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For every reason to play sports, you get twice the benefit from the effort. Non-sports people never quite understand how this works.

Each contest has the drama between the players. The winners cheer, losers complain, and they all tell their friends why they won or lost. Finally, someone assigns greater meaning to the event, deserving or not.

This is about one of those moments.

The beauty of youth sports is the level playing field. Your kid gets the same chance as everyone else. For instance, the rules for sixth grade recreational league basketball state that everyone gets to play at least a half.

If your kid’s league is short of coaches, and you’ve coached in the past, you either volunteer or get volunteered by team moms. Maybe you were secretly hoping to coach basketball so you could sit on the bench with the team and chew a towel like Jerry Tarkanian, or squeeze a rolled up program like John Wooden. Either way, you accept or else live with the shame reserved for parents who don’t participate.

At the first parent meeting you explain your coaching style. “I want this season to be a springboard for the next season. We’ll win some games we should lose, and lose some we should win, but I want them to be ready for their next team. This won’t be a spirit killing season.”

You’ve said the same thing to every team you’ve coached. Even your kid has it memorized. Your real message is, “If things go badly, don’t blame the baby boomer.”

At the first team practice you get half the court. Another team’s on the other end. You run lay-up drills, install a half-court offense, and show players how to play zone defense. During the last five minutes of practice you scrimmage full court with the other team. It’s pretty even.

The other coach has been to all the league meetings and knows who’s good and who’s not.

“There’s a new coach, newer than you. And she doesn’t have a kid on the team. She’s doing it for the love of the game. One of those. The word is she’s a former McDonald’s all-American. She’s going to kill us.”

It got even worse. She also had a couple of elite players from the Classic League. One of them is your kid’s best friend. That’s the league high school players joined as sixth graders.

After a couple of up and down games, the all-American’s team comes up on the schedule. She’s undefeated and likes it. All you ask of your players is to make it a game.

“You have friends on the other team. You won’t hurt their feelings if you win. They’ll like you even more if you play the hardest you’ve ever played. That’s what they’re going to do. Run us off the court. That’s their style. They’ve got a great coach who knows this game better than anyone, but she’s not playing. You and your friends are playing.

“Show a McDonald’s all-American how much you know about basketball. Show your parents, your brothers, your sisters. Show your sweethearts. Girls like guys who try hard instead of stand around waiting for something to happen. Go out there and play like we’ve practiced. Play like the best parts of our other games. Help each other.


Your team keeps it close, so close the other coach resorts to questioning the refs, asking them to reset the game clock. It feels like America vs Russia from the ’72 Olympics. She needs to win more than you. She has to win. She’s driven to do what losers won’t do. But it’s still sixth grade rec-league ball and everybody gets to play at least one half.

You’ve saved the fourth quarter for your best players. The team loves it and they all cheer like crazy. You win a close one, do the sportsmanship high fives with, “good game, good game, good game, good game,” until you get to the coach and say, “let’s look at the practice gym schedule and get our teams together for a scrimmage. You’ve got a great team.”

There’s nothing like complimenting a losing coach.

On the way home your kid sits in the passenger seat with his ball, looking out the windshield with a smile that won’t stop. That’s where ‘greater meaning’ pops up. Sports people always get this.

“Did you like the game?” you ask.


“You played the best I’ve ever seen you play.”


“Feels good?”


“Nothing else feels like this.”


“Yep. If you want a piece of gum at school, do you know who to ask?”

“Uh huh.”

“How about beer or weed?”

“I’m in the sixth grade.”

“How about meth? Heroin?”

“Still in middle school, dad.”

“Do you know why so many people take so many drugs? To feel like you do now.”

“Does it work?”

“Never. You got something no one can imitate. You played your guts out and won. You did something special.”

“It feels special.”

“That’s how it’s supposed to feel. That’s all drug guys really want, a special feeling, but they can’t do the hard part to find it.”

“Do you think that will happen to any of my friends?”

“It happens. The important part is getting help. Remembering special moments help.”

“Did you tell this to Chris?”

“I think he knows.”

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About David Gillaspie
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