Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sharing and Playing Well With Others, Basketball Championships, and Attitudes for Success

Remember back in elementary school when we had the left-hand side of the grade cards for the academic aspects of our growth progress and the right-hand side was devoted to our deportment? That’s a word we rarely hear or see some 50+ years later. Under Deportment, one of the elements on the right-hand side was “Plays well and shares with others.” As I recall, I always received the grade of S+ for that element. “Stays silent in class”…well, let’s go back to “Plays well…,” shall we?

When I was a youngster, I recall being guided, trained, instructed, and otherwise subliminally exposed to the concept of sharing thanks to my mother. Mom was one of, eventually, eight children in her family and I was an only child. Mom said she had always wanted five children, that was her dream, and I was her five. Took me years to figure out that she wasn’t kidding.

Sharing, though, means more than just taking turns on your own toy. It’s a matter of taking turns on a team, allowing others to shine just as much as you get to shine. That hit home for me on Thursday, when my “I have two families” dog, Barney, had his world upended briefly by the arrival of a cold, wet guest doggie, whom I recognized finally as “Paco” from a few blocks over. I’ve already described that adventure, but I went from doggie reunion to watching the Aggie men’s game on Friday night with a longtime friend and basketball buddy.
As I watched our (young) men's team in Reed Arena really foul up, trying to pass the ball and even hang on to the ball when we got it, I was turning my head to the right—a bunch. The bursts of energy and promoted quick movement are both good concepts but unless they’re followed by play execution, they don’t mean anything. Our players had enthusiasm but they shape-shifted so often they forgot their original goals of alignment.

Sometimes you should just stop and take the shot yourself. If you’re not making your shots, though, you have to pass. Although the crowd for Gonzaga was small in number, they certainly were loud enough. When one lady took to yelling what I can best make out to have been “Theo, thee-o, thee-ooooh, theeee-o,” that sent me to Google what the heck she was yelling. Google referred me to a “wall of sound” that Gonzaga Bulldog Kennel Club fans enjoy creating that usually means jumping up and down in the bleachers.

I was reminded by that on Saturday as we all entered the beautiful, large gym at the church school as the site for “the big game.” Before the game my pal had been a picky eater, remembering “Mom doesn’t like me to eat much before the game” (wise, because it makes his tummy upset) and enjoying an experience at the Cheesecake Factory where he received three separate iPad/phone calls from his big brother, his dad and his mom, all of which couldn’t quite get through because of a bad connection and interference in a busy, loud restaurant.

But the point was made. They were right there with him in spirit, and they would remind him to practice his lay-ups. This particular weekend with parents doing things had already been set months ahead before Mom had found his basketball schedule, and that was perfectly fine with my pal. He didn’t focus on who was not there, as he knew everyone loves him and wished him the best, and he'd seen all your posts on Facebook Saturday wishing him luck in the games. So many of his "team" have seen the other games, when his siblings weren’t sick, requiring one to be home with them. This particular weekend Pippa and Poppy were keeping him and making sure he got to the game (in the correct grey uniform shirt) and Mommy had packed everything including his special basketball shoes. Those shoes are quite challenging as it took Poppy, Ms. Dawn Lee, and my pal’s team coach each a turn at tying the double-laces yesterday.

The following photos are not ALL of Hunter's team, so know that there are more even unpictured, and feel their love, too. This Pal is the reason for bringing so many people together. We all try and guess what his future career profession holds, and everyone has their favorite hopes and dreams for him, but whatever it is that he chooses to do, he will be a success, he will be a leader, and he will be a man of integrity, a positive influencer, and he will be forever loved. Of that we can all be sure.

Now let’s talk about sidelines coaching a little, shall we? I can hear my grown-up pal laughing as she just read that last sentence. It’s okay, I’ve gotta tell it like it is. Two weekends ago Pippa and her daughter (Pal’s Mommy) were taking turns correcting each other on what to yell and when. It went something along the lines of “That’s not what you say.” “You’re coaching too much.” “Pal, focus! Keep your head in the game. Pay attention.” Um…I sat there just shaking with laughter as mother and daughter could not agree on which one of them was the distractor. My little Pal just looked over and smiled and went back to the game.

Now, I’m not here to judge or grade the level of sidelines coaching but I will say that right after Mommy said, “work the ball up to the net and go for a layup,” my Pal nailed a half-court shot, turned and looked at Mommy, both arms extended as in “what?” as he ran back down the court. Mommy was a great sport about it.

Dad encourages layups because those are (correctly) often neglected and free points. The team all shared the ball, thanks to a truly gifted and wise team coach, who finds a way to commend every team member each week and not every player is given a medal of some kind (hurrah) as they learn to be proud of the team members who give exemplary effort and output.

After Pippa had “held forth” a little yesterday, I couldn’t resist turning around and teasing her, “Um, where do you think your daughter gets it?” And she just laughed, as she yelled out, “Focus!! Concentrate!!” That chorus was harmonized by her husband as Poppy (NZ accent and all) chimed in “Pay attention, focus, focus!” and I’m sitting there quiet as a church mouse, taking photos same as all of them. I just think it’s so cute. Now other players have their own families there and I can’t quite hear what they’re saying in my section of the symphony but that’s okay. You know everyone has a cheering section. It’s like that and it’s precious. The message is always heard: “We love you,” no matter what is being yelled.

So, Pippa piped up and asked me, “Okay, what are we doing right or wrong in the cheering? You’ve been entirely quiet down there, what should we do?” I smiled and said “Y’all are doing what you want to do, and I’m just sitting right here doing what I want to do!” and I meant it. Everyone needs to do what they feel in terms of encouraging youth. I’m just more like his another of his sets of grandparents, who smile and watch on the sidelines. Well, most of the time.

Although last week, to tell on myself, Mommy laughed at me after Pal had made a superb shot when I found myself doing the Arsenio Hall classic “whoo, whoo, whoo,” and we both laughed. Mommy nodded and said, “Uh huh. You’re in it now.” Oh, and the coach himself had signals he used with his team and did a beautiful job, too. There’s that fella! He’s really so wonderful, I cannot say enough about the special spirit of Pal’s coach.

These were definitely young person’s size basketball goals, with the height properly adjusted to the 6-yr-old and 7-yr-olds playing the game. I’ve never focused on the age and height of my pal’s teammates before because it seems like I only speak of him. But, I’ve always watched (and cheered for) all team members whenever they play out there. We all do, in fact. And we know all the players’ names, too. I’m a team player (reference: strict childhood training!)

Boys and girls are team members on each side and player heights range as much as one foot smaller and taller than the average player. Now, my 7.5 -yr-old pal is very tall for his age, but it doesn’t define him, and he doesn’t treat those not as tall any differently. I’m continually impressed how nonjudgmental this team is of one another’s height disparities. And, each week I’ve watched as often the team’s most talented player can be the tiniest one out there on the court. Not being a real coach, I’m reminded that team heartbeats such as point guards can be 5’0” tall and the game MVP.

That said, this was a game in which my Pal wasn’t the star player, as he has been in virtually every other game in this season. He is good about passing, but this time he tried to take more shots than he made and he wasn’t satisfied with his own game playing. He did pass the ball and he was wonderful in rebounding—in fact, he shined in rebounding and I was extra proud of that. But what I was most proud of was when he missed the ball, he didn’t get down on himself, and he didn’t sulk, and he didn’t do anything except concentrate more on subsequent shots, stayed moving up and down the court just as fast as he had and he never let up.

Another thing that makes me proud is that he is so good on the court, that each game the coach sits my Pal, and another player, out of the game for the first 7-minute triad (they play three 7-minute sessions) to give everyone playing time. And, my Pal accepts it so beautifully even though day and night he’s had a basketball in his hands as he loves this game with all his heart. But still, it takes maturity to show patience. And he’s only 7 ½!

The game, by the way, was a runaway win for “our” team, from the get-go in fact. And it was the smallest player on the team who drove down the court, stopped full out, aimed and took his shot and made them, one after another and another. He’s learned to dribble this season as have all the players. The refs have been very flexible on insisting on the dribbling part. And, on the opposing team, it was the player who was not even 3-feet tall who sunk a half-court shot for their side, in a lesson not to judge a book by its cover. And, it was so cute when the tiny towhead had this air pump with both fists to show something akin to an air dunk, so he was no stranger to making baskets!

About my pal not shooting at his usual exemplary level this week. This was a week in which the stakes were different. It was not as much about winning the game as getting everyone playing time, same as always, and letting each child find a special moment, memory, or basket that they could say contributed to the game's winning score. That didn't allow my Pal as much shooting time as he might have otherwise taken. My opinion...he seemed a bit disappointed in himself that he didn't make more baskets, but he did not let himself get down about it. That didn't spoil his joy in his team's victory either. That's a level of maturity that's unparalleled for a 7.5-yr-old.

He does love his teammates to pass him the ball, and he goes after rebounds very enthusiastically, when he's reminded to, and his favorite shot is the half-court shot. Look for him to be Mr. 3-point-shot as he continues to grow. Of course, his favorite player "is" Steph Curry and his coach knows that about him. This, to say, that Steph also passes the ball well, plays defense, and takes his shots but everyone on the team gets to shoot. I like that very much about my Pal's hero. Even Pal's GrandMama loves Steph Curry and the two have meaningful chats about that, and GrandMama is as much of a basketball junkie as we all are.

There are typically two coaches for each team, the main coach and the helper. The main coach finds something positive to say about each player after each game, tells them why he’s proud of them, and why they are such good team members…affirmation, repetition, support, encouragement. All those variables lead to success and self-esteem in life as well as in the game.

When your cheering section is loud and involved (to whatever extent they find comfort), the child knows you’re in their corner. We all needed that when we were growing up, and many of us had it in different quantities. Some succeeded despite no cheering sections being there because work responsibilities kept parents away so food could be on the table. That’s when a school or team coach is such a key variable. None of these concepts are new, nor are they groundbreaking.

But, what I did see that brought me to the keyboard are the invisible ways in which every adult who loves a child makes an impact. Last weekend my Pal and I were in the car heading to our next destination because Mommy let him ride with me, and he talked to me all about fishing and what Dad taught him. The way he described all the different kinds of fish that Dad had taught him was very clearly presented, logically so. Also, my favorite thing was when he said, “Dad said that I am now responsible enough to handle my own fishing hooks and lures so I know how to bait my own hook. I’m responsible and can do that.” I just loved that, what Dad said. And my heart skipped a beat when he said, “And Dad said that Santa might bring me my own rod and tackle box because I’m capable of taking care of them now.” “Responsible,” “capable,” and other adult words he understands and knows are his character traits.

There was a game of “H.O.R.S.E.” that Dad had played with him the week before where my Pal beat his Dad. The way my Pal described it, they were neck and neck in the game and it looked like Dad was going to win, but there was a key shot and Dad just missed it. Then Pal made his shot and won the game. They’d both been teasing each other who was going to win. And Pal said, “And he really missed it, too! Then I made mine!”

A better gift of love I cannot imagine. There’s a quite famous recent Aggie football legend whose father never let him win, not once. Ever. And, although I’m not a parent, nor do I play one on TV, I’m willing to bet the house that part of that particular adult-child’s psyche damage came from never being able to win his father’s affirmation, accolades, or genuine approval because Dad never let him win once. Pal loves his Dad and loves to challenge the envelope all the time, as any wise growing child will do. But Dad has it all dialed in and knows just how much to let out the line into the water, and when to reel it in, with patience and love.

These days with my 7½-yr-old pal are precious. Conversations we have in our time together find me continually fascinated with his mastery of his accelerated learning and understanding, of life and of book learning from school. This week we discussed reading comprehension and that the third grade means the STAAR test and Pal said he was not looking forward to those. I challenged that assessment and said, “Wait a minute. I loved reading and reading comprehension. You love reading. Why don’t you love reading comprehension?”

Pal said, “You have to read a whole chapter book and then answer questions about what’s in the chapter book.” I said, “That’s okay, honey. You read the chapter book and you have a wonderful memory. Are they questions like, “Did the farmer have four hens or five? Did they grow peanuts or corn?” “Yes,” he said, “I think so.” Then, I said, “You’re going to do well in those questions, honey, because you always remember what you read and you tell me all about the books.” “Oh,” he said, “Okay.”

Took me back quickly to when I was in first grade, and I was talking with Dawn Keogh and Carla Carter, who were in second grade, asking them about what second grade was like, what did you do in Math and what did you do in reading, etc. They reassured me that multiplication was pretty fun, that I was doing addition and subtraction and they knew I’d be really good at multiplication and the reading was fun and that I liked to read, so I’d enjoy that. Tricia Boyd reminded me that I’d love my teacher, Mrs. Kumin as much as I loved Mrs. Hines and that I shouldn't worry, to just be patient and I'll be ready for it when it gets here. I thanked them all and stopped worrying.

Now, the fact that I said what I said to my Pal? That won’t make the difference. It’s not about me. It’s about remembering that no matter our age, we are always planning ahead for the future. It’s how we travel through growth processes. We look to our peers, to our coaches, to our friends and to our family for testing out new ideas. We take in all the data we want, and others that we accept whether or not we want it, and we decide for ourselves who we will become. Watching this young version of the team “The Rockets” made me feel very happy about the world to come. There are some amazing young future leaders currently in formation on this team. They’re gonna make a lot of things better for us in the future. Sharing a few game photos of the champions. They rock!

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