You can learn much about yourself and about others through playing competitive sports. Today, coaching a 9/10 year-old basketball team in a “recreational” league, was a reminder of that fact of life.
When I was younger, I played competetive sports — football, baseball, and tennis. One sport that I did not play nor have I ever even faked liking is the sport of basketball. However, due to divine Providence and God having a sense of humor, my wife and I volunteered to coach not one, but two, basketball teams for our sons’ Christian school.
Our teams are part of the “Recreation” League in our community. I put “recreation” in quotes because there is nothing recreational about the league, contrary to the letter and, most importantly, the spirit of how the game is supposed to be played.
Stressed at the beginning of the season — and even reinforced by the local high school coaches — the league is supposed to be about fun, fundamentals, and winning, in that order. The rules, as written, require every player on a team– no matter how good or not-so-good he or she is — to have equal playing time. That certainly goes along with the stated purpose of getting kids — especially at young ages — to learn about basketball and to have fun while doing it.
Our team, known as the Eagles, are a great group of kids. However, most of them have never played competetive basketball before and have never played together as a team. Despite the “recreational” nature of the league, there are some teams who have played together for years and who continue to “weed out” bad players and “recruit” new players. I’m not quite sure how that helps with the spirit of the game at this age.
During our practices, we stress four goals for our team: fun, fundamentals, winning, and fun (yes, it should be really fun). That is in keeping with the spirit of the game which those in charge say they want for the kids at this age. If all teams do not have an understanding of the spirit of the game, then is it any wonder that many (most) of these kids will not want to continue playing basketball when they are older?
When many of the teams in the league — and the league officials — do not even have a pretense to abide by the spirit of the game as stated, then the question becomes, “How do you respond when other teams and those in charge of the league, blatantly violate that spirit?” In life, whether in politics, religion, or sports, when others violate the spirit of the “game,” we have several options. We can choose to ignore the flagrant violations, choose to walk away (thus handing an easy victory to those who are in the wrong), or choose to stand up for the integrity of the game and the spirit by which it should be played.
Of course, those in charge — who violate with impunity the spirit (and sometimes the letter) of the “game,” always prefer that you ignore their violations or that you just walk away. Put another way, they just hope you sit down and shut up. I don’t know whether it’s my upbringing or the values that were instilled in me by my parents — particularly my father — but when I see others violating the rules of the game, particularly the spirit of the game, I am not one to sit down and shut up.
Whether standing up to entrenched powers within Southern Baptist life or to governing officials in “recreational” basketball league, I will continue to defend the integrity and spirit of the “game.” When the opposing team, up 19 to 0 going into the last quarter, is egged on by their coach to keep pressing at the half-court and taking three-point shots, I will not be silent. When referees, who should be helping the kids have fun and learn fundamentals — after all, that’s the stated purpose for this “rec” league” — call cheap violations at the end of a game, I will not be silent. When officials feign that they have no power to enforce the rules of the game or to see that the games are played in the spirit that they themselves intend, then I will not be silent.
I guess I have too much of my dad in me, which at times is good and at other times is bad. When I see “leaders”, be they in charge of the community rec. basketball league or in charge of the Southern Baptist Convention, take actions which violate the spirit of the “game,” I will not sit down and shut up. Ignore? No way. Walk away? No chance! Stand up and be counted? Absolutely! How would you respond?