Snuggled on the couch under a fleece blanket covered in our favorite team’s logo, I watch basketball with my son. This little corner of the couch is our lucky spot. I have to be careful, though, watching with him next to me. Things can, well, slip in the heat of the moment: words and phrases acceptable in sports’ bars and man caves, not on couches where moms and eight-year-old boys watch the game. Sometimes, I want to complain about the calls. Or yell at the players. Or question the coach.
But I fight through it, resisting, doing my best to be careful with my reactions and words because he’s watching with me. He hears every word I say. On the bus tomorrow or on the playground at recess, he’ll repeat those words. I know this because I’ve heard it. In a van filled with his friends, I heard him say the exact words his daddy had said the night before, “If you wanna win games, you gotta make free throws.” Same words, different voice.
So when I watch with my son, I try not to complain, or yell, or question. Instead, I try to teach. Here’s what I hope he learns:
We love our team even when they lose. We’re fans through the good, the bad, and the ugly. We wear our crimson and blue to school even after a tough loss. We cheer for our team, even if it busts our bracket. A team is a family, and a family is a commitment.
My son can name all the starting players and most who come off the bench. While I’m proud he knows our team so well, I also want him to notice the players whose names we don’t see because they wear their warm-ups the entire game. A player’s value is not determined by points scored or minutes played. The value of a player is a result of their contribution to the team, no matter their role. I point out the reactions on the bench. What better way to teach teamwork than to see excitement and energy coming from the players on the sidelines? I want him to appreciate every role on the team and be ready to accept his when the time comes.
Look for the little things.
We talk about the awesome passes and well-set screens along with the big shots. I try to point out what I hope to see in him on the court someday: Watch how he sprints down the court. Did you see him dive on the floor for the ball? That’s hustle. Notice how he hit a big shot and simply turned to play defense. That was a hard foul, but see how he helped his opponent up. Sure, we talk about skills and stats, but we also talk about players who play the game with class.
If you can’t control it, don’t complain.
Maybe that didn’t look like a foul, but the official called it, so it was. Our complaining, rewinding, replaying, and arguing does absolutely nothing. When my son’s playing the game, I want him to focus on what he can control. He can’t control the officials, but he can adjust his play. He can’t control the foul calls, but he can control his reaction to them. Practice makes perfect, and we practice now – even as fans watching on television.
The game is not determined by one shot.
That last second shot is where all the drama happens. It’s what March Madness is made of. The slow motion replays, the leaping from the bench, the immortalized buzzer beater. We often say that a team won or lost the game with a last-second shot. In just one second, we forget the 39 minutes and 59 seconds that preceded it. The free throws, turnovers, and missed shots are forgotten and replaced by one single second. Whether my son makes or misses that last second shot, I want him to understand that his identity was not borne in that moment. I want him to remember the other 39 minutes.
In the end, it’s just a game.
We watch the post game interviews… of the winners and the losers. Many times, the coaches and players who have lost the game provide winning lessons. I witnessed one of these moments during an interview with Chris Beard, Texas Tech’s coach, after their Elite 8 loss. “Well, it turned them all into men,” Beard said. “They’re going to be great husbands, fathers and winners. They are big-time people.” Coach Beard helps us understand that this game we love is about much more than a championship. I want my son to see the devastated faces after suffering a loss. But I also want him to see them accept defeat, recover, and recognize that there is more to life than wins and losses on the court.
It’s about more than watching basketball with my son. It’s about watching life lessons unfold on the court. It’s about sharing victory and defeat. It’s about teaching him how to be a competitor but, more importantly, how to be a man.