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The Catholic New World


Mar. 18, 2007


We spent the first nice Sunday afternoon of the year in a school gym, watching the school’s bitty basketball All Star games.

This isn’t, of course, like the NBA All-Star Game, with the attendant hype and hoopla, or even like more organized youth sports’leagues all-star games, where invitations to play aren’t always automatic.

In bitty basketball, an instruction program for kids from preschool through third-grade, everyone plays in the all-star game. Everyone gets a trophy, too, and everyone gets a chance to run out of the locker room, through the smoke, to the sound of the Bulls’ theme, his or her name being read over the speaker system and the applause of all the parents.

I’ve read articles where people argue that so much recognition, so many accolades, aren’t good for kids, especially when all they really have to do is show up and play.

But for the youngest kids, I don’t think that’s right. For them, showing up and playing can be an accomplishment. For the preschool players, just paying attention to where the ball is can be a challenge.

By the time they reach the kindergarten/first-grade level, they know where the ball is, they know they’re supposed to get it in the basket, but they have a hard time get-ting it there—let alone figuring out how to pass it off, or how to play defense.

But by the last level, second- and third-grade, it’s coming together.

The coaches—some of whom stroll the floor with their babies in arms at the younger levels—are relegated to the sidelines, and the players run and dribble and pass (not that they don’t travel, double dribble and throw the ball out-of-bounds too, but they have the idea). If one player gets boxed in, he or she tries to pass to a teammate. When the ball goes up, so do players jumping for the rebound.

So the idea that everyone gets a trophy doesn’t seem to kill the competitive instinct.In fact, after the All-Star game, Frank was disappointed because his team lost—even though, for the All-Star game only, boys and girls at his level played separately, and they weren’t necessarily playing with their regular teammates.

Caroline, on the other hand, was triumphant that her team of second- and third-grade girls beat the other team of second- and third-grade girls—never mind that they had never played on these particular teams before, and she had friends on both sides of the ball.

I was happy to see her running for the ball,jumping for rebounds, dribbling the ball up the court—skills that she was just starting to acquire a year ago. Now she’s talking about playing interscholastic basketball next year.

I subscribe to the idea that the best way to build a child’s self-esteem is to let them try something difficult—with the support they need to succeed at it. Just complimenting children for existing isn’t enough; they’re smart enough to know better.

For this year, I was glad she and Frank both got trophies, win or lose. Already,the kids are keeping score. Soon enough, the rest of the world will be. For now, participating—with all those parents watching—is hard enough.

Besides, isn’t that what faith teaches us—that God loves each and every one of us,not because of what we do, but because of what we are? We are all children of God, and that’s worth more than a trophy.

Martin is a Catholic New World staff writer. Contact her at [email protected]

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