“Losers!” my son’s teammate moaned as we walked to the car. “We’re losers!”
“Is this what Hoopfest had taught them?” I thought woefully.
It was 9 p.m. Saturday, and they had just played their third and best game of the day. Four 9-year-olds, who at 1 o’clock had parked outside the 2-point circle hoping to get lucky, had learned by 8 o’clock to fly to the basket, set screens and watch for an open teammate. By watching a team from Pendleton, Ore., they had learned the value of a rebound. By passing more, they had learned each of them could score.
At least that’s what I, their coach, thought they had learned. But after a salty-eyed overtime loss to a hard-working team from Issaquah, my boys were whining pinch-throated laments about uncalled fouls instead of remembering their golden moments.
“Guys,” I said. “You can go home and complain to your parents, and I guarantee they’ll think twice about signing you up for Hoopfest next year.”
That would be fine with them, they said. And they lectured me on the importance of winning. Their logic came from a T-shirt: “Second place is the first loser.”
We rode home in near-silence. My feet ached. I needed a shower. I hadn’t been home for 14 hours.
At least with our team name, the Oxymorons, we had taught the other guys a vocabulary lesson. Unfortunately, I was learning that “good loser” is an oxymoron in 1995.
Then, a few blocks from where I would drop off my son’s friends, one of the tired Oxymorons spoke.
“There’s always next year,” he said.
Hope. It was enough for me.
I’m writing this in a spiral notebook at 3 a.m. Sunday. I woke up thinking about the lessons of Hoopfest: the inspiring players, the tireless court monitors, the coaches who shook my hand and praised my team with sincerity.
Later, I plan to take the boys to the water slides. The wonderful thing about losing on Saturday in Hoopfest is you don’t have to play on Sunday.
Maybe we’ll talk about basketball. Maybe we’ll talk about winning. Maybe we’ll talk about learning to lose.
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