“How’s Jake doing in basketball?”
I’ve been getting this question quite often lately, and it’s harder to answer than I thought it would be.
I guess it depends on who you ask. Here’s where we are and how we got there:
We began deeply ensconced in the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is the psychological phenomenon of cognitive bias where people with lowest abilities think themselves to be the best. It’s compounded by the fact that these individuals lack the self-awareness to realize that they aren’t as great as they think they are. Jake started with basketball with this mindset. All he wanted to talk about was going to “the tournaments” and scoring the last-minute 3-pointer to win the game. This, despite our warnings that JV players don’t usually play in tournament championships. It’s not that I wanted to discourage him from playing, but I wanted him to have realistic goals.
After he made the team, he was of course, elated. The very next day after making the team he had his first practice, which made nearly six hours of running, jumping, dribbling, and drilling in three days. He was beat! Still, he persisted.
Now that he’s got a handful of practices under his belt, his expectations have lowered themselves. He no longer waxes poetic about winning the championship game. Now he talks about how maybe, just maybe, he might want to be a manager next year or find another way to help. After all, his mother says he’s a very good helper. (to be read in Raymond Babbitt voice)
He hasn’t asked to quit though, which is honorable. I think he’s just progressed into that wonderful phase of skill acquisition – knowing what you don’t know. He very clearly didn’t know what he didn’t know a couple of weeks back. I’m curious to watch how his feelings toward the sport evolve when they start playing actual games.
So how he’s doing boils down to what your individual expectations are for Jake.
If, you want him to learn and understand basketball, get some minutes on the court, and develop the sense of pride that comes from doing the new and hard thing and winning, then no – he’s not there. Yet.
So far, he seems really happy just to be part of a team. He likes that he “knows boys” and is already feeling the camaraderie that comes from joining brothers-at-arms in the pursuit of a common goal. He got passed the ball in practice last night and completed a nice pass to a teammate during a scrimmage. This thrilled him. He loves when the players put their hands in the center of the scrum at the end of practice and shout “FAMILY!” on three.
Speaking only as the dad who gets to practice 15 minutes early for pick-up so I can peek a little, I see a kid on the periphery of the action. When the plays are being executed and the game is being played, he’s on the outside of that. I’ve seen him stimming with excitement in the paint; covering his ears (a throwback) when rebounds are being grabbed; and near-flapping when the ball whizzes by him. He doesn’t yet know where he fits in to the chaos. Or how to join in.
His technical skill is growing.
He’s a pretty good, though amateurish, dribbler. He told me he made 10 for 10 foul shots the other day. He showed me his lay-up on Saturday, and it was passable; he made the shot. He even sunk one of those elusive 3-pointers in practice last week when the point guard passed him the ball!
But when there are eleven or twelve kids at practice, and ten are picked to play, he’s always the kid who has to sit on the sidelines and wait his turn to sub in. He gets a few minutes near the end, but he’s very obviously the kid from the bench. This is as expected and understandable as it is heartbreaking. Yes, practice is the place to learn, but high school ball is where kids who already know how to play go to hone their skills. I trust the coach and his skills, but as a dad this part is tough to watch. I showed up last night and, without realizing what was going on, asked him why he was sitting on the floor while the other boys were playing. I thought maybe he’d been hurt. He said Coach had asked him to sit patiently, and he had proudly responded, “Yes Coach!”
Perhaps as his skill improves and his ability to “see” the game grows, he’ll be given opportunity to, or be more able to, show what he’s learning. Maybe this level of involvement is enough for him right now. He certainly seems happy enough.
All I know for sure is that he’s a very hungry and tired puppy when he gets home from the high school. I can’t seem to fill him up, and I do have to drag him from bed in the morning. It’s probably my imagination, but I think he’s actually slimmed out a bit over the past couple of weeks – not that he was chunky to begin with. I should collect some data for comparison later on.
The JV plays their first game in Guilford this Saturday evening. I’ll report back after the game. Wish us luck!