Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Ah, the memories of youth basketball!

Joanne and I went to the Provo Recreation Center on a Saturday morning, which we don’t normally do, but we had missed Thursday and Friday, and we felt obligated to go. We are glad we did!

As we drove into the parking lot, we were surprised by the number of cars, particularly vans and SUVs. We looked at each other and said, “Probably youth basketball and swimming.” We were right. Four youth teams—two female and two male—were playing. They were probably third or fourth graders, dressed in either white or black jerseys.

We decided to use the equipment on the gym side so we could watch them play. As I pedaled the stationary bike, a flood of memories of our own daughters playing basketball at that age with me being the coach rolled through my mind. I probably yelled way too much when coaching. It was both a frustrating, fun, and exhilarating time!

In front of me was the girls’ game, and on the other court was the boys’ game. Watching them made me laugh and cry simultaneously. The laughing was mainly watching them trying their very best with the knowledge they had about the game. The crying emerged because of the memories of us watching our daughters play and grow and develop as individuals and being part of teams.

Watching youth basketball is about herding and bunching and helping them understand that team is more than one, and you can actually pass the ball to someone on your own team. Sometimes, you can even teach them a play or two or how to dribble with one hand, pivot, or how to play defense and rebound by actually jumping up to grab the ball. Yet, in the heat of the moment—and there are lots of those—they forget all about what you ostensibly taught them in practice.

Watching them play around the key is one of the most frustrating and funny parts of youth basketball. One of them dribbles down, stops, starts dribbling again, (and no traveling called by the referee who knows if they call it, the game would be stopping about every ten seconds), closer and closer to the basket as her opponent moves with her backward. Then, the girl turns and shoots while the others look on, not remembering or knowing what they are supposed to do at the exact moment.

More times than not, the ball either misses completely or bangs off the rim into a cluster of outstretched hands. For some odd reason that I have never figured out, they don’t jump. They stand flat-footed, arms outstretched, and fingers wiggling just so, hoping the ball touches their hands so they can grab it and pull it down through the crowd.

At this point in their progress, they haven’t learned to pass well or even at all. It is dribbling, dribbling, one side to the other, back and forth, until they are close to the basket, usually dribbling and backing up simultaneously. The person then turns to shoot. If they cannot shoot, they look at their teammate about 2.5 feet away and shove the ball toward them. That person takes the ball and dribbles some, and then shoots if she can. If it doesn’t go in, then the hands and fingers of at least seven girls reach up, all trying to capture the ball until someone magically grabs it.

Amazingly, someone always grabs it, and soon, they are all tromping, pell-mell, down the court. If one of the girls dribbles too fast, her feet get in the way of the basketball, and the ball bounces out of bounds. The one whose feet got in the way usually drops her head, shakes it a little until someone gives her a high five, and they all rush to the other end to repeat.

No matter who is winning, everyone cheers them on. Lots of “good jobs,” “great defense,” “get down the court,” “just shoot the ball,” “jump for the rebound,” or “keep shooting” emanate from the full bleachers. Grandparents, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, even future scouts all cheer them on, trying to make sure no one feels bad about a missed pass, several shots at the hoop, oscillating defense and offense, especially the bunching and milling as they gravitate down the court and around the key.

A couple of times, maybe around my mile and two-mile mark on my bike, tears haphazardly crept down my cheeks as I remembered our own girls playing, the milling around and bunching up, the no pass playing, just dribbling and the shooting and the missing and the dejection, the standing flat-footed while trying to rebound, and finally the one ball through the hoop as slick as it can be, the cheering, the running back down the court, the high fives, and the smiles as if nothing else matter in the world than that moment.

Ah, the memories of youth basketball! When you think of them, the fun, the frustrating moments, and the exhilarating times will emerge, and the emotions will ebb and flow just like young girls and boys running and up and down the court, sometimes not knowing exactly what to do but not caring because they are experiencing a moment in their own zone.