My son made his first basket during a basketball game on Sunday. This was a momentous occasion. You see, my son is not one of those boys who lives for sports. We know a kid his age who wakes up at five in the morning on game days, puts his uniform on, and then stands at the edge of his parent’s bed begging his dad to go outside and practice with him before the game. This is not my son. At six years old, he would rather play alone in his room with Legos and superhero toys and Star Wars guys than do pretty much anything else. In fact, if I were to tell my son that he never had to leave the house again for the rest of his entire life, I am fairly certain that he would let out a joyous “YESSSSS!” accompanied by a fist pump. So team sports, as I’m sure you can imagine, are not exactly at the top of his priority list.
My son plays, mainly, because we make him. My husband is an athlete and a firm believer that team sports build character and teach important life lessons, and also that boys who have never played will never really fit in with other boys, or with the men they will all one day become. Also (though he will deny this), my husband is holding out hope that one day our son will miraculously wake up with an entirely new personality that includes a burning desire to do nothing but play with a ball – he doesn’t care which kind – in all of his waking moments. In anticipation of that day, he wants to make sure that the kid learns the fundamentals of every sport currently played in the United States of America, which means that he plays flag football, soccer, basketball and baseball. (And just yesterday, my husband came home from Sport Chalet – his all time favorite store – with lacrosse sticks).
I have to say that, given his lack of enthusiasm, the kid is a pretty good sport. With the exception of flag football, which he utterly despised (and will never play again), he really doesn’t complain too much. We try to make it fun by arranging, when we can, to get him on teams with his friends, and for my husband to coach as much as possible. He appreciates this, and while he generally seems to enjoy himself, he never really exerts himself very much, and I’m pretty sure that if I told him he had to quit sports forever, he’d be just fine with it. While he completely understands the rules and procedures of every sport he plays, he has a habit of kind of hopping around the perimeter of play, staying just close enough to the action to look like he knows what he’s doing, but never quite close enough to actually be in on it. But he does seem to be improving with each season. Last year when he played basketball, he kept one hand up the whole game (because his coaches told him to keep his hands up when he didn’t have the ball, which was always) and the other hand in his mouth. Ninety percent of the time he was looking at the ceiling, or pretending to be shooting invisible bad guys on the sidelines. This year, however, he’s ditched the finger sucking, and he generally seems to be paying attention to what’s going on in the game, even if he never actually gets the ball. But hey, it’s progress.
The thing is, he’s not an unathletic guy. He’s tall, he’s fast, and he’s coordinated. He just doesn’t give a crap. Which brings me to my husband’s favorite line, which is that you can’t teach heart. But still, heart or not, we both think that if he just had a taste of success once in a while, he might, possibly, become more invested in playing. If he just knew how it felt to make a basket, to hit a home run, to score a goal, to have a whole crowd of people cheering for him, it might build his confidence a little bit, and make him want to try a little bit harder. If he doesn’t, that’s cool. He is who he is, and my husband and I both accept that (harder for my husband, but still). We just would hate for him to not want to play because he thinks he’ll never be any good.
At Sunday’s game, even though they don’t keep score at this age, it was apparent to everyone that our team was crushing the other team. In the last two minutes, the coach, God bless him, took out all of the aggressive, super-athletic kids and put in all of the kids who haven’t scored yet, or even – like my son – taken a shot this season. Without those other kids to do all of the work for him, my son was forced to actually take the ball and go with it. He took three or four shots, and the last one teetered on the edge of the rim for a second, then fell through the hoop. I swear to God, it was the most exciting basketball moment of my life. I felt like I was in Hoosiers. My son got a humongous smile on his face, and immediately looked at me to make sure I saw it. When the game ended and he came off the court, he ran over to me yelling, I scored! I scored!
I guess we’ll see what happens next week. He may just run up and down the court with his hands up, as usual, but that’s all right. Because now, he knows that he can do it if he puts in the effort, and that’s pretty much all we’re trying to achieve.