, well, great. We decided to head for the local park about a mile away. All was well except for the bug that landed on the little one’s arm as we rode. A slight bout of hysteria ensued, but I quickly flicked the bug off as I rode past and circled around behind her again. All was well again. As we neared our destination, I congratulated myself that we made it without crashing or crying or whining. Of course the journey took a bit longer than anticipated as every time a car neared the youngest pulled over or stopped dead in front of me until it passed. Safety is good, but I had to reminder her that stop suddenly isn’t such a good idea because mom might accidentally slam into her and fly over the handle bars. That visual seemed funny to her somehow. I don’t think I got much of a work out with all the stopping and starting, but the girls were having fun racing and riding and laughing.

We got to the park and the girls swung on the swings, slid down the slide, crossed the monkey bars and threw rocks in the pond. It was a wonderful evening together until it was time to ride the mile home. The littlest decided her feet were too tired to ride. After a little prodding and a lot of idle threatening we finally headed for home. She rode her bike as slowly as possible. It was at this point I realized riding a bike slowly is not easy. It is hard to do actually, I kept wobbling and having to put my feet down. So I made the mistake of passing her. Here is where the cry baby part comes in. The screaming tantrum began. I circled back around behind as I’d planned to do all along. I only passed her to avoid running over her. She decided she was done. She got off her bike and took off her helmet. She was done. At least until I called her Dad to come get her. Then the waterworks began even more, but also the determination to make it home on her bike. She had her helmet back on and was pedaling toward home. I heard my husband say something about he’d come and get her if he had to, but I needed to work on my authority with her… What? I thought to myself (well I may have thought some other words too). OK. Nevermind, she’s going now I tell him and tuck the phone back into my pocket. We’re off again. She’s riding through puddles and trying to pass her sister. The tantrum tirade is over until we hit the slight incline less than a quarter mile from home. She starts the crying, whining again, but with a push makes it over the top. The oldest has given up and pushes her bike home as she can’t got that slow… All great ideas…

Remind me again why watching TV is so bad?