First Game Jitters

My seventh-grade boys’ basketball team had its first game yesterday. I don’t know if you can remember playing the first game, wrestling a first match, or running a first race in a sports season, but for a bunch of seventh-graders it’s resembling of the release of a balloon before a knot can be tied in it. There’s a lot of energy, excitement, and total ignorance to what has been worked on and practiced.

It’s what my co-coach, Ron McKinney, and I had expected. After all, these boys had never played a middle school basketball game. Most of them had never played a game where two people wearing black- and-white striped shirts were on the court with them.

Honestly, I did not expect much. My pessimism had taken root in the four days of practice we had before our first game. When we scored our first basket ten seconds into the game I thought “Well, we won’t get shut out.”

And then we scored again, and again, and again. The guilt about my lack of faith began to ooze out of me.

But first game jitters took a firm hold of our bench. When I told one of my guards sitting on the bench to go in for a certain player he was off the bench and six feet onto the court before I could blink. I yelled, “No!” and pointed for him to go to the scorer’s table. His excited look took on a moment of confusion, as if I had just spoken Russian to him. Others in the crowd were beckoning him to the scorer’s table and it sunk in.

A minute later another sub started to go from the bench to the court when I told him to replace someone. For this boy I was ready. I grabbed the back of his jersey and reeled him back to me. A minute later my third catch of the day was one of my bench players who was replacing one of my Bigs. Unfortunately, I could only get a hold of the elastic band around his shorts. Laughter emerged from the bleachers behind me as I halted his progress.

First game jitters cause players to react in different ways. I’m sure a few of my players didn’t know what a scorer’s table was.

And then there were my runaway locomotives who hustled like crazy, but don’t yet understand that the train slows down coming into the station. One boy made three or four steals and missed all of his layups. In fact, I’m not sure if any of his layups actually hit the rim. The good news is that none of them hit the wall behind the basket. Another boy looked like a deer standing in front of an approaching semi, his eyes as big as saucers and scared silly. A third boy’s knees were shaking so bad I thought he was going to fall out of his chair.

They were a dozen excited, nervous, forgetful twelve-year-olds, playing in front of a full gym of classmates, parents, grandparents, siblings, and make-believe girlfriends. It does things to a kid to see so many people watching him with smiles on their faces.

And it does something to a coach to have his team surprise him in a good way! Lord knows I’ve had plenty of games where the team I was coaching surprised me in disappointing ways!

And so today we practice all of those that they forgot to do yesterday. We’ll make sure we do layup drills and maybe, just maybe, practice getting off the bench and reporting in at the scorer’s table. It may take a few games for things to take root, but but for seventh-grade boys, they are as cute as can be, and life is good!

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