Sunday, April 10, 2005

What ARE These Children Playing?

Watching little kids play sports is like watching a monkey play racquetball. There is always the possibility that the monkey might take a whack at the ball and hit it, but you're probably just as likely to see the monkey throw poop at you. Well, fortunately all of the 5-year-olds at our son's YMCA-sponsored basketball program are toilet trained, so we don't have to worry about bringing our very own Excrement Shields. We do have to be prepared to watch whatever is happening on the court, which doesn't often resemble basketball. Take, for example, one of basketball's most fundamental skills: Dribbling. Dribbling is essentially unique to basketball, distinguishing it from every other sport. The children at the YMCA's basketball clinic view dribbling as optional, nay, even "annoying." It takes longer to go down the court when you dribble! So they don't bother. The simply seize the ball from whomever has it (opponent, teammate, referee, baffled parent...it doesn't matter) and then they run full speed toward the basket, hugging it to themselves like football players on a quarterback sneak. One boy sprinted full speed at the basket (which was lower than regulation height for this half pint crowd) and then managed to shoot the ball with all the strength contained in his body. He was only a couple feet from the backboard when he fired his shot. Well it hit the backboard dead on, then shot straight back at him, striking him in the chest and knocking him over. If this were bowling I would've given him credit for picking up a spare. Another reason you cannot take your attention away from the game -- you may suddenly find yourself in the midst of the action. The parents ring courtside with folding chairs, some with strollers, camera bags, paraphernalia etc. But you see these budding basketball players are not a crowd that pays any attention to LINES ON THE FLOOR. So once they get running in a direction, there is very little to stop them from continuing that way until they careen right into the parental crowd, followed by all of the rest of the "defenders" trying to wrest the ball from the ball handler. (This includes the teammates, who apparently don't realize basketball is a team sport.) One rugby-type scrum broke out right around one of the strollers until a panicked parent excavated the ball from underneath her toddler's accessory basket and hurled it back to center court. One little girl was frustrated by the process. She didn't understand why everyone wanted the ball. It was big. Hard to shoot. Everyone was trying to grab it. What was the point? She, on the other hand, was far more interested in the buttons on the referee's shorts. They were some kind of decorative thing going up the side, and she was hanging onto them while he was trying to pry the other children apart long enough for the ball to move freely. So far our 5-year-old excels at several things: Dribbling! He attempts to do this, and actually makes it a good distance, say 10 feet or more, before the pack descends on him and steals the ball away. Also, Passing! He has apparently taken to heart what the coaches have told him, that it's okay, even desireable, to "pass" the ball to your teammate and let them score. So far he is the only one I have seen that passes the ball to anyone else of his own free will. And, Keeping Score! Our son counted each shot that was made by both teams, and shouted out the score to everyone with each new basket. He was keeping track better than the coaches. It was the only reason I was certain there was a game being played! Our son is a stickler for details, so this shouldn't have surprised me. At one point a center court scuffle looked more like a mosh pit than a basketball enterprise. Several players were yanking on the arm of the ball-carrying-person in an effort to wrest it away. Meanwhile the girl with the Button Fascination had gone over to one of the baskets and was hugging the pole that held it up. Then she transferred her affection to the referee's leg. He had to shake her off, and a parent intervened, telling her if she wasn't interested in the game, maybe they wouldn't be back next week. She did not look distressed. Finally the session was over. My son's team had lost by several baskets. But he had scored twice, somehow, so he was happy with the outcome. He explained it to me this way: "Our coaches taught all the teammates how to play basketball, but the teammates didn't like those rules."

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