From the Mouths of Babes

This is a bit long winded however if you ask anyone who knows me, especially my wife and daughter, they will tell you I just like to hear myself talk. I promise there is a really good basketball story mixed in with a message I feel is worth hearing if you have or know someone with kids in youth sports. So without further ado here is Mark’s soapbox for the day:

Most folks that know me know that I’ve been involved with youth sports in some fashion since my daughter was 4. (Now 21) When she was at the youth levels I was always on the field side or court side of things coaching and missed out on most of the activities on the other side of the fence or outside the lines of the court.

Last summer because of some health issues I was forced to the other side of the fence which I was very unfamiliar too. Once there I was shocked at some of the things my eyes saw and my ears heard directed toward young athletes. It stirred something in me to go on a mission to help adults realize that kids 7-12 years old(and older) are far from the college and pro levels in physical ability, game knowledge, and mental toughness that the adults seem to think they were, or should be.

I had the summer and fall to stew, research, and form my opinion. I was prepared when we kicked off the basketball program and was loaded with a new phrase. I would love to tell you I coined this phrase myself, however like most everything else in coaching this was stolen from another. The phrase is, “I love to watch you play!” So simple, “I love to watch you play!” I want to meet the person who coined that praise! It very well may be the best youth sports phrase ever!

Because the 3rd-6th grade girls basketball players in our program will not be ready for college or the WNBA at the end of our season in March (and for the record I was upfront and let the parents know I was not that good of a coach) I encourage the parents to tell their child “I love to watch you play!” regardless of the outcome of any game and realize it is okay for the players to make mistakes. That is how they learn to play the game of basketball (and all other sports) and the game of life.

I say all of that to relay this story: Today a team in our program had a barn burner of a game. At halftime it wasn’t looking to promising I must admit. We were down 8-0. (In case you did not know 4th grade basketball is not always a high scoring affair) We opened the 3rd quarter with a quick bucket to reduce the deficit to 6. With aggressive play wouldn’t you know we were tied at 8 going into the final stanza. It wasn’t long and we scored again to take a 10-8 lead. Midway through the final quarter the opposing team tied the game at 10. Slowly the quarter crept toward its end.

Oh my goodness tied at 10 and less than a minute to play. I’m not going to lie at this point someone should have “gone live” on face book with the camera pointed in the direction of the fans because their stress levels are now on high. Not sure what is more entertaining at a 4 grade basketball game, the play on the court or the stressed parents! Priceless facial expressions from more stress than any adult should have to endure at a youth sporting event that is for sure.

Back to the game: The clock has run down to 18 seconds and the opposing team is taking the ball out from under our basket heading to their end. Down the court they go for yet another attempt to break the tie and possibly seal a hometown victory. You could cut the tension with a knife. Fingernails are being buzzed off faster than woodchucks chucking wood.

Just after crossing half court there was an aggressive steal from one our girls and back to our end of the court players come with ball in hand. The player with the ball gets cutoff on the left side of the lane. She fires a pass to a teammate at the free throw line. The clock is ticking down ever so fast, or ever so slow depending on your allegiance. It was hot potato pass as the player who received the pass at the free-throw passed it into the paint with no hesitation to the post. She squared up to the basket like she has done so many times in practice and launched a shot with near perfect form. The ball tickled the net only after passing through the hoop untouched. 5 clicked off the clock, then 4, 3, 2, 1, and finally the sound of the horn for a Lil’ Lady Tiger Victory.

Folks let me tell you this, 4th grade girls basketball does, let me rephrase, any basketball game does not get any more exciting than that!

Excitement was definitely in the air in the gymnasium. The coaches were happy, the players were happy! The parents were jovial for the fact their stress level is now lowered as there is no overtime to be played on this day!

As the team was headed to its post-game huddle is when it happened! Out of the mouth of “a babe” the question was asked, and asked from the player that made the game winning shot no less. She looked in the coach’s eyes and asked, “Who won?”

“Who won?” Can you hear those words? Close your eyes and hear your young child’s voice asking those words. A lesson to be learned from our youth.

Why do I tell this story? Because if those 2 words do not tell the adult world to just let the kids play and learn to enjoy the game without the pressures of mom, dad, and the overbearing coach, or any other overbearing adult telling them how they failed in any possible way I don’t know what does. At this young age celebrate the positives and find a way to realize that we only fail if we quit. Traveling, double dribble, fouling, missing a shot, turning it over, etc etc is not failure, it is part of the game of basketball just as striking out and missing a groundball is in baseball.

Play with “NO FEAR” is what we try and teach. No fear of what? No fear of making a mistake because if they know it is okay to make mistakes in these regards they will learn to know it is okay to make mistakes in other areas of their lives too as long as they get up and try again and again and again until they get it right! Mistakes are acceptable in this context.

Do you have kids playing a sport or playing life? Not just at the really young age, but any age. As an adult or parent you may need a chill pill or a whole bottle of them and remember to let your young, or teenage, or even adult child know that you love them and say to them, “I love to watch you play!”

For the record this has nothing to do with any issues this basketball season. To this point it has been good and I expect nothing different as the season progresses. This issue has been on my mind and after the words of wisdom today from a fourth grader I decided to write.

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