I sat a mesh ball bag down on the gym floor and watched the chaos ensue as 7th and 8th grade boys scrambled to get their favorite ball. “I want the Wave.” “I want the Evolution.” Everybody has a favorite basketball.
I flashed back to my favorite ball from childhood. No it wasn’t any kind of premium indoor/outdoor ball like these kids were fighting over. It was an old rubber Spalding, ball with all the tread worn off. I thought it was the greatest ball in the world because it was the one ball that would “put the net up” if you shot a perfect swish from the baseline.
Thoughts of childhood immediately brought me to thoughts of gratitude. I hoped these kids in the gym with me were thankful for their opportunity for “gym time” and for the fact that they had a bag full of mostly new indoor basketballs that still had their grip. A friend that I used to coach middle school basketball with reminded the players often, “Be thankful for your gym time. Thank the people that make it possible. Thank the people that get you here every day.”
Gym time had a different meaning when I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s. Organized basketball didn’t exist for the most part. 7th and 8th graders could play a whopping 10-12 game schedule for their school team. 6th graders gathered at an elementary school gym on Saturday mornings for some basic instruction and some 5 on 5.
The neighborhood pickup games were a huge deal back then. Call your friends or walk through the neighborhood knocking on doors to gather up a gang. Pick your own teams and call your own fouls. Settle your own conflicts. Deal with playing on teams that were stacked terribly against you. Call out the kids that shot too much and passed too little. And yes, sometimes kids really did get mad and “take their ball and go home”.
There were no parents telling us we needed to work on our jump shot or ball handling, or parents out on the court rebounding our shots for us and correcting our form. We just had a strong desire to play because we loved the game. Loved the game enough to shovel the snow off our court on winter days just to get some shots up or get a game going.
Yes, we always had a hoop up at our house when I was a kid. And I can remember each and every one, even remember the day that my dad put them up. A homemade backboard with a hoop bolted to it on a small patio behind our carport. A larger court built against a creek that became a neighborhood gathering spot. And at a second house later on, a goal mounted to a utility pole in a gravel driveway, a goal mounted to a tree in the backyard, and eventually another concrete court that my brother and I used in our high school years. I can clearly remember watching my dad with excitement and anticipation, ready to start firing up shots……but also watching fearfully as my dad used seemingly unsafe methods to get each of those backboards hung. I honestly feared that my dad was going to get seriously hurt just so we could play ball.
I couldn’t begin to list the number of reasons that I’m forever thankful for my parents. But today, I’m just extremely thankful that my dad made sure that, wherever we were, my brother and I always had a basketball goal up to shoot on.
I’m wrapping up the second year of a small basketball league that loosely resembles the backyard pickup games of old. Two days a week of 90 minutes of scrimmaging and “official” games on Saturdays, 4v4 with no coaches. Some of the kids just truly love the game of basketball. Some of the kids just really need the physical activity and to experience the benefits of competition. And it’s my crazy opinion that reaching a certain level of competence in basketball does something for young people’s overall confidence….the way they carry themselves.
I feel privileged to take part in that confidence building. It’s a labor of love for sure. I recently told another league organizer, “I don’t care if a single person thanks me for running this league, but I will listen to exactly zero complaints.”
And that’s just partially true. I don’t need to be thanked. But kids do need to be thankful. They need to recognize all the times when parents and others do things for them that they don’t really have to do.
Our players got to play a scrimmage game against a local Christian school team last night. Their coach makes it a point to tell all the players from both teams to go around the stands and thank the people that brought them to play. And I think that’s a wonderful thing. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally (especially for teen boys).
In the absence of gratitude, entitlement takes over.
No, I don’t need to be thanked for the things that I do for my kids. But my kids darn sure better be thankful for what they have and what’s been done for them. And I have to recognize it and make swift correction when attitudes of entitlement start to appear.
Growing up, I’m sure I wasn’t as grateful as I should have been for all the basketball goals my dad hung. But now that I’m older and wiser, I’m extremely thankful. I still love the game of basketball. And I love kids…….even middle school kids. And I know that the act of my dad putting up those crude goals long ago is something that’s being paid forward still today.
I’m grateful. For my dad. For the game of basketball. And for kids. And if I’ve got your kids in the gym with me, I promise to rip their tail ten times worse for being ungrateful than I would for any basketball mistake they might make.