Recreational Sports

Let your Children Dream for a Day

January 23, 2015
Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

submitted by Coach Jamie Santo

Saturday, January 17, 10:15 a.m., Woodbury School

Salem Grade 3/4 vs. Windham Grade 3/4 Girls Rec Basketball

The air was crisp and very cold, the mercury was sitting at 8 degrees –the wind chill certainly below zero– as I headed out the door to attend a Salem Grade 3/4 Girls Basketball game with my daughter, Shayne.  Despite our schedules and weather each week as parents and children, we go to the local schools to play against kids from our hometown and surrounding towns.

Today, it is basketball …

We don’t keep score since they are just learning the game and are only third and fourth grade students.  At the beginning of the season, most girls have never dribbled a basketball, many have never attended a basketball game, and some have never even seen a game on television.  Many in society may question, why even bother to play if you don’t keep score!  I am a believer in keeping score in competition, however, at this instructional and young recreational level our goal is to introduce the sport to the kids, engage them in the excitement of having fun, teach them commitment to a team and teach them how to practice hard to achieve a goal.

The wind was biting as we opened the door to Woodbury School and we scurried inside the building to get warm.  As we approached the gym, I leaned over to my daughter and told her that “Today will be a special day and a special game.  We will be hosting an out-of-town team from Windham.”  How special, I had no idea, but what transpired over the next hour will motivate me for the rest of my life to keep recreational youth sports alive in America.

In a day and age where youth recreational sports participation is struggling to stay viable as parents are more mobile and kids are involved in so many different activities, the emphasis on recreational sports has fallen out of favor.  Many kids are now playing sports at a much higher level with club teams or travel teams.  However, there is still a need to bring balance between competitiveness and allowing a child to have fun playing a sport they love.

The players begin to stroll into the gym, one by one, as they walk over to their respective benches, a line of demarcation is formed; although symbolic, it sets the stage for what is next to come.  An us versus them, a Salem versus Windham matchup.  As they shed their winter attire of hats, gloves and boots and unveil their team uniform, symbolic of a warrior who prepares for battle …

The coaches shake hands …  The kids set up for the tip-off and customary jump ball …  Many of the kids and parents have no idea that what will take place over the next hour will have an impact on them for the rest of their lives …

The girls set up with their still rosy cheeks from the frosty winter air …  The game begins and players on both teams are working hard to do their best for themselves, their teammates and their parents.  Despite their hours of practice and tremendous efforts, nearly 14 minutes elapsed before the first basket of the game.  A bouncer off the rim that seemed to take forever in slow motion before the orange and striped leather ball falls through the netting beneath the rim … The sellout crowd of 38 people, mostly parents and grandparents who would not miss this for the world and maybe a couple straggler brothers and sisters who have to be there because the parents make them … nonetheless the parents on both teams are going crazy cheering for the basket.  How can that be … Salem is losing by two points and all parents from both towns are clapping; coaches on both teams are cheering … I look at the score clock and it reads 0-0, that’s right, we don’t keep score, I remind myself.  Salem dribbles back down the court and scores to tie up the game, the crowd reacts in jubilation, Windham parents cheering and clapping, even though the opposing team just scored.  “This does not make any sense to me” I say to myself.  Isn’t sports all about winning and losing at any level?  I remind myself to stay focused on the game.

Double dribbles, traveling, fouls, missed shots, blocked shots, great baskets, lucky baskets, dribbling to the wrong basket because so much excitement overtakes their emotions to think rationally.  We had all of it!  But that is what truly makes it special.  Windham basket!  Salem basket!  Back and forth, up and down the court!  Girls that had not shown any emotion or passion over the first five weeks are suddenly playing inspired basketball and the crowd knows they are witnessing something special.  Rebounding and being aggressive, making great passes and tremendous baskets from both sides.  The girls are coming off the court exhausted from working so hard.  Their faces red and little sweat drops on their foreheads.  Both teams giving all they have while they are on the court.

There are some girls that do not normally get rebounds or steal the ball or get baskets are getting baskets.  Their teammates are jumping up and down and congratulating and screaming their name with approval and excitement.  I glance over at the Mom and Dad of the girl who just scored the basket and they are jumping up and down and hugging each other and giving each other smiles …  The little girl running down the court with total disregard for the rest of the game, looks over to get her parents’ approval as they are cheering and her smile is as wide as the state of Montana …  Stop the tape …  That is it!  There is no more …  Freeze frame …  That is what it is all about !

A child, a parent, a coach, a team, a community all living the same dream – feeling the same sense of accomplishment and pride – that is the magic of recreational sports!  That is why we get our kids involved so they can make friends and hopefully at one moment in their recreational sports career feel more proud of themselves than at any moment in their life.  The buzzer sounds.  Game Over!  I look to the stands across the hardwood basketball court and it is as loud as a stadium at the Super Bowl game as parents are standing and cheering for all the girls on both teams, as many of the parents know what had just transpired over the last hour is something they will cherish for a lifetime …

The two teams line up and shake hands, congratulating each other and then take a photo of both teams in one picture.  The symbolic gesture of this photo brings forth the collaboration of two recreational programs, dozens of coaches and players and two communities who care about their kids by giving each kid an opportunity to feel like a champion and be proud of who they are and believe in themselves that they can accomplish all their dreams.

Today it was basketball in New England, but it could be hockey in Minnesota, Football in Texas, Baseball in Florida or Lacrosse on Long Island.  Whatever sport in whatever community, just always remember to let your kids be kids, support them in their passions and allow recreational sports to be a springboard to help them build confidence, be proud of themselves, learn to work hard to achieve their goals and make friends that will last a lifetime …  That is truly the magic of recreational sports!

Salem Basketball would like to thank Windham Basketball for their generosity in helping us create dreams for all of our kids!

Let your children dream of being Bobby Orr, Michael Jordan, or Tom Brady …  At least for one day!