The Long Ride Home
by: Tink Butler
You are at the line to shoot two free throws and your team is up 64-62 with 4.2 seconds left to play, you can ice the game at the line. The crowd is going crazy as you calmly step up to the line and nail the first shot. You take a deep breath for what essentially will be the game winner and you notice a familiar figure out of the corner of your eye. That small distraction threw you off a bit and you missed the second shot. You rush back on defense as they launched a desperation half court three for the tie as the clock expired. Game over, your team wins, everyone is excited rushing to the locker room, everyone except that familiar figure that you saw out of the corner of your eye, that figure is your father. Now that the game has ended, the adrenaline is wearing down, as you're slowly getting dressed in the locker room, you start to realize that the worst part of basketball is about to begin, that part is "The Ride Home". Dad is waiting impatiently outside of the locker room for his baby girl to come out, he has his notepad with the stats and talking points on what he saw during the game as he wonders why you're always the last one out of the locker room.
Silence as you walk to the car as you make your best attempt to look sleepy, but as soon as the door closes and the ignition turns the series of loaded questions begin:
Dad: So, how do you think you did today?
Kid: I think I did okay, I could have did some things better I guess.
Dad: Things like what?
Kid: I guess, I could have made my free throws.
Dad: You missed that free throw at the end, why was that important?
Kid: Cause I didn't bend my knees?
Dad: No, I said why was making that free throw important?
Kid: I don't know.
Dad: You don't know why making the free throw was important?
Kid: To get my percentage up?
The father proceeds to explain how they were up 3 and if she made the last free throw they'd be up 4 and it would have been a two possession game with 4 seconds to play. He then talked to her about missed opportunities saying free throws were free and that if she had made the 5 free throws she missed, she would have had 23 points. She, thought to herself, we won the game, I had 17 points why is he tripping, but her father wasn't finished:
Dad: I got some other stuff that I wrote down. In the first quarter why did you go right when you had the left baseline open?
Kid: I thought I could go right too. (I have no ideal what play he's talking about)
Dad: But the baseline was open. Then you know never to foul a jump shooter, right?
Dad: Then why did you foul #3 when she shot the jumper in the second quarter?
Kid: I was off balance.
Dad: We can work on some balancing drills this week, I know some good ones. So why'd you pass the ball to Karen when you had an open shot?
Kid: She was open and that was the play, coach told us to run the play.
Dad: Did she score?
Dad: Then she wasn't open. I felt like coming out on the court and snatching you up cause I just talked to you about that before the game in our pregame talk. Hey, and stop playing with your hair during games, you're in there for business not to look cute. Fix your head band before the game and you need to give better fakes when you see the help defender coming. When the help doesn't have a foot in the lane then you drive. You're not getting good position on your rebounds that's why the ref called travel that time. You act like you're scared to use your body and some of your passes are a little high, but you wouldn't have to worry about that as much if you stopped passing so much. Then you got to remember to hold your follow through, that's why you're missing shots. Another thing, on your free throws.....nevermind, I already said that just looking at my notes. Anyway good game.
The drive continues in silence because dad turned the radio down while he was talking and she dare not turn it up because she remembers what happened the last time that she did she got yelled at for not listening to him.
Dad: You hungry?
Dad: Why are you crying?
Kid: You keep yelling at me cause I played bad.
Dad: What are you talking about? I said you had a good game.
Dad: I'm just saying stuff that will help you get better.
This scenario with some variations happens in thousands of cars every week in America as parents with good intentions just "want to help" their kids. Speaking with kids, however, many say that it puts them on the brink of quitting the sport and some have even quit altogether. It's bad enough that a lot of coaches are just as bad or even worse asking the kids during the game questions such as, "what the heck are you doing?, "do you even know how to play basketball?" and "are you trying to give me a heart attack?" Parents as well as coaches are victims of a social economical climate where the players are the currency and their kids successes and failures are indirectly transient to their parental or coaching aptitude.
So, what should a parent do? Say nothing? As a parent myself that have made many mistakes and in my trial and error phase, I have learn that the notes that I'm taking on the sidelines, mentally or in writing are for myself. Any "constructive critism" given directly after a game no matter how well intended cannot be processed properly by a child and will be counterproductive to their improvement. If you must make a list, make a list instead of everything that they did well and share that in praise. In the book "Other People's Habits" by Aubrey Daniels, he shares that the secret to getting a person to change their behavior is to reward positive behavior. Doing this will make people do things because they want to experience the reward of positive feedback and not because the fear of critisizm. So what about correcting mistakes? Well first of all you should never instruct the child by starting off the sentence with "You need to....", secondly those notes of improvement should be translated to drills once you get into the gym not for the ride home or the dinner table. Taking heed can turn that dreaded post game speech into a time of bonding with your child. An article in The Post Game tackles the issue as well in saying parents should try to be more like grandparents and just take the approach with kids in telling them that "I love watching you play".