When Kids’ Sports Stop Being About Positive Reinforcement, We All Lose

My twelve-year-old son’s basketball coach asked if I could help during practice by scrimmaging with the kids.  I was sitting in the bleachers at the time, but I did have on shorts and tennis shoes, so I said yes.

“Just stand there with your arms up and make them go around you,” he said, “I just want them to get a feel for playing against taller guys.”

So I stood there.  I’m 6′ 1″ tall, so it wasn’t hard to be a presence in the key.

That’s when a 4′ 6″ kid tried to make a layup around me.

I didn’t like his cockiness.

So I swatted the ball so hard it flew twenty feet out-of-bounds and hit the gym wall.

The coach stopped the practice.

“Thanks for your help,” he said, “You can go back to the bleachers if you want.”

I walked back to the bleachers.

“Way to go,” said the cocky kid on my way past him, “You can stuff a kid two feet shorter than you.”

But the difference wasn’t two feet.   It was 1′ 7″.  So in addition to being cocky, he was a big-time exaggerator.

When I got back to the bleachers, some of the parents stared at me, as though I had done something wrong.  No high-fives.  Not even a “way to go.”  That was a surprise because I thought childrens’ sports was all about positive reinforcement, and it really was a great block.

But I didn’t say anything.  Especially not to the one dad who looked like he was taking pictures.  I want to stay on his good side because I’m hoping he got a shot of me packing that kid’s shot.

I’d like to make it my screen-saver.

50 thoughts on “When Kids’ Sports Stop Being About Positive Reinforcement, We All Lose

  1. I swat kids shots away all the time. I’m not a coach or a father or anything, but I do take walks in the park on occasion and just can’t resist.

  2. The vertically challenged have trouble accepting the dope slap of reality. Way to go Rat.

  3. I coach girls gymnastics and parents just don’t have fun with it. They don’t seem to get it when their child’s hands are bleeding from bars and you are telling the kid, ‘hey, that’s a great rip’.

  4. Awesome. Based on that kid’s cocky response, I’d say he really had it coming. Maybe you could trip the next time he runs past you, or spit in his Kool-Aid.

  5. My teenaged daughter just came back to playing basketball after recovering from several torn ligaments. She and some of her former teammates played a pickup game at the gym with a group of big, muscled, tatooed badasses and she said it was her pleasure to have them wipe the floor with her. Her scars give her street cred, but she would never have stood for anybody letting her get by.

  6. That’s right, Pastis. Show ’em who’s boss!
    I love this story. I HATE kids like that. If they’re that cocky when they’re in middle school I don’t even want to see how bad it gets when they’re older.

  7. But that’s what basketball is about. If they whined in the NBA, then who would watch it?
    I blame parents for focusing too much on their kids and screaming when “he messed wif ouw poow wittle Jonny-poo.”

    Here’s a news flash:
    IT’S CALLED LIFE!!!!!!!!
    (and it ain’t all sunsine and lollipops.)

  8. Bah! If you were playing a REAL sport, like hockey, that kid’s smartassery would have earned him at fight and several missing teeth. More proof you yanks have gone soft. 😉

    (says the guy in Victoria, where it has yet to snow this year and where there are two organic health food stores per person in the city).

  9. If Dave Barry ever decides to really retire instead of his half-assed “kind of retired, kind of not,” you are next in line for Funniest Man in America.

  10. Teaching a kid a lesson is awesome! The coach seems like he wants to pander to the kids so their parents don’t get mad at him. Teaching a kid that they won’t always just be able to go around people is necessary to make better players out of them. The coach should have kept you in and made the kid hit the bleachers!

  11. Hi Stephan…it was just a practice for gawds sake!!!! They ASKED you to help out…and you did? What did your kid say? I hope he appreciated your parental involvement. It does take some time away from work to go to those things, after all!! Go DAD!!

  12. Sad thing is, you probably taught that kid an actual lesson in basketball – if you are trying to be a showoff and shoot past someone nearly 1’7″ taller than you, you should probably not try it again. Either that or switch to a different sport.

    Next weeks episode: Stephan takes on flag football. Wait until that kid trys to run over Stephan at linebacker.

  13. Funny thing is I have done the exact same thing.

    Do you have any advice to help increase readership in my blog. What I’ve been doing is cutting and pasting your blog on to mine but I’ve had no luck yet.

  14. Just a head’s up to you, the New London Day (CT) published two letters trashing Pearls before Swine. On Jan. 25, someone wrote in complaining about what a bad example to children the strip is setting and asked the Day to cancel it. Today, someone wrote a letter where he claims the strip is not funny and that the Day should bring back a really funny strip, Andy Capp. Anyway I thought you would like to know this and check those letters out, they are quite funny.

  15. You did the right thing!! I would do the exact same because the main thing is making sure your kid doesn’t bear the brunt for you. Now go outside and teach your kid to keep up Dad’s legacy and to STUFF IT!!!

  16. The really startling part of this story is that you didn’t wind up w/ that 4’6″ kid’s elbow in your groin. Kids where I live woulda taught you an altogether new meaning of cocky.

  17. And that cocky kid will be another Stephan Pastis in ten years. But he will take his wife on a better honeymoon.

  18. I used to coach youth soccer, and their is nothing worse then a kid with an ego. They eventually become ball hogs and then the rest of the team starts to hate them. So it is important to take a kid down a peg or too sometimes.

    Also my sister was 6’1″ by the age of 12 so its better to learn in practice then to get beat during a game.

  19. Ok, let me get this straight. The coach wanted the kids to get the feel of what it means to go up against a tall guy and he wanted you to just stand there like one of those dummies in clothing stores? So I guess they don’t want the kids to really get a clue what it’s going to be like to go up against a tall guy. They ain’t gonna just stand there unless there’s a bunch of idiot coaches telling the tall kids “Ok, I want you to go over there and just stand there with your hand in the air. Don’t bother moving.”

    You did the right thing, teaching that punk that someone taller than them isn’t just going to stand there and wait for them to shoot. Someone oughta teach the coach this, their failing to properly prepare the kids for the possibilities of the game. It’s like pee-wee games for really little kids where they don’t even keep score so both teams automatically win. What happen’s when they move up to a real game where there’s winners and loosers? They don’t get the harsh reality that this is possible. It ain’t helping them any to deal with possibly loosing and makes a bunch of bad sports since they expect to always win.

    Keep doing the right thing.

  20. Bad coaching… My 12-year-old daughter is on the basketball team, and at 5’8″, she’s the one that coach uses to teach other girls how to deal with height. She doesn’t just stand there — she actually plays defense, and every now and then she screams like a banshee just to rattle the offensive players, not to mention smacking the ball out of their hands, stealing it outright, or boxing them out and right off the court.

  21. I did that once. Except we were like the same age, but I was three feet taller then him. He was a jackass, and always took the worst advised shots, so one day during a game, I blocked it, and tried to make it look like I was trying to grab the ball. I got benched for the next two games. It was totally worth it though

  22. I can’t believe you lot. Nothing wrong with proper Defense but it’s how it was done and the force used that was stupid. Vindictive too. You could have blocked effectively without threatening harm. 12 yr old sports here folks. Not a feeder for the NBA. Kids need to learn gradually or they get burned out quickly. You need to get into your box of stupid people. So do the rest of your “supporters” in this. You’re in disgrace.

  23. Their not learning if their being taught things will be easy. And that’s exactly what this coach is teaching. These are twelve year olds, not five year olds. I was playing Little League baseball at that age and the coach didn’t make things easy on our team. He wanted us to learn how to deal with both easy plays and hard plays cause that’s what we’d be facing in our games. The same thing goes for any sport, the kids need to learn that things aren’t always going to be easy.

    You wanna complain, take a look at what the coach told him to do. Just stand there with his hands in the air. Make them go around. Swatting the ball was the right thing to do. If the kid thought it would be easy then he got a rude awakening. Having someone come at you like that should make you try to get around them. The coach didn’t get it, clearly.

  24. I should know better than attempting to eat lunch while I read your blog at work. I almost choked on my sandwhich…and then I was in tears cuz I was laughing so hard. Thank you for bringing a bit of joy to my otherwise bleak cubicle.

  25. i think we are having a problem here.some people have mistaken this blog to be their blog and have started blogging about their kids and their childhood here.please start your own blogs.

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