Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fouls and Profanity or Basketball Season Wrap-Up

When I'm feeling a little angst-y, I think of the lyrics of the Talking Head's song "Once in a Lifetime," and specifically the line that David Byrne sing/chants, "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" How did I get to this place where my life revolves around sports seasons for a 10 year-old, an 8 year-old, and a 5 year-old? I never played sports, but I have three sports-obsessed children. Well, two who love sports and one who doesn't necessarily love sports, but who aspires to be a professional cheerleader. I've doomed her to this destiny because she's basically been an amateur cheerleader for her older brother and sister since she was born. The first full sentence she spoke was "are we late for [sister's] soccer game?" Now I've created a record for her so that she can bring my archived blog posts to her future therapy sessions. 

We've just finished up basketball season and, as always, everyone learned something. The Girl added a new cuss/curse word to her growing repertoire, the Boy learned that when you make big plays you make yourself a target, the Baby figured out how to stack the deck in Spot It!, and I learned that seven and eight-year-old basketball players foul out on the fifth foul, just like in the NBA. 
The Girl played on an all-girls team for nine and ten-year-olds. There is this sort of post-Title IX, girl-power kind of aura around the games which is nice because regardless of the score, you still feel like everyone wins. The girls get to learn about teamwork, game strategy, and see that their games can fill the Rec Center bleachers, just like their brothers' games. The general message is that girls can play a mean game of basketball, just like the boys. So, when a player on an opposing team muttered, "out of my way, bitch," to one of the Girl's teammates, I kind of shrugged it off. Isn't trash talking an intrinsic part of basketball? Trash-talker wasn't physically hurting anyone, and all it probably did was serve to get the Girl's teammate more fired up (trust me, the player on the receiving end of the trash-talking didn't need to get more fired up. Sister did push-ups and sit-ups on the side of the court when she wasn't in the rotation). Also, if we're encouraging girls to play tough, shouldn't we expect this kind of behavior? Also, I still have that profanity-immunity that you acquire growing up in New Jersey. The Girl's coach didn't feel the same way and was very upset about the incident. While I appreciate her perspective, as it certainly wasn't an example of good sportsmanship, I didn't find it to be that big a deal. What do you all think? Trash talking at age 10: alarming or meh?

The Boy's season came to a disappointing end on Saturday. After going undefeated in the regular season and getting a bye and a win in the Super Hooper tournament, his team lost a very physical game in the final four. This game left me with less of a warm, fuzzy feeling. I really don't want this to come across as a rant or sour grapes because his team lost. I just have some qualms about the way the coaches from the opposing team paved their path to victory. The coaches of the opposing team had scouted our team and clearly had some strategy worked out when it came to particular players. There was one boy on our team who wasn't as experienced and had a hard time holding on to the ball. The players on the opposing team clearly had his number and stripped the ball from him numerous times. Not to be all braggy, but the Boy is fairly tall and was one of the higher scorers on his team. The strategy with regard to him seemed to be to cover him up entirely and if he still tried to shoot, to foul him. Hard. 

Strangely, even though youth basketball games are about 24 minutes, while high school and college games are about 48 minutes, players at all three levels foul out on their fifth foul. This means two things: First, it is really hard to foul out of a little kid's basketball game, and second, teams can get a strategic advantage by aggressively fouling players on the opposing team. The team that beat the Boy's team worked the fouling rules to their advantage, as they had every right to do. But, it reminded me of the baseball team that the Boy's team played over the summer. Once they realized that the pitcher was the weakest player on the Boy's team, every single player bunted. All of them. The bunting team won, but it was brutal to watch. 

I guess I'm just naive, but I like to see games that showcase each team's athletic ability rather than games that showcase who is able to exploit the rules better. I also think there was a point at which the fouling strategy should have been called off. With less than a minute left, and the Boy's team down by six (an insurmountable lead in a game at this level), the Boy tried to take a shot and got badly fouled. Sure, he got two free throws (and made both of them), but that was after having to be consoled by the ref for a couple of minutes because his arm hurt so much. After the game a bunch of the players on the Boy's team were crying, but most of them were crying because they were disappointed to lose. The Boy was crying because he was disappointed to lose and because he didn't understand why the other team was trying to hurt him. Sorry if this makes me one of those moms, but I think that fouling at that point was totally out of line. Further, I think that fouls which leave an 8-year-old with bruises down his forearm are beyond the pale. But, I'm willing to entertain thoughts on this, too. What do you all think? Coaches should feel free to employ any strategy to win or teaching sportsmanship should take precedent over winning at this level?

I worry that I'm splitting hairs here or being inconsistent in my blasé attitude towards cursing on the court, while getting riled up about game strategy. I've got a lot of basketball, soccer, and baseball games under my belt, but I have waaaaay more of them in my future. To make matters worse, if the Boy has it his way, he'll be playing football this fall. Oy Vey! Do I just need to get a prescription for Valium now? Maybe this classic ode to basketball will make everything okay.

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