When my son said he wanted to play basketball I was all for it. Try everything, you never know where or when you’ll discover your passion. It took a bit of searching to find a program, but I figured any one would do because he’s never played. If he liked it, I’d worry about finding a “good” program next year. About the only thought I put into it making sure it fit the family schedule which is how I found myself in the stands at the local Y for his first session.
In the lead up, he was “practicing” his dribbling and shooting. I went to play with him a few times and showed him some basics – aim for the corner of the square, jump off your left foot on layups on the right side and vice versa (yes, I made him try his left hand on left-side layups), jump straight up not forward when you are shooting and the like. The sessions were playful, though on a few occasions he may have felt put upon so to speak.
So be it. A guy who works for me just kept on playing when his basketball and baseball careers ended after college. He’s in two basketball leagues and plays on two fast-pitch softball teams. Last week, his Wednesday night basketball team added a just retired (technically still a free agent) major league pitcher. The ex-pro shows up to his first game, sees a kid shooting a basketball haphazardly and asks the kid what he is doing. The kid says he’s shooting around to which the ex-pro replies, “Like that. What’s the point? You’re here. Put in the time and do it properly. Go over there and take 175 shots the right way.” The kid doesn’t even play for the team. He was just a kid shooting a ball at a hoop.
There’s a reason the ex-pro pitched a little over 13 years in the majors and won a World Series ring in the process. As Cal Ripken says, “It’s not practice makes perfect. It’s perfect practice makes perfect.” Which is why I was more than a little perplexed when the first thing they are teaching my son is to turn sideways with a back step and bring the ball up to his ear when he receives a pass. Sorry guys, but what about catch the ball and get into “triple threat position” (i.e., two hands on the ball near your hip from which you can pass, dribble or shoot?) The move they are teaching is only useful when the defender is in your shorts. Even if you still have your dibble, you’ve eliminated it as an option, along with shooting and passing to one side of the court. Truthfully, triple threat might not be right depending on your position and the offensive system you are running. But these kids don’t have positions and are light years from an offensive scheme so shouldn’t we be teaching them the fundamentals and a more utilitarian skill from the get go? I was exasperated as I watched.
Of course, I had no idea what to do with it. I’ve never been on this side of the sidelines in a sport where I wasn’t learning as much from watching practice as my kids were from actually practicing. I had an almost overwhelming urge to yell out to my son to get into triple threat position, but for his sake, there was no way I was doing that. Ego-maniac though I am, I also wasn’t going to say anything to the coaches. Desperate for an outlet, I saw a parent of one of my baseball players and asked him, “What do you guys do when you think I’ve taught your kid something stupid?” He just chuckled. So I sat there and laughed at myself for becoming the parent every coach dreads (seriously, is there anything worse than the parent who has “played before?”) Still I was mostly thinking “this is a waste of money” as I was kicking myself over having set aside the only rule in finding for a youth sports program that matters. I’d chosen convenience and decided “as long as he has fun” should rule the day over finding a good coach who knows how to teach the sport and let the kids have fun.
When we got home, I asked my son how he liked basketball and if he wanted me to show him how to do the move they were teaching him. He was hyped up from playing so I did. Then I told him, I don’t agree with it, but it’s what the coaches are teaching you so you do it. Of course, I had him immediately do another five reps getting into triple threat position.