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So Here's the Thing...

Bill Bilodeau

Not in the Genes

I love my daughter.

I love her so much, I’m willing to listen to her four-minute explanation of why she can’t shoot a layup, but can shoot a jump-shot, except that she might travel before she shoots the jump-shot, or maybe not; do I think THIS is traveling or not, because she doesn’t think it is, but her coach might, and anyway, it’s the only way she can stop running before she shoots the ball and …

I really love her. And I’m happy she’s playing on her junior high school girls basketball team. It’s a chance to interact with girls she might not spend much time with otherwise, and to do something physical and cooperative.

But I’m also worried. So far, she’s having a good time with practices, even though it’s clear she’s the worst on the team. For one thing, she’s the only sixth-grader and the shortest player by far. Also, she’s never played before, while almost everyone else was on the team last year. She also has the coordination of a yak on an ice rink. You think I’m kidding. So there’s a major possibility of her being embarrassed, even hurt, on the court.

It’s mostly our fault, my wife’s and mine. We were never stellar athletes. I’ve always loved sports, but I’m slow, small, weak and can’t jump. I still play pick-up basketball several times a week, where I’m generally the worst player on the court. So be it. I have fun, most of the time.

My wife is five feet tall, soft, and completely non-aggressive about everything but chocolate. Her best sport is, in all probability, jump rope. At least she can say that. I can’t skip rope to save my life.

In other words, our daughter never had a chance. So I’ve been working with her, trying to minimize the potential damage, to help her make up for her lack of experience. Already, she’s much better at dribbling the ball. Which is to say she can, with her head down, looking at the ball at all times, manage not to dribble it off her foot EVERY time she tries. I think her biggest problems will be that she’s not strong enough to shoot free throws (or most other shots), and that she has no confidence with the ball, so almost anyone can just come up and take it away, if she doesn’t throw it away first.

It’s a scary thought. Yet I persevere.

I think we all start out in life with infinite possibility, thinking we can do anything in life. “I’m gonna be an astronaut!” “I’m gonna be a quarterback!” Or, in George Bush’s case, “I’m gonna be The Decider!”

At some point along the way, maybe high school, maybe sooner, reality comes a-calling. Those who will go on to excel in sports have certain gifts – speed, strength, size, hand-eye coordination, whatever – and the rest of us, however hard we work or love the game, just aren’t going to get there. Maybe we go on to play the games of those who refuse to admit defeat (men’s softball, anyone?), but we eventually move on.

Then we have kids, and the infinite possibility is reborn.

Sure, they may be a bit small, but if they’re fast enough, just maybe …

Maybe they’re not so fast, but if they have The Arm …

Maybe they’re not going to the pros. But if we coach them early and they work hard enough …

But alas, it’s not meant to be. At least not in our case. Whatever gifts I bring to this world, they are not athletic. And I’ve passed that on to my children in spades.

My son loves to play ball, anything with a ball. He spends hours hitting a felt ball off our living room wall with a tennis racquet (don’t ask). But last year, at age eight, he played baseball and refuses to go back. He did all right, I guess, but he’s pretty small for his age, and he’s afraid of the ball. Now he wants to play tennis, a game where no one tries to hurt you and size mostly doesn’t matter.

And my daughter? She has no aspirations to play basketball beyond middle school. She knows outright she’s the worst on her team and may well be the worst player on the court in every game. She doesn’t care. To her, it’s just something to do at school that might be fun.

I’ll go and watch and root like hell every time she’s in the game. I expect it to be painful at times. A lot of times. Let’s face it, losing at sports – like losing at anything – is no fun. And even winning isn’t so great if you do poorly personally.

Team sports, like group music or dance, has the ability to transcend the individual; the collective emotion of the team, the fans, rewards success to a degree greater than one might feel alone. If you’re successful, not only did you accomplish for you, but you helped others. It’s a higher high.

But then there’s Newton’s third law: If the highs are higher, the lows are lower as well. Not only did you fail, you let your teammates down, let the fans down, let the school/team down.

She doesn’t know this yet, but she will, I think.

Perhaps I sound fatalistic, negative. Blame it on my experience with sports, as a participant and a fan (I’m still trying to come to grips with the Patriots’ dynasty and a Red Sox championship – those are foreign concepts to me). When it’s not euphoric, sports hurts. It’s heroism and goatdom (I want a copyright on that word); it’s success and failure; it’s joy and pain.

This is my daughter’s first experience with most of those things. I think she’ll be fine, whatever happens.

Me? I cringe. And I hope.