I’ve been thinking a lot about losing lately. Partly, it’s because my Indianapolis Colts again horked a playoff game. But mostly, it’s because the fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball team I’m coaching seems doomed to a winless season.
There’s a lot of debate about no-score leagues. Does keeping score hurts children, and America, in the long run because kids don’t receive an early lesson in getting their confidence crushed? Or does keeping score hurts children, and America, in the long run because kids receive an early lesson in getting their confidence crushed? These questions engender the sort of reasoned debate you see in such topics as evolution, race, abortion and gun control.
Typical scene at youth basketball board meeting during discussion of whether to institute a no-score league
In my experience, however, the reason to have, or not have, a no-score league, has nothing to do with how the kids handle losing. It has everything to do with how adults handle it.
The kids on my oldest son’s fifth- and sixth-grade team are nice and are trying as hard as they can. They aren’t worrying about the score, even though in most games they’re getting beaten pretty badly. It’s not like they all don’t know what the score is. Even in my son’s first league, which kept no score, the first- and second-graders would fill each other in on who was up by how much. But when the game is over, they go home and get back to their lives.
I, on the other hand, have not had my most shining performance as a coach. Last year, when I was coaching a team that eventually won this same league’s title, I would yell instructions onto the court but overall was fairly calm. This year I look more easily frustrated, and I’m yelling more instructions that are not necessarily positive reinforcement. Not anything abusive, but stuff like “block out!” and “get your hands on the ball!” I’ve had at least one parent express his frustration we haven’t won a game. While the other parents have said nothing, I feel an implicit pressure (one generated by myself) to will us to at least one win so parents are happy.
Sadly, the lesson to be learned about handling losing is my own. I’m used to success in coaching — for example, my 9-year-old daughter’s softball team that I managed won third place in its league last spring. The kids on this team might never win a game, but they have not lost their will or ability to have fun playing ball. Unfortunately, with three games left, their coach needs to learn how to lighten up and realize that the point is to help these kids, fifth- and sixth-grade boys and girls who for the most part are new to basketball, enjoy the game and get a little better at it, and not let the scoreboard get him down.