As some of you know, I'm a bit of a weekend warrior these days. I play basketball in a league on Sundays, sometimes going the rest of the week without working out and sucking wind on the following Sunday because of it. Most of you probably remember that I played hoops in high school, for one of the best teams in the county, under the tutelage of a great coach (Coach Rod Holmes). I also played in college, under a coach who, at the time, had one of the best records in the NCAA, across all divisions, men or women.
Despite my seemingly auspicious beginnings, the WBNA did not come calling and scouts were not following me every where I went. When my knees went bad 2 years into college, I switched to volleyball and hung up the high tops. (Except to give a few guys a schooling here and there in pick-up games.)
These days, I'm happy to be back on the court. There is something comforting about the sound of the ball bouncing on the hardwood, or the swish of the hoop as the ball passes through, and yes, even the way the gym smells after a day of games. But at the same time, I have to laugh at some of what I see in the younger generation of players. Although I don't consider myself "old" by any means, I think I have achieved a certain level of understanding that comes with being 20 years out from the intense days of high school or college competition: the knowledge that, at the end of the day, there are things that are more important than this game.
I had this realization just this past Sunday night. It has been a few weeks in coming, but this last game helped clarify things for me. We have several players on our team that are younger, by 10 or even 15 years. They are much closer in time to their "glory days" of high school. They feel the pinch of losing much more acutely than I do, and they seem to almost rebel against it. Don't get me wrong, I hate to lose as much as the next guy. But there is a time and place for things, and I get to a point where I simply lack the patience to deal with some of these women ( not my teammates, but players on other teams) who forget that this is a game and forget that at the end of our hour on the court, we go back to our "real" lives. Perhaps it is age or experience or just being taught a different way, but I reached a point in that last game, where I thought "it just isn't worth it."
At one point in the game, we were down by 15 points and the other team was challenging our inbounds pass on their end of the court (a full court press.). Excuse me? You are up by 15 and you are pressing? This is where lessons learned on Coach Holmes' court kicked in. My first thought was that the other team had crossed the line into "bush" league. Maybe other coaches taught things differently, but you just don't pour on the press when you are leading by 15. (I should also note that these games typically top out at around 40 or 50 points for the winning team - they are not what you would call "high scoring" games.).
I have to wonder how much of that "win at all costs" attitude comes from a lack of education in the sport, or possibly from playing for a coach who was ruthless or had a "win at all costs" mentality. Those coaches rarely included class in their missives. It could also be that some of these women never played "organized" ball and so don't realize that you can't hug someone when playing defense or that to set a proper screen, you have to plant your feet (and can't stick your knee out to trip the defense.). These things must be taught and maybe these poor souls weren't as lucky as I was to have the fundamentals drilled into their heads over many years.
It could also be that for some of these ladies (and yes, I use that term loosely), this is their moment in the sun, and for them, the "glory days" are not over. They believe that someone is still looking for them, or their moment in the sun is just around the corner. (Sadly, it isn't coming in the Sunday league at the rec gym in Burbank California.). I have to laugh when some of these teams come out guns blazing, running designed plays. For what? If you win the league, you might get a pat on the back and if you're lucky, a t-shirt. Woo hoo! For that, let's put someone's eye out! No thank you.
In the midst of Sunday's chaos, I missed jumpers and had some rebounds that did not fall. One of my teammates (who is still in her 20s and displays a normal to slightly high dislike for losing) came up to me at the foul line and said "you're so much taller than them, just gather yourself and go up." I smiled at her -probably a goofy grin- because my brain couldn't come up with a quick enough crack about my age and because I've heard those words somewhere in my past, and then I just let it go. A few seconds later I trudged back down the court.
I smiled because what she doesn't yet realize (and hopefully will someday) is that there are things more important than killing myself to win that game. For me, those "things" are aged 2 and 7. I want them to see me play with class because I want them to grow up and play the same way. I don't want them to see me whining to the refs or taking cheap shots under the basket when no one is watching. (But I will teach them to take a charge and that free throws can win games, and remind them that you can't teach height.)
By the time my teammate made the comment to me, we were about 30 minutes into the (40 minute) game and I had scrapped for a jump ball and smashed up my finger, I had tried to take a charge and been knocked on my ass, and I'd been grabbed and held and knocked around so much under the basket that I was done. That is not to say that I quit, or gave up, or didn't get back on "D" or run the court right up to the end. (I even drained a 3 pointer to bring us within 4, and I still maintain that the scorekeeper messed up and gave them 2 extra points.) But I was done with the drama and the swearing (the other team) and the feigned surprise at being called for a foul (also the other team).
I do feel bad for some of the younger girls on our team, and I can sense the frustration over losing that seems to come more often than we would like. (Although we have been doing better since we added to "younger" girls who like to run the court.) But at the same time, I just don't have the same energy I had 15 or 20 years ago.
This last week, my girls got to watch me play hard, sink a few shots and do pretty well for an "old" lady. In the end we lost, but I can walk off the court knowing that I did my best and have nothing to be ashamed of and even this far removed from high school and college, I still played with class. If my little ones decide to follow in my footsteps in that regard, I guess I'm doing o.k.