No, this is not an episode of "Dragnet" (our apologies to the show's late creator, Jack Webb). It's not even a police drama. Rather, it involves a boy we'll call "Jeff," his dad, who we'll call "Joe," and another grownup who we'll call "Dan."
For this story, we find ourselves at a youth basketball game. During the course of the game, a flurry of action takes place underneath one of the baskets. There, a swarm of 7-year-old boys vies for control of a loose ball. Jeff looks to have the best chance to gain control. But as 7-year-olds are wont to do, he fails to make the play.
Now, any adult with one iota of common sense would realize that these players are beginners, a group of second graders getting their first taste of organized basketball. But Dan, the father of another kid on Jeff's team, lacks that iota. From the nearby sideline, he blurts in borderline anger, "C'mon, Jeff!"
Frustrated by Dan's admonition, Jeff grits his teeth, looks up at the ceiling and hops once or twice on the balls of his feet. Joe, seated behind the basket, quickly scolds his son for this nonverbal, though visible, show of chagrin. For another spectator seated nearby, the episode evokes nightmares of his worst youth sports moments of years earlier.
Now, we don't blame Joe for scolding his son, but Dan, who kicked off the entire episode, should consider zipping his mouth.
However, not all sports are created equal. More than any other sport, basketball seems to bring out this kind of behavior in adults.
Why this happens is hard to explain. Maybe it has something to do with being indoors in a space more crowded than at outdoor sports. Then again, volleyball is indoors but remains relatively free of the same baloney. So maybe it has to do with basketball being more familiar to more folks than volleyball. Well, we could speculate forever.
As we head into winter, another basketball season is upon us with all its points both good and bad. At its core, basketball is a great sport. And one does not have to be an NBA (corporate basketball) fan to appreciate it. On the plus side, basketball is a highly athletic endeavor and a great form of exercise. It's also a very technical game, and the skills of many of the players are a sight to behold. And it might arguably be the best spectator sport in California high schools with a state playoff system rivaling that of the NCAA's "Big Dance" in terms of excitement (at least for those of us here in the Golden State).
On the downside, basketball -- at all levels, unfortunately -- has more than its share of annoying externalities. Most especially grating are those "fans" who let on as some sort of John Wooden or Red Auerbach. And though most people who attend these games are pretty copacetic, there is, unfortunately, no shortage of these vocal pseudo-masterminds.
In the case of the youth basketball game described above, such programs exist for the kids, not for the gratification of the adult spectators. Ideally, these youth activities offer a young person a chance for fun while learning a game, in this case, basketball. Eventually, the light bulb will click on in the heads of Jeff and his fellow 7-year-olds as to what must be done to recover a loose ball. Jeff and company don't need admonition for second-grader mistakes made on the basketball court. Rather, positive reinforcement is needed as they look to gain court confidence and further their skills.
Naturally, we expect improvement as players get older and move up to higher levels. Keep in mind, though, that even at high school games that these are unpaid teenagers playing principally for the love of basketball.
Surely, there are a lot of times when those of us in our adult wisdom might fancy ourselves as some sort of John Wooden or Red Auerbach. Try as we might, we're not either one of these famous coaches.
Basketball, at its best, is a game of mistakes. A reduction of youthful errors, as in the case of "2+2=5," eventually will take place over time.
Yes, another basketball season is upon us. To those in the stands, enjoy the game, but remain patient. Mr. Wooden and the late Mr. Auerbach likely would advise the same.
Contact Mike McGreehan at firstname.lastname@example.org.