We closed out L’s first ever basketball season over the weekend, losing by 10 in our tournament semifinals. We were down by 20 at one point but somehow whittled that down to 8 with a couple minutes left. We ended up going 2–5 for the year, only beating the other St. P’s team both times we played them. Coincidentally perhaps, they were the only other team that had as many first graders as we did. So if nothing else the girls got bragging rights back in the school hallways!
Despite that record, the girls all really improved. In fact, we really should have beaten the team that ended up winning the tournament in our final regular season game. We could not buy a shot all day, but were down just 3 with the ball with about 3:00 to play. We got a foul and a girl who was 4–4 for the year from the line had a chance to cut it to one. She missed both. Over the next three minutes we missed five shots right at the rim, including three lay ups by my daughter. We ended up losing by 7. Sad to admit that it took me a couple hours to get over that one. Beyond hanging with a good team for 40 minutes, the other cool thing was that all six of our girls scored, which is a huge accomplishment. One of our players would spend large parts of the game doing everything she could to avoid having to touch the ball or guard anyone. Sometimes she would stand near half court and watch what was going on while her parents yelled at her to find who she was guarding.
Despite being younger, shorter, and less experienced that all but one team, our girls got a little better each week. In week one L. was clearly our best player and I wasn’t sure what the other girls could contribute. By the end of the year I had a girl who was fantastic on defense and another who had turned into our best scorer. Sadly, I could never figure out how to teach them to run any kind of offense. Our girls generally either dribbled until they could take a shot or lost the ball. Sometimes we passed, but rarely was it to a specific teammate who was open. More often it was just chucking the ball somewhere in a panic. Our best offensive play tended to be dribbling around the perimeter over-and-over, never looking at a teammate, then suddenly realizing the defender had gotten lost/disinterested and taking the clear lane to the hoop. Then we still often missed.
L. had a solid year. She was, generally, one of the best dribblers in the league. And if she had a path to the rim she took it quickly. But she also refused to use the backboard when she was close to it, which cost her a few buckets each week. She ended up averaging around 8 points per game, but never matched her week one total of 12. She did have one sweet move Saturday. She was on the left side of the lane, accidentally did a killer-crossover, lost her defender, took a stop to the right, and swished her only jumper of the season. I let out a “WHOOO!” and was sure Tim Hardaway would have approved.
As for the coach, it was an interesting experience. I had coached, or helped coach, soccer four times before. Then I always used the excuse of never having played soccer as a defense against any struggles I might have. But, as I learned watching M. play kickball and C. play softball, sometimes it’s harder to coach the game you know. There is plenty of nuance and complexity to soccer, but at its core, you’re trying to score in this goal and trying to defend that one. Once you get past U6 soccer, I think most kids understand that.
Basketball seemed a lot harder to teach. I, and the parents who helped me, had a hard time teaching the girls how to move the ball on offense. One night at practice I worked on blocking out on rebounds, as we consistently got killed on the offensive glass by the older, taller teams we played. The problem teaching both of those concepts is no one really looks at the ball. They’re all kind of running in circles, or staring at the person they’re guarding. They don’t know to run to space, get their body in front of the defender, and then be ready for a pass. The dribbler is just staring at the ball, trying to keep control of it, rather than keeping their head up and looking for an open teammate. And on defense they rarely had any idea of when a shot went up, so even if they understood the concept of boxing out, they didn’t know when to utilize it.
The bottom line, though, is that the girls had fun. Even when we were getting smoked by the two best teams, they would be all smiles after the game. Following Saturday’s game, L. proudly said, “That’s the most baskets I’ve scored this year!” I was so shocked that I couldn’t be a good parent and just let her believe it. “No it’s not!” I responded. “You scored more than that at least four times this year.”
To be young, oblivious, and just happy to be on the court!
- Same girl had TWO three-point plays on Saturday. She’s a second grader, but not any taller than L. She also has two older sisters. I joked with her mom after one game that you could tell she has big sisters, because she always faked a shot before she took it. She’d had her weak stuff thrown at home for years! ↩