The Girl In the Dutch Braids On The Basketball Court
I was walking my dog this morning at 7:45 in the park near my house. It was freezing outside, frost on the grass, nobody out yet. From the opposite end of the park, I could hear the echo of dribbling and the rattling of a ball on the rim.
I wondered to myself, who in the world is playing basketball at this time in the morning.
As I rounded the corner to get closer, I could see it was a young person.
I got a little closer; they were doing jab steps, fake, and dribble, over and over. Focused work, clearly not someone just goofing around. A big backpack was placed under the hoop. Now that I was closer, I could see she was a girl; Dutch braids, a baggy sweatshirt, steam coming off her from the cold. A young teenager, I guessed. Nobody else was nearby. She must have come alone, probably walked or jogged, judging by the backpack.
I wanted to say something like, “What made you come here today, what are your goals, where did you get this work ethic, what did your parents do or not do?” But nobody was around, she had headphones in, and I didn’t want to scare her.
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I quickly walked past and decided to make another loop around the park. The entire walk, I could hear the echo of the dribbling and shooting. Ten minutes later, I rounded a corner and could see her again, working hard. No breaks, no standing, no goofing, just working.
This time, I couldn’t help myself. I called out to her. “Hello.” It broke her concentration, she pulled out an earbud. “Hi,” she said questioningly. I quickly interjected something about my kids to make me seem less creepy, and then I asked her, “Why are you here so early?” She responded that she was working on a few parts of her game. I couldn’t resist; I needed more info. I asked her, “why?” Did she have a team she was trying to make? She replied no, and said she was a freshman, and her goal is to not get subbed out as much, to play the entire game. She went on to say she needed to work on her shot and her dribble. I told her good luck and that I’m sure she’ll accomplish her goal because she’s willing to work hard, on her own time.
As I walked off, I struggled to fight off tears. She had stirred up some deep-rooted emotions. I saw myself in her, and I also saw my shortcomings as a parent.
I wanted to ask her a million more questions, study her like she was a rare fossil or plant that I needed to understand more for a scientific study. Of course, I didn’t say anything else and just kept walking, I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable since it was so early and nobody was around. It’s so rare to see kids working on their own, trying to improve, with no trainer or coach or parent standing over them. A million ways I could have done a better job with my girls raced through my head.
I don’t know who she is or where she plays, but one thing I felt deeply-I would do anything to help that kid reach her goals. I briefly debated going back and offering up rebounding for her (I could already see why her shot wasn’t falling). Thankfully, I thought better of it in the moment and didn’t. The irony doesn’t escape me. I wanted to interject myself and help her improve, work on her shot and her penetration off the dribble; I wanted her to get more playing time. This is probably the very thing that keeps kids from being more self-motivated; well-intentioned parents trying to help them and do too much for them. She is much better off exactly as she is, alone with her ball and the basket, working on her game, with no adults in sight.