Losing Lessons

Losing

We here at Ballerball believe that kids these days don’t know how to lose.  Not because they are lesser beings than us (I mean… they are) but because parents won’t allow them to.  This is bothersome.  I mean, why not just hand them a doobie and get it over with?  The following 3 essays are about the lost art of losing.

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Driveway Lessons: By Tyler Parker- author of Drawllin.tumblr.com

You stay out of a man’s room while the Joe is playing…and you do not throw a basketball at your Dad’s head. No matter how pissed you are.

There is a moment in a son’s life where he can finally beat his father at basketball. He can finally play through the contact and hang with all the banging in the post and Mutumbo his shot into the street because you do not bring any of that weak floater trash inside this lane that is my home or else you’ll wind up with a wagging finger in your face.

This is not about that moment.

This is about the moments before it. The early teenage moments. The moments where the very idea of beating your father in basketball is as completely unbelievable as owning your very own pair of LA Gears, Cory and Topanga breaking up, and finding someone who doesn’t like movie popcorn.

My Dad is an awesome, great. Dad. He is the best. He also happened to be good at basketball. He was about 6’2” with a jumper that, once he got going, couldn’t really be stopped. Then, if his shot wasn’t falling, he’d take me down into the post and put me in the torture chamber. Lift fakes and up and unders and I was the David Robinson to his Dream Shake in the ‘95 Western Conference Finals. Just jumping and guessing and being made to look downright foolish.

I got older, though, and it got to where I was competitive. We would play to 11 by 1’s. I could beat him every now and again, but never two out of three. Couldn’t take the series. This wears on a boy.

One day it got to be too much.

See, my Dad wasn’t going to let me win. When you were on the driveway court on Oakmont Avenue you had to earn it. No easy buckets. One summer evening, before dinner, we squared off. I forget the order of the victories, but I know that I had won one and he had won one. When the third game began, it was Rocky IV out there. I went to my go to fade away off a spin move jumpers and he was hitting his 17 footers with extreme prejudice. Dad had his mid-range game on lock.

Billy Dan Parker had a true old-man game. That is a compliment. Patient. Subtle. Crafty. Wise. On the court he was like Shadow from Homeward Bound, if Shadow was an optometrist and had a wife and three kids. He used the angles the court and defense provided him. To watch him play in church league was to watch a rec-league savant. The guy had a clay game. Just completely adaptable to any situation. He could become anything. You put a small guy on him, he took him down into the post and big boy-ed him till they switched a big man on him. Then, you put a big guy on him, he’d go right around them. Billy goes hard in the paint.

We went blow for blow throughout the game until it was 10 to 10. You had to win by two. I had the ball. Went to the rack because screw a jump shot. Contested lay up. I miss. Make a shot, Tyler.

Dad gets the rebound. Dribbles out to the top to take it back. Catches me napping, thinking about this miss. Rises. Fires. Net. Marv Albert “Yes”. Just right in my face. Mark Jackson would be pissed because hand down, man down, but Mark Jackson as an announcer is a joke so let’s move on to the next sentence.

I’m fuming and my Dad sees this. My Dad always felt it necessary to build up mental toughness when it came to basketball. He would needle any chance he got. Only this wasn’t needling. This was acupuncture.

“Uh-oooohhhhh”, he said.

Subtle dig, Dad. I see what you’re doing.

I’m ready to start swinging.

He checks the ball up to me and I look at him and I look at the court and I give him a lift and he bites and I drive by him. Billy recovers quickly and he’s on my tail. As I’m about to go up I lose my balance and smoke the lay up off the backboard.

Two missed layups. I don’t deserve this game.

I tumble into the grass of our yard behind the goal. I look up. Dad has the ball and he’s staring at me. The shot did not hit rim. He does not have to take it out. I’m laying down in the grass collecting an itch, and he’s on his own two feet about two feet from the basket.

It’s over.

He shoots it and it goes in. I lay there and grab at the grass. He pulls the ball out of the net and puts it under his arm and he stares at me with a smile on his face.

I don’t like that. Like, not at all.

I say I want to play again and he says no and that mom cooked dinner and it’s time to go in. I say no and that I want to play again and ask him if he’s scared because he knows he’ll lose. He says it’s time to go in and I say that I almost beat him and this isn’t fair.

My Dad wanted to make me tougher. I see that now. Sometimes you lose. You deal with it and you move on and you stop whining. He was gonna hammer that point home.

“Hey, I think you played about as good as you could play, and, you know, I didn’t play that well, but maybe someday you’ll be able to beat me.”

I’m steaming like a tea pot right now. He turns around to go get the trash can to drag it back behind the house.

I’m now holding the ball. I’m breathing hard and watching him walk. I’m getting angrier.

All of a sudden I’m not holding the ball anymore.

That’s because the ball is flying. The ball is flying because I Randy Johnson-ed that thing as hard as I could at my father. I threw it so hard I felt a tingling sharpness at the ends of my pointer and middle fingers.

It NAILED him in the back. The crash of the basketball against him echoed over the whole neighborhood. I was too mad to understand the ramifications of what I’d done. You don’t throw stuff at a Dad. My Dad wheeled around and eyed me. He pointed at me.

“You do not do that. Go inside the house right now.”

Thing was, Dad was teaching me a lesson. He said those things and played that way so I could learn what it was to deal with adversity, to overcome someone talking some trash, and to figure out that it is necessary to lose with a little class.

Took me hurling a ball at him to figure it out, but I learned what he was trying to teach me.

Just because you want to win really bad, doesn’t mean you will. So, you relax. Cooler heads prevail. Hot heads wind up dealing with L’s in their room.

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Losing Sucks But Everybody Needs It : By Dan Davis author of 3 a.m. Lemonade (Coming Soon!)

Note: If you care about good baseball, don’t watch Little League. It’s just begging to make your eyeballs bleed.

This summer I caught a Little League game. Well, I caught about 15 minutes of a Little League game. The game of baseball, even in it’s ugliest form, is draw enough for me. Nestled next to Oz Park, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, the hopes of dreams of small children played out on a tiny diamond without much consequence. Little girls and little boys, just out of the reaches of tee ball and coach pitch, mustered up all their ability (which isn’t much) to hurtle (okay, float) a tiny red and white leather ball at other petrified little girls and boys.

There is an inherent fear in baseball that never really escapes those who play. After all, someone is throwing a large-ish hard object in your general direction… over and over again. Though, at the speed and arc of a children’s throw, it’s hard to imagine it would hurt any more than bumping your head on the counter when you reach down to pull out the tupper ware in the kitchen. It’s all beautiful, really. The game; these kids; the spirit of it all.

Do not mistake me, though. These kids are terrible. They cannot throw. They cannot hit. They cannot catch. They cannot play the very game they are attempting to play. But it’s all in good fun and everyone starts somewhere, right? These are the beginnings of the learning process, which to me begs the question of why children are being robbed of the greatest lesson to be learned from it all.

At one point in this whole affair a jolly kid came to the plate (read: jolly = fat). He strolled up there, a rolling blob of coca-cola, Power Rangers and fear. His helmet sat on his head, the bill pointing to the sky as if to acknowledge the baseball gods, a bit too small but serving it’s purpose. He stood as far away from the plate he could, going against every good batting approach ever. Challenge the pitcher kid, come on!

The pitcher, either a wild-haired young man or unkempt young lady lobbed the ball to the plate hopelessly, undoubtedly his/her pitch count coming close to a maximum. Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Ball four. The ball either a) bounced b) flew over the catcher’s head or c) did both. All four times. Each time, the little chunk at the plate dove out the way, not so subtlety revealing his fear of the ball to the entire world.

But there are no walks in Little League. Otherwise, the top of the 1st inning would never end. After the pitcher unsuccessfully throws four pitches or, apparently gets a strikeout, the hitter’s coach gets to come out and throw good pitches to give the kid a chance to hit. There is no striking out. You either get a hit (87.9% probability) or somehow get out (hit the ball slow enough to the first baseman so he/she can pick it up and step on 1st base to make the out). Those are your only realistic outcomes.

The coach takes to the mound and immediately the Chunk’s confidence is returned. “I can trust this man. He won’t hurt me.” The coach lobs a soft, slow one right down the pipe, a Jamie Moyer pitch if I’ve ever seen one.

THUMP

With the strength of 1,000 turtles, Chunk smacked that ball high (about 8 feet) into the air and deep (to the edge of the infield where the grass meets dirt). In Little League this is generally referred to as “Homerun Territory.” Chunk set fire to the base paths. He ran to first with all the purpose and intention of a man sprinting into the arms of his long-lost love. He rounded (I use this term loosely as he ran to first, stood on the bag for a half second and then took off for second. So, he right-angled.) the bag and “sprinted” toward second. At this moment, he could have been caught from behind by an old man with a walker, a three-legged dog, or Sid Bream. He made it safely to second, meanwhile the entire other team is somehow trying to find the ball as if this is a big Easter Egg hunt.

Chunk keeps on chugging. The Little Engine that could, he is. The crowd is alight. They urge him onward. He is their engine; they are his coal. The “defense” finally recovers the ball and fires it to third, where Chunk’s journey surely is coming to a close. Except, these are Little Leaguers. So they didn’t throw it to 3rd base. They threw it in the vicinity of 3rd base, which is more like the dugout. The ball rattles around further and Chunk keeps on steaming. He’s gasping for breath, grinning ear-to-ear, never had a happier day in his life. Home is in sight. The catcher awaits, begging to be Buster Poseyed, blocking the plate like only a 3-foot-nothing, 45-pound sack of shit could. The 3rd baseman gets the ball and fires it home, far above the catcher or anyone else’s head. Chunk scores. A home run. He races to the dugout, faster than he ran at any point on the basepaths. He slaps fives with his teammates. Chunk has never been, and will never again be, so adored. I’m sure he told the story for weeks. He probably even got two Capri Suns and two Nutty Bars for his performance.

All at once I’m seemingly caught up. On the one hand, the pure joy of watching Chunk’s happy moment is impossible to duplicate. This is the joy of baseball. On the other hand, Chunk should never have hit a home run. Not because he’s bad or because the defense sucked. No, Chunk should not be allowed to hit home runs on account of adults inability to allow kids to fail.

You see, when I played little league, if I saw four balls, I walked (rare). But even better, if three strikes, well, I was out (common). I failed. I marched my pathetic ass back to the bench. I learned to lose. I learned to fail. I learned that it wasn’t over but that I had to get better. It was often embarrassing, but shouldn’t losing always be? Baseball became a lesson in maturity and adulthood. Sometimes you lose and when you do, you just keep working at it. My team didn’t get trophies just for playing. You don’t give trophies to losers. So why start life lessons later than we should? The longer you wait to tell someone they are a loser, the harder it becomes for them to understand that not only are they a loser, but it’s okay.

Chunk didn’t hit a home run; he drew a walk. That’s not a fun story to tell your friends but most of life isn’t. Chunk isn’t special; he’s just a fat kid that’s afraid of the baseball. He didn’t lose that Saturday, but he didn’t win as big as he thought. He will lose someday, probably even the next Saturday. If only someone would let him fail.

Losing sucks, but everyone needs it.

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Misleading Genes : By Wade Browning

At age 13, I was full of potential. I was big and tall for my age which translated into a force in the post. My dad is a healthy amount over 6 feet, I’d say a modest 6’7” or 6’8”. He was a quiet man and a hard worker from southeastern Oklahoma. Does that mean that I would be strong? Perhaps even country strong? Puberty was coming. Biology was going to take over and turn me into the stoic beast in the paint that I knew I would become.

These were my thoughts as I walked into 7th grade basketball tryouts. I was not only born for that moment, but adequately trained for it as well. My signature move was the post fade away. Left, right, doesn’t matter. It was going in the hole. I even was able to add a tempting shimmy or two during my rigorous 25 min training session in the neighbor’s driveway (Ours was too slanted, only good for dunks). I assumed I should practice dunks as well, just in case.

First drill was layups. No problem, on the right side. I never quite got the left-handed layup. They told me to imagine myself as a puppet with a string attached from my elbow to my knee. However, I always ended up resembling a mixture of Mario jumping and a Tetris shape. It was a rough start, but I knew what kind of player I was and that wasn’t a top of the key penetrator.

The 3 man weave was next. Again, being a post specialist, this had little application to me, but the pattern was easy to remember from P.E. I excelled here. Perhaps I would get a block and be rewarded on the break. You always got to be ready for that sort of thing.

The coaches then lined up all of the boys at the perimeter. There were over 70 kids who stayed after school to try out. For every missed 3, we would have to run 1 suicide drill. We all know that most kids shoot by making chest passes toward the front of the rim. This happened. I think we ran 53 suicides. A lot of kids quit right there. Not me.

Yes, I missed my 3 pointer. I’ll say it again, post specialist.

I was surprised when coach huddled us up after the suicides. I was panting heavily and most likely resembled a Dalmatian with pink dots. I sat down and heard my name NOT called as the new roster was established. An immediate feeling of injustice flowed through my mind. Where was the post drill with broom stick defenders? Couldn’t they see that I was out of my element yet still endured? Did they really think small ball was the best solution? (Ok, I thought that one as a 28 year old man.)

I was full of tears and devastated in the locker room. Coach came in and asked me where another player was, a player that I was not. That just made it worse. It was huge agony for an emotional teenager, not too country strong in that situation.

Something went wrong with my genetics plan. I’m 6’ 3” and fighting not to become shaped like a pear in my late 20’s. You might tell me that I didn’t make that 7th grade team because I didn’t prepare correctly. I would say that you are underestimating my post game. And hey, my hands are small for my height ok? Lay off! Let me blame my dad’s fake genetics. I’m still bitter.

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