A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again*
Just got back from substitute coaching My Beloved Offspring's 1st grade basketball team.
I can feel the sympathy oozing from you already, dear friends. Yes, I have passed through the fire, and I am now tempered steel, baby!
Let me try to sum up the indescribable. When you were a kid, did you ever break a thermometer and watch the little balls of mercury scatter all over the floor, evading all attempts to impose any sort of collection?
That's how 6- and 7-year-olds play basketball. They're allowed to travel, they can't steal, they really don't keep score, and they're much more likely to stare off into space and get whacked in the head with the ball than to actually be able to control a pass.
Now, I know very little about basketball. When I was at college, we often had a pretty good little team under Nolan Richardson, who was certainly a colorful coach. Sometimes we were even nationally ranked, and I was in the Pep Band, but I'll admit I often brought a book along since I was an English major and I had to read about 30 books each semester. My mother was a pretty good basketball player in her day, but softball was my thing. I have not watched pro ball since Latrell Sprewell was allowed to choke PJ Carlessimo. However, I do know about rebounds, passing, man-to-man and anything else one would need to hopefully deal with little kids. It's not like we were going to be running post patterns, or anything. My goal was to have no one cry or get hurt, and to get every kid to take at least one shot at the basket.
We had just five kids show up, so no substitutions. There was the one kid who would NEVER pass, and would run all over the court with the ball clutched to his chest the way a Marine hangs on to his M-16-- unless he had a chance to bowl over a hapless opponent and crush him or her like a protester before a tank at Tienanmen Square. When I asked him very nicely to pass to someone, he stalked off the court with his hand over his mouth and pulled his jersey over his head while his father glared at me.
The rest of the kids just swirled around the court like leaves in a whirlwind, clumped up around the ball as if it were a magnet. But they were having a good time, for the most part. They eventually started trying to get the rebounds and get open for passes by the second half of the game. In the end, I think I was sweating more than anyone else, and the other parents weren't muttering behind my back or setting up boiling vats of tar to dunk over my head, so I guess it was a success. Every kid did take at least one shot, and we did manage to sink a few.
But now, I want a nap. And I'll be buying the regular coach a big gift card at the end of the season.
*Title of a book of essays by David Foster Wallace