Please note: this is NOT a sponsored post. I DID NOT receive compensation for this, and the views expressed ARE my own.-- Lucas
For eight months of the year, from pre-season until the NBA Finals, we gather around our televisions at night to watch the best basketball players in the world compete. Then, the off-season comes, and our basketball withdrawals combined with excitement for the new roster in the upcoming season makes July, August, September, and October somewhat grueling.
It's as good a time as ever to take a break from professional sports, and go take in some of the purest athletic competition available: the Special Olympics World Games. No big money, no egos, no scandal: just people participating in sports. There's no booing, no rivalries, no negative energy or trash talking. That's not something you can find at any other level. Even the 13-year-olds I coach lose their temper and yell at the referees or trash talk their opponents.
Maybe it's time for them to spend less time learning from Kobe and more time learning from Special Olympics athletes.
Maybe it's time for us to reconsider how important sportsmanship is relative to talent, and if we'd rather teach the next generation of basketball players to showboat and fight or congratulate and love each other.
I guarantee you that you've never seen a high-5 line as eager as the ones at the end of Basketball games yesterday at the Galen Center. Team Australia (which could beat most HS varsity teams) won a game 35-2, and after the horn both teams were hugging and congratulating each other, the crowd was applauding both teams' performances, and every player was simply so excited to be there and so happy to have played that the result couldn't have mattered less.
We often get so tired of the youth sports cliche: "Just have fun!" that we dismiss it altogether. At a certain point, we tell ourselves, just going and running around and maybe losing won't be fun. We take the fun out of sports to maximize the chances of winning, but when did we become more attached with winning than the other, more important aspects of sports, like teamwork and sportsmanship?
The line between where sports should be fun and where winning should be prioritized can be blurry, but it's pretty clear that we tend to draw it too young in America. Should High School Varsity teams (and above) be about winning over fun? Probably. What about JV and frosh teams, where your 30-0 record and 0-30 record get you the same end-of-season result. Shouldn't those years be spent developing sportsmanship and teamwork skills instead of stoking the ego of a 14-year-old? What about the team I coach, full of 12 and 13-year-olds? Almost every week the team I'm playing against tries to play their best players the whole game at the expense of the other kids, and I have to remind the scorer's table about the substitution rules.
When did it become more important to win than have fun and learn? I don't know, but it's hard to find any league or age group where, despite one mumbled line of "the most important thing is to have fun" at the beginning of the season, the kids are actually being directed towards a goal of activity and participation instead of a goal of winning.
The Special Olympics is that place. They athletes still want to win, and they play as hard as they possibly can when they're on the floor. In about six hours of basketball action yesterday, I didn't see a single "concession" basket--they played hard, they earned every point that went on the board, and they did it while every person in the stadium was producing only positive energy.
If you're in Los Angeles and you want a authentic, heartwarming sports experience while we wait for a couple more months to pay hundreds of dollars to watch millionaires argue over foul calls, go check out any of the special Olympics events in LA this week.