Ethan waits patiently to get into a basketball game

Ethan waits patiently to get into a basketball game

Update (2/6/14): After posting this, I received several comments from parents at my son’s school. They offered up their opinions on my post and how they felt about what I wrote. Without getting into what was said, I felt like they lost perspective on what I was trying to say. My intent was to share an experience that I had with my son and how I did my best to deal with it. I didn’t set out to talk negatively about the coach or the team. I wasn’t even mad about the situation. I wrote the post almost a month after the game took place.

Today, I talked with the coach and cleared the air with him. Out of respect for him and what he’s done for my son (and all the other kids), I decided to edit this post. I’ve also turned off comments. If you have something you’d like to say about this post, please feel free to drop me a line.

About a month ago, my oldest son Ethan had a basketball game at a local basketball facility called Hoops. It was on a Friday night right before Christmas and a lot of our family showed up to watch him play. We had our immediate family, both sets of grandparents and my brother, who had flown in from Washington for a Christmas vacation with the family.

My son was super-excited to have his family come and watch him play. I was excited too because as a father, I always want to show off my children. I’m proud of my kids and I want them to do their best. I love that my son is playing basketball and getting the opportunity to start at a much younger age than I did.

Before I talk about the game, let me give a little context around his team. It’s comprised of 4th and 5th graders from my son’s elementary school. The kids signed up to be on this team and there weren’t any tryouts. The coach has a lot of experience coaching kids in basketball leagues. He was a former high school/college player and his 10-year-old son is awesome. They have traveling teams and play in tournaments all the time.

At the first practice, the coach set expectations with the kids and parents for the league. He told us that the kids were going to work and learn a lot. He also told us that the kids might not get equal playing time. I understood that my son (one of the younger kids on the team), would probably not get a ton of playing time. I was okay with that. I told my son that he would have to practice hard to get playing time. Regardless of playing time, I felt like it would be good experience for him (and for me).

Through the first five or six games, Ethan averaged around six or seven minutes per game.

Then the Friday night game came. It started with Ethan on the bench (no major surprise). The first quarter passed. Then the second. And then the third. With about two minutes left in the game, Ethan finally lost hope about getting into the game and put his warm-up t-shirt back on.

I’d love to tell you that Ethan got into the game and hit the game-winning shot but he didn’t. In fact, he didn’t play a single second and his whole family was there to see it. I totally get that this happens in sports but I didn’t expect it to happen in a league like this. (Note: In my original post, I called this a “recreational league.” I was under the impression that it was a rec league because there weren’t any tryouts. We signed up and paid our entry fee. Even then, I didn’t have any expectations about my son getting equal playing time. I was okay with that. I am trying to teach my son that life isn’t fair and that we have to work for the things we want.)

It was tough. My wife and I were upset for a lot of reasons (not to mention that we paid $12 to get my family into the facility). I definitely thought my son should have gotten a little bit of playing time but I understood the coach’s perspective. It doesn’t mean that I was any less upset about it. 

Anyway, as soon as the game ended, Ethan bolted from his spot on the bench. I went over to him. As soon as he saw me, he started crying. He was upset and embarrassed. He didn’t understand why his coach didn’t let him play. I didn’t either.

The only thing I could think of was to keep him distracted so I asked my parents if he could spend the night with them and they agreed. Of course I wanted it to be a teaching moment but he was just too young to understand. And I didn’t have it in me to try. The good news was that he was occupied and we didn’t make a big deal out of it.

If only it was that easy for me. I thought back on my life and all the times I’ve been disappointed (and believe me there were plenty) and NOTHING compared to the disappointment that I felt that night. I know we’re only talking about a basketball game here but this is about my son. It was hard for me and I was really glad that we didn’t have to keep going over and over it because Ethan wasn’t there.

When we saw Ethan the next day, he wasn’t upset and we didn’t talk much about it. When practice rolled around the following week, he didn’t want to go (for obvious reasons) but we told him that he made a commitment and had to stick with it so he went. Since then, he’s returned back to his normal playing time and we haven’t had any problems. He also plays in a Thursday night league that I coach and he gets a lot of playing time there so it kind of offsets the other Friday night league.

I know that disappointment is part of life. I guess it’s all in how you deal with it. This was the first lesson of many for all of us, I’m sure. In the future, we’ll deal with them when they come and try to tackle them the best that we can.

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