I wrote this a few months ago and for some reason never posted it. The season I was writing about ended with us losing our first (or maybe second) playoff game. The next season started after the first of the year and we are back in the thick of things, still shooting and still fighting with less-than-helpful backboards.
Two days ago I played in my Sunday league basketball game. By some bit of chance (and a little bit of skill), we made it to the playoffs. The team we were facing was familiar to us, we had played them several times before. Depending on the make-up of our team on any given Sunday, we are sometimes tough and scrappy competitors who keep the score close (or win), and other times we are a hodge podge, barely 5 (and many times just 4 of us) who try to at least keep the score respectable. On this particular day, we were 5 and we played scrappy.
For those of you who might have seen me play once upon a time, you might recall that although I'm tall, I'm considered "slight" by some. I have even been known to spend time as a shooting forward, rather than a true "center." My college coach was convinced that I needed to "put some meat on those bones" and would send me to the weight room after practice to "bulk up."
These days, I'm the tallest on my team and sometimes the tallest on the court. Depending on who we are playing, I can post up and get a few good moves to the basket. Not so much for this game. One of the opposing players is tall - taller than I am, and has a longer reach. Not many people can make me feel short, but she does. I'd guess that she's 6'4" or maybe even 6'5" (or maybe that's just my imagination.) There were a few times when I got position, boxed out and jumped. Only to come up empty handed. It's like they always say, "you can't teach height."
Despite having an opposing player who was taller, I did manage to get the ball inside a few times (either on passes from my teammates or offensive rebounds.) But my shots were just not falling. The rims at the Burbank gym where we play are horrible. There is no finesse to most shots, and sometimes I can only stare open-mouthed at some of the "junk" that falls. It really is a crap shoot. But I had to laugh (to myself) because several times, my teammates thought to offer me advice. One of my favorites, "just gather yourself and go up strong." Oh, if I only had a nickel for every time I've heard that one in my life.
There were several others, having to do with my height, or the ability to draw the fouls if I drove to the hoop, and I just smiled and nodded. I could blame it on the hoop or the other team, but sometimes the shots just didn't fall (and sometimes they were just bad shots - off balance or just tossed up poorly.) Despite my best efforts, my shots weren't falling. Much to my frustration, I was using the backboard, as I was taught. Grrrrrr.
I smiled a bit too though, because I remember hearing some of those very words from my high school coach and the assistants and sometimes even the older players. Words that were drilled into my head starting in the 8th grade come floating back when I play these days. And perhaps some of these words are more than just snippets for the court - perhaps some of them are life lessons?
My 7th grade hoops career was less than a blip on the radar screen. I made the team (if you consider "making" the team being kept with 29 other girls) and managed to get on the Court for about 20 seconds at the end of a game, where I racked up 1 stat - a turnover. I battled back in the 8th grade and made the team (of 8 or 9 girls), legitimately. I'm not sure if it helped that I was "Trixie's little sister" (she was well on her way to becoming one of the few freshmen who played varsity), but I made the team. (I worked my butt off, too.)
During one of our practices, our Coach, Mr. Root, said something that has stuck with me to this day. "one dribble nowhere." The next time you watch a game (high school, college, pros - any level), look for the "one dribble nowhere." It's the player that gets a pass and immediately puts the ball on the floor, bouncing it once and picking it up. They have now isolated themselves, taking away the ability to move on a dribble or effect any change in the play. Their only option now is to shoot (if available), or pass. But if they are out of their range, and have no one to pass to, they are stuck. He coached us to avoid taking that "one dribble nowhere" and went so far as to suggest that we don't put the ball on the ground unless we know where we are going and are prepared to get there.
Once again, a basketball lesson that can be used in "real life." How often to we take one bounce and pick up our dribble? At work, with our kids - in our planning. Do you take a step in one direction, but then stop?
That favorite of my teammates recently, "go up strong" can also be used in real life. How many times do we approach a situation and rush headlong into it, arms flailing about and hoping for the best? Would we be better off if we paused for a moment, gathered all our strength and then made the shot? Would it help? Could it hurt?
Studies have been done to tell us that people who were athletes in high school or college tend to perform better in high stress situations and tend to excel at some positions where non-athletes might struggle. (Yes, someone, somewhere paid someone else money to figure that out.) The part of those years that I find most helpful sometimes is that voice in my head, screaming the mantra of those long-ago days. Usually, it is my high school hoops coach, who very rarely raised his voice, (if he got a technical from the bench, you knew something was going horribly wrong), his words still ringing in my ears some 22 years later. The "Glory Days" are long gone, but the lessons learned on the hardwood can still apply today. And I will still try to use the backboard, even if it has an odd bounce.