Thinking Bigger About Your Team

Competitors in the pool, we're on the same team when it comes to raising the profile of the Paralympic Games.

Competitors in the pool, we’re on the same team when it comes to raising the profile of the Paralympic Games.

Our middle-school basketball huddle always ends with a chorus of girls yelling, “Teamwork!”

The goal, which we’ve stated incessantly for the past three weeks, is for everyone to score. Everyone dribbles, everyone shoots.

Coach keeps saying to me, “They all have to understand that they can score.”

As the clock was running down in our season-opening game, the opposing team called a time-out. The girls huddled around us, and we said, “Who still needs to score?”

One shy hand went up.

“Okay, get her the ball,” Coach said. “If you rebound it, DO NOT SHOOT IT. You pass it to her, got it?” Eager faces nodded with focus and determination. Coach counted to three and they yelled “Teamwork!”

On the bus ride home, Coach yelled, “Hey, everybody scored, right?”

“Yes!” they hollered back and Coach muttered, “Good.” And he looked at me, “Because, you’ll see, not all our games are gonna be like that.”

By “like that,” he meant that we would not be instructing our zippy-fast energizer-rabbit players to play defense only inside the key. And then when that wasn’t enough, to play defense with their arms at their sides. (“Just move your FEET!”)

And then when that still wasn’t enough to help the other team put at least two little points on the board, to play defense only outside the three-point line. And don’t rebound.

This is the point at which the girls finally resisted. “But…,” some of them protested. “It’s a game!”

Coach waved his arm in the direction of the scoreboard and said, “We won the game. Now we’re gonna help them put some points on the board.”

Later on the bus Coach would tell me about working with a team that was always so out-matched they went YEARS between wins. “So, the thing is, I have sympathy.”

Sympathy. I probably tend to make too much of sport and how it’s a microcosm of the real world. But if you take a really, really long view….they’re all on the same team. We’re all on the same team.

Will any of the players (or the adults watching) remember the day that the pre-destined winners (the outcome was clear before halftime) didn’t add to the margin of their win simply because they could?

Will they remember the day that Coach wanted the OPPONENT to score just so they would have some reason to keep hope alive, so they could learn, so they wouldn’t feel so utterly out-matched and defeated?

I sure hope so. Because if there’s one thing the real world needs right now it’s sympathy (or at least understanding) and teamwork.

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