L. kicked off her basketball career a week ago. I wrote a lengthy accounting of her epic debut last Monday but didn’t get around to posting it before I had to leave town. Just because I didn’t share it with the world does not mean I’m not still on the hook for the resulting jinx.

She is playing at the high school where she and her sisters are 90% likely to go to school. The head girls coach there put together a pre-CYO league for 1st–3rd graders for this season. Since the league is new, they’ve kind of scrambled to put together teams. But the St. P’s families turned out in force: we have enough girls for two teams in the 2nd grade league (which 1st graders are rolled into). I watched the first practice as a spectator, but got roped into coaching L’s team once it became apparent we had enough girls to split them up.

So week one rolled around, the girls had once practice under their belts, and I was working with them for the first time. We were playing the other St. P’s team, which made matching up on defense pretty easy since they all knew each other. “Jane, go guard Erin!” We also had the bonus of three second graders while the other team had none.

And we had L.

Girl tore things up. She grabbed rebounds. She dribbled through traffic. She hit shots. She ended up with 12 points and 3 assists and we won 28–15. At one point she hit a runner in traffic and I heard a parent in the crowd say, “Who is that?” Proudest moment of my parenting life!

Then came week two. We played a team full of second graders. And they all seemed to have a clue about basketball. They stole the ball, they passed to the open shooter, they smothered us on defense. We hung close for most of the first half – I think we were down 10–9 pretty late in the half – but ended up getting smoked pretty good, something like 30–13. It could have been worse: the other St. P’s team was getting beaten so badly they decided to reset the score at halftime.

L. did ok. She does a decent job dribbling but since we have no offense, if she can’t get to the hoop or find an open teammate, she’ll just stand there and dribble. Or worse, dribble into a triple team and then stop. Her teammates didn’t help her out much. Despite me telling them to spread out and move around, all four girls would line up at the free throw line then move toward L. when she crossed half court. So all five defenders would swarm her.

In our girls, and my, defense, I missed practice last week so we couldn’t work on what to do on offense when you don’t have the ball. And our defensive awareness needs some work. One girl just ran in circles, never sure of where she was supposed to be. Another girl does an awesome job of face-guarding her girl. Problem is she never rotates behind her player, and if she receives a pass, always has a clear path to the hoop. And there were lots of moments where our girls forgot who they were supposed to be guarding and we gave up open layups while three girls were guarding someone out on the perimeter.

I keep telling myself it’s a learning experience for them. Most of the girls are playing for the first time. The girls who have played before all played on smaller courts. And basketball is pretty complex compared to soccer, the only other sport I’ve coached. It’s hard to articulate to a 7- or 8-year-old how she needs to look for an open teammate, pass the ball, then cut away while you’re on the court with them. I noticed when giving them instructions, some of the girls tend to stop and stare at me and give me their full attention. Meanwhile the defense is stealing the ball.

L. is clearly the best player on the team, but that’s a double-edged sword. She gets herself into trouble by dribbling too much. She could have scored 20 in their first game but kept flinging the ball at the rim from 10 feet on breakaways instead of taking the easy layup. Which, of course, we’ve never practiced so not really her fault.

We play with high school refs. They do a really good job teaching as much as officiating. They don’t call traveling. That’s good as only about a third of the girls remember to dribble. And those who do, like L., are constantly stopping their dribble then re-starting. Rather, the refs will cheerfully say “Keep your dribble!” They make sure teams get back after defensive rebounds. They try to stop double-teams. And they tell the girls “Good shot!” or “Good pass!” when they do something right. It’s all pretty laid back and focused on teaching and learning. But when your team is getting run off the court, it kind of sucks.

I’m hoping the schedule has at least one more team that is heavy with first graders. Otherwise it’s going to be a long season.