Laughing at a Lousy Layup

After several days of nerve-wracking tryouts, my oldest son, Isaac, made his middle school basketball team. All the players who made the cut were told they would still have to work their hardest to prove they deserve game time. They practiced just about every day after school for two weeks and I heard Isaac talk about how tough it was: They had to do suicides if any player missed a free throw, and they all had to run extra if anyone got a detention in school. He was completely exhausted every night when he got home, and it didn’t sound like much fun.

So at his first game, I just wanted him to do well. I wanted him to walk off the court at the end of the game and know that everything he had been working for was worth it. I wanted him to prove to the coach, and himself, that he deserved to play.

He started the game, which was cool since none of us knew what to expect. He ran up and down the court taking passes and did a good job of blocking his guy. His adrenaline was going and I could tell he was feeling good when he caught a pass and took his first shot and made it!

Into the wrong basket.

His arms went up in victory but instantly fell to the top of his head when he realized his mistake.

“Not in that one!” said the coach while shaking his head.

The game continued until the end of the first period, and I cringed at the thought of my son getting yelled at when he was off the court. I was afraid my shy guy who was already ultra critical of himself was going to be criticized, and maybe even taken out of the game. But instead, the coach reached out to him and put his arm around his shoulder and rubbed his head and smiled. Isaac shook his head and shrugged his shoulders and smiled too. He was put back into the game and ended up making two more points —  for the right team.

It’s a lot of pressure for kids to think about everything they’re supposed to do on the court. Basketball is a fast-moving game, and since they’ve been told they have to work hard they’re doing all they can to NOT make mistakes. Trying to be perfect when they can’t even remember what to do is an inevitable cause for doing something wrong. They’re going to pass to the wrong player, miss a rebound, shoot in the wrong basket.

The thing that youth players have to understand in order to continue to excel even after they make an oops, is that mistakes don’t ultimately mean failure. My guess is that his coach remembers making similar errors himself as a player, and knew that letting Isaac keep playing was the best way for him to learn that.

Isaac came out of the locker room that night smiling – I’m sure the fact that they won the game had something to do with it. But he also laughed when we said, “Nice shot,” knowing which one we were talking about.

Wondering if what happened to Isaac is very common, I Googled “players making shots in the wrong basket.” And guess who showed up at the top of results? NBA players. Lots of them.

Rasheed Wallace was playing for the Celtics when he rebounded a shot and put it right back into the Bulls’ basket.

Lakers Kwame Brown and Luke Alton teamed up to make a shot into Houston’s basket.

Even in his early years, Kobe Bryant couldn’t help but laugh at himself when he tipped the ball in to score for the Clippers.

I showed Isaac those professional players who made the same mistake, and it made him smile. Three years later, he’s still playing in high school and hasn’t shot a ball into the wrong basket — yet. Even though players his age are expected to take games very seriously, I hope they know that even famous athletes who’ve played their whole lives are still not perfect. And that although it’s important to keep practicing and playing hard in order to succeed, it’s just as important to keep laughing.

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