I’m jaded these days about North American athletics. They’re expensive and require significant time commitments. The possibilities for a kid from outside the system to play sports are shrinking. My love of sport has been largely set aside with my worries that as a culture we’ve highjacked it’s value and replaced it with something shiny that we don’t need, not to mention something that puts a major roadblock in the way of the family dinner.
When my son was in grade eight, we attended his first band concert. “Music is important,” said the director at the end, “because it teaches you that the whole is more important than the individual.” A lot of dark things have defended themselves with similar sounding statements. But it may be that little good has ever been accomplished without it. My brother worries that the concept of teamwork is becoming foreign for a generation of athletes raised to celebrate their individual achievements with group achievements a secondary consideration.
I have never coached a basketball team like the one I did this year. Of eleven players, one had played on a team before, one could dribble with more than one hand, two could shoot at a rate higher than 1/5. Few understood anything about the rules beyond putting the ball in the hoop and dribbling to move with the ball. They wore jeans to every practice. Not all of them could tie their shoes. Most could handle losing a group drill without leaving the gym humiliated and furious. None were in good physical condition or very interested in becoming so. All were on the team because the team was the gym class and at the end there was a tournament day.
I’ve never gone to a competition with lower criteria for success. Yet I don’t know how many times I have felt as convinced about the value of athletics. We sustained eight losses and one victory, but my eyes filled with tears more than once as I was reminded about the power of sports to do very good things.
Maybe I question clubs and travelling squads, but rag tag groups of people learning to bring their best for a common purpose is something to cheer about. Working together is the cornerstone of human existence. With great effort and patience, on a team we discover what it is to pass through a tiny gate to which sacrifice for another is the only key to the door. Ours own interests surrendered, we become something greater than we realize.
There is a difference between a kid in a t-shirt shooting baskets and the 4 foot player afraid of the charging opposition but standing their ground for the team. We witness in the latter something noble and our spirits soar. In sports, as in life, our moments of greatness depend on our willingness to be a team. Simple sometimes unobserved acts of sacrifice in which are hidden our potential for magnificence.