My son, 11, has been playing in a basketball league for the past four years.

The poor kid comes from a family of theatre folk and bookish nerds, so when he begged to learn the game and play on the regular, what else were we to do?

Organized Sports are important, right? I  read it somewhere everywhere. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re a homeschooling family, and while this educational path has many advantages, team sport opportunities are not on the list.

So we put him in a league. He loved it. Life went on, (minus our free Saturdays, of course).

Late last Spring, when 11 announced that he didn’t feel like playing in a league anymore, I’ll admit I was sort of bummed. After all, basketball was his thing and, even with the hoop in our driveway,  I was worried that without scheduled practices and games, he’d never have an opportunity to play. 

As parents, my husband and I had a choice: make him play, because team sports have been so good for him and he’ll be glad he pushed through, or let him quit, and find something else that he loves. At times like these, I have this guy in my head, telling me what “the right thing to do” is:

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But part of my problem is that I also have this guy knocking around up there, telling me to take a chill pill and stop with the fascist parenting:

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Together my husband and I decided that it’s basketball, not dental hygiene. If he wants to skip it, fine. Finish out the last few games of the season, we told him, and that’ll be it.

Not long after he played his last league game, 11 asked me to take him to a park, a few miles from our house.

Not much was happening there, unless you count a soccer class for some pre-schoolers, suited up in safety gear like a liliputian S.W.A.T team, a few personal trainers barking orders and flinging kettle bells around, and a D-list celebrity, puffing his way around the track with an iPhone strapped to his arm.

(Oh, LA, how I love thee).

But for a boy with a basketball and an afternoon to kill, not exactly a happening place.

I asked if he wanted to stay, and he did.

I asked if he was ok if I walked a few laps, and he was.

As I made my way around the dirt path, he practiced layups on the blacktop, then free throws, and eventually sat down on his ball and kind of stared into space.

This sucks, I thought.

On my next lap around, I noticed that a couple of guys had shown up. They weren’t 11’s age, in fact, they looked to be in their early twenties. I caught 11’s eye, making sure he was cool and got a thumbs up, my signal from him to keep walking.

By the time I completed one more lap, a fierce game of three on two was on.

Two hours later, 11 and I were both exhausted and happy, and I was convinced. After four years of being a basketball mom, schlepping my son to league practices, Saturday morning games, “shoot outs” (I know what those are now), and trophy ceremonies where “everyone is a winner!”, I became a street ball zealot.

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11 in a typical game of pick-up ball at our park, photo taken on the sly 🙂

The following is a list of  reasons why I love that my son has chosen to forgo league play for the unorganized, untamed, unprocessed pastime of street ball, which can be played at our local city park for exactly zero dollars:

  1. No fair? No problem. One-on-one is fair, unless one player is a seven year old with an eyepatch, and the other is a high school senior with a basketball scholarship and an hour to kill. Que sera sera!
  2. He plays with people of all ages, races, economic backgrounds, and skill levels. You want to play? You’re in.
  3. He risks failure, and by failure, I don’t mean losing. Occasionally, my son shows up with his big goofy grin and his sneakers double knotted and no one is there. When this happens, my son calls it “a fail.” I call it a bonus! Whether asking someone out on a date, starting a business or writing a blog, the good stuff in life isn’t orchestrated for us, and all of it requires a certain amount of risk.
  4. No refs means he works it out, old school. Unlike what I’ve seen with league play, this almost never involve screaming or the throwing of tantrums (and that’s just the coach I’m talking about).
  5. He has a second home. No matter where he goes in the world, if he can find a hoop, a ball, he’ll be in familiar territory. If he’s lucky, he can make a friend. The world can be kinda shitty sometimes and, I say, the more places you can feel at home, the better.
  6. He has to talk to strangers. Again with the risk taking. Here’s how he does it, near as I can tell: he shows up, lurks around, shoots a few layups all casual-like, then asks if he can get in on whatever game is in play. Can you imagine??? Me neither. So cool.
  7. He’s unplugged. I’m always on the lookout for fun that doesn’t include a glowing rectangle in front of my boy’s face. Luckily, we need look no further than our local park. Street ball is analog fun at it’s finest.
  8. No buzzer kills the mood. When things are hopping on the blacktop, games can last way longer than the hour that a usual league game is allowed to go. More play time means more fun, more exercise, more practice, and one more lap around the track for me.
  9. He does it for his own bad self. Not only am I not expected to watch his every move in a pick-up game, but he prefers that I ignore him completely. He probably waves me off because having your mom hang around and beam at you is a little dorky, but I prefer to think it’s because, at the park, he’s playing for his own enjoyment, not for cheers, gold stars, or the requisite post-game snack of Go-gurt and Hi-C that some very together mom always shoves at him. Also, no one has ever received a basketball scholarship for street ball. What a relief.
  10. No trophies! Those of you who have had your kids in organized sports will understand why this is a grand thing. You understand because you too have a box of crappy plastic trophies that your child has been given for just existing, and you are as sick of them as I am. Even my son knows they’re bullshit. Anyway, no trophies will be coming at you for shooting hoops at the park, no sir. For his time, commitment and skinned knees 11 will only receive a slight sunburn (bad mom), and some pretty useful life skills.

Of course it’s possible that 11 will turn around tomorrow and ask to join a league again (kids are weasels, after all). That’s ok. But never again will I buy into the idea that team sports need to be organized. We’ll continue to take back a corner of our park for play, with our own, tiny, everyday act of rebellion: showing up.

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8 thoughts on “Street Ball For The Win! (Ten Reasons I’m Glad My Son Quit the Team)

  1. I love that it is fun and not competitive. My daughter was pulled into the hyper competitive soccer that takes place here in the DC area, and she is burnt out on it. Now she plays rugby which is all fun, tough physically, everyone is totally supportive, and the bigger you are the better! Sports are supposed to be fun, not make you stressed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, this is AWESOME.

    I didn’t get serious about paddling until my 30’s, but I was intrigued by the outrigger team when I was a kid growing up in Hawaii. I went to an intro meeting once in my freshman year, but at that time it was a varsity sport only so I wasn’t old enough, and then we moved to Washington State going into my junior year and there weren’t any boat sports at Central Kitsap High School, so that didn’t happen.

    To this day I wonder how it would’ve worked out if I’d started in high school. I’m figuring one of two extremes – if I’d had a good patient coach who was willing to work through my general stringbeanitude (I was a skinny one back then, and not coordinated) and bring me along, maybe the basic ability I found later in life would’ve surfaced enough for me to be a serious competitive paddler – OR, I would’ve tried it and burned out (outrigger racing is serious stuff in Hawaii and I may just not have been able to hack it) and never wanted to paddle again.

    I’m happy with how it ended up happening, though – there’s something so great about just doing a sport for the enjoyment of it!

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  3. I wish I had 11’s sense of adventure. My two forays into organized sports were little league baseball, where my mother said I would sit in the outfield and do nothing; and the other was middle-school football, where I remember accidentally scoring a touchdown for the other team. 11 sounds like he has an awesome spirit. And no, you did not post a pic of Wilford Brimley. Poor thing had dia-beat-us. (Awesome pick-up ball pic you took on the fly, by the way.)

    Like

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