This winter I was reminded that the smallest improvements can often bring the greatest joy.
I coached my son Dexter’s third-grade basketball team. Ten boys filled out the roster: Dex, Patrick, Owen, Teddy, Zach, Collin, Ryan, Grady, Leo and Daniel.
Prior to the first practice I researched drills online, attended a coach’s clinic and asked the local high school varsity boys coach for some tips.
“Wine,” he offered. “That and have fun.”
During that first practice I realized a few things. I had done far too much research in my quest to make my team successful. In my mind I had my players setting screens and providing help defense. But as I watched the basketballs ricochet off the backboard with each shot and the passes fly over the player’s heads ... it became clear that my only job would be to teach the boys the fundamentals.
Learning the basics can be as boring as watching paint dry. So I had to come up with a way to make it fun.
Trying to rally a bunch of 8- and 9-year-old boys, who would rather wrestle or attempt to nail a Hail Mary shot from half court was, at times, interesting. I learned never to use the word “butt” when demonstrating how to box out to a bunch of third-grade boys. They will undoubtedly laugh at you and completely miss the lesson.
But coach Mike and I kept at it, trying different drills during practice and coaching the kids during the games.
As the weeks went by, each player improved according to his skill set. Patrick and Grady started to connect on the long pass that resulted in a made lay-up. Collin learned to dribble confidently with his head up. Leo became a dribbling machine, Zach perfected his jump shot, Ryan started to grab rebounds, Daniel figured out that dribbling to the corner resulted in a trap, Teddy was quick to throw up an offensive rebound, Dex began using a crossover dribble and Owen correctly set more than one screen.
I often found myself on the court throwing my hands up and cheering when one of my kids accomplished something they hadn’t before. Whether it was a made shot, a stolen pass, a completed bounce pass, a block, or making a v-cut. Each time they hit a new goal, it felt like they won a championship to me.
It was athletics at its purest. No score was kept. Steals were not allowed on the dribble. The players learned a new sport and made new friends. The pressures of competing in athletics weren’t there yet. It was just kids being kids.
Some of my boys will continue on and play again next year. Some may not. But I hope they look back on this season, remember how much fun it was, and walk away with a little more confidence than they did before.
Page 2 of 2 - Because each player improved, in his own way, at his own pace. Each walked away able to do something he hadn’t before.
Thank you Lakers, and coach Mike, for reminding me it’s sometimes the little victories that lead to bigger things. Maybe they won’t happen on the basketball court, but if you try, you can always move forward, even if the steps are small.
Heather Gillis Harris is a reporter for the Country (Mass.) Gazette. A three-sport high school athlete and two-sport college athlete, sports have long been a passion of hers. The mother of two can be seen keeping it real in Mansfield, where she resides. Heather Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.