The little point guard carefully dribbled the basketball up the court recently, trying not to lose it.
This was already a challenge enough for the 6-year-old girl. Then the yelling started from a parent sitting in the bleachers.
“Go to the hoop! Go score!” yelled one mom.
Meanwhile, her coaches urged her to pass it to a teammate who was wide open about 3 feet from the basket. The rules for the league said you had to pass it at least once before you tried to shoot. At this level, no one even keeps score.
But mom said to shoot it. Who should this child listen to?
I’ve been helping coach a pair of youth girls basketball teams this year, one full of kindergarteners and first-graders and the other loaded with second- and third-graders. With both teams, the goal is learning the fundamentals.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the kids and watching their skills improve through the season. Then the games started.
The first two games were fun. The girls did a decent job of trying to dribble the ball up the court and pass it around for an open person to shoot a basket. Their skills are raw, and it can be painful to watch a 4-foot player try to make a 4-foot shot, but it was rewarding to see them listen to our coaching.
I noticed a dramatic change in about the third game. All of a sudden, sweet girls began turning into ball hogs. Some girls would follow around the ball-handler as if they were on defense, trying desperately to get the ball from a teammate.
When they did, a shot was coming. Sometimes they’d try to dribble (or just run) the ball close to the hoop. Sometimes they’d launch an improbable shot that some NBA stars couldn’t make either.
It took a few shots to realize that well-meaning, supportive parents might be stunting their children’s growth in the sport. Then I started hearing the parents in the bleachers yelling at individual girls to shoot the ball or dribble it in. Meanwhile, their coaches are yelling for them to share the ball and remember the fundamentals they learned.
These children spend their first four or five years believing their parents are the ultimate authority on everything. Then the children meet their teachers, who are also authority figures. Before long, coaches are introduced, men and women who at this level are the parents of their teammates.
It’s hard to convince a 5-year-old that Dad might be wrong when he tells her to shoot the ball as soon as she touches it.
I’m thrilled the parents are at these games. Every child deserves a supportive parent, cheering them on in whatever they do. Being loud or being demanding isn’t necessarily being supportive, though.
Helping a child learn her role in the game is a bigger goal than just scoring points in a league that doesn’t even keep score. I just hope more parents can see there’s more to winning that just scoring the most points.