Monday, December 12, 2011

Youth Basketball

I may be a little unconventional here, but I'm not that big a fan of church basketball. I remember when I was a boy we played basketball all the time. At scouts. At home. Even when I went on my mission, we played basketball regularly. So it's not that I don't know how to play, or even enjoy playing on occasion.

When I was called to serve with the Scouts, that's all they were doing. Even when the leaders had something planned, they would do it in the gym, which led to boys playing ball instead of participating with whatever it was the leaders were trying to do. My first goal was to get them out of the gym so we could actually do something with Scouts.

That worked really well. In fact, we haven't had basketball as our "default" activity for three years now.

But then there's the annual youth basketball tournament. I really struggle with this. I'll admit, sometimes I wish they wouldn't do it.

I don't know if other wards call a coach for this, but in my ward it falls to me as young mens president. I know several wards who essentially suspend Scouts during the basketball tournament so they can practice. I don't. In fact, in the last two years I've been YM president we haven't had a single organized basketball practice.

During the games, I don't even give them any coaching. I figure they all know what they're doing anyway. And the older boys will often step in and coach the younger ones when they need it. The only thing I've done is tell them when to substitute and for whom. And my goal there is mostly to give everyone a chance to play (and occasionally try to calm them down when they get a little hot around the collar). In fact, I've told them regularly that I don't care if they lose. Maybe that's bad, but its what I've done.

The last two years, they have taken first place in our stake and finished third in the local 5-stake tournament.

On Friday, they lost their first game of the season. It was during the 5-stake championship, putting them at either 3rd or 4th place (we didn't play for that place like last year) and ending the season. Afterwards, I took them all out for milk shakes.

After we ordered and were waiting for our shakes to come, the boys told me I was the best coach ever. They had noticed what the other team did during this last game. During the last quarter, they had all their young, small guys sitting on the bench and only played their older boys. They wanted to win. So did mine, but they thanked me for making substitutions and letting them play, even if it meant losing.

During the games, there was a poster sitting by the score table reminding everyone about the purpose of church sports. I don't remember exactly what it said, but it was similar to what is in the Church handbook regarding activities. Namely that they should provide meaningful experiences and build relationships.

Part of why I haven't been a fan of church sports in the past is because I haven't seen this happen. People get angry at each other, they get upset about losing, and relationships are strained rather than built.

But this time, I think we did it right. Our boys were great about letting everyone participate and have a shot. I think they really got it. Sure, they felt bad about losing. But in the end, they recognized that it wasn't about winning. I think they realized what I have been telling them the entire time, that its not really even about basketball.

The way I see it, if we have met those purposes outlined by the church for activities, then we have succeeded, whether we win or lose. But if we haven't, then it's been a waste of time.

Like I said, I'm probably a little unconventional when it comes to church sports. But I'm okay with it. And I think my boys are too.


  1. Duty to Spalding can be a killer - and is always an apparently easy default. It's usually used by those that don't even know that the Troop Program Resources, Varsity resources and Crew resources even exist. Basketball happens because it's easy. What many don't know is that it can be as easy in many ways (once it's rolling) to fully implement scouting.

    As a note, our young men participate in the yearly basketball tournament and greatly look forward to it. Our Ward calls a sports coach (who also helps with the Volleyball season - and occasional softball tournaments). During those seasons they hold a bi-weekly practice before mutual starts. That allows the young men who want to participate/practice the opportunity to do so, without impacting the more important activities that night.

    Also, our Stake tends to have a pretty good spirit surrounding the games. There are always the occasional person that takes it too seriously, but the vast majority have fun and build lasting relationships.

  2. Ah yes, the brawl that begins with a prayer. I hated the P-day obsession with basketball, there were so many other things worth learning about and exploring.

    I like your coaching style, it seems like the patrol method in action. And I'll bet having a good experience will leave a longer-lasting impression, and be more valuable to them, than any title. (Anyone who, at 26 or 35 looks back on their "stake Title," like it's some kind of HS state tournament win, needs to be readjusted.)

  3. I just came across this blog today and have been really enjoying your posts. I am in a similar position as a new scoutmaster of about 3 years now and I'll probably be peppering the blog with questions on the different topics in time.

    I appreciated reading your story about young men's basketball and I agree with much of your post. My question is though with the amount of extra time required to put in to the tournament do you suspend other troop activities? I've been trying hard to help our troop plan an additional outing each month. With available weekends sometimes difficult to find, it makes it really hard when for 2 months the Stake requires each ward to travel to the stake center and play every other week.

    I think your post shows you can make something good out of these experiences and that's very encouraging, however I'm afraid we are trading something that is great, for something that is more often not a very good experience in the name and ease of tradition. Just looking for a little insight and if there is a right balance that I may need to find. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    1. NO, we do not suspend any other Scouting activities for basketball. I know many wards suspend their Scouting to hold practices--we don't. Games are conducted on nights other than our usual mutual night so we are still able to do our regular meetings and activities, it just adds an extra evening every week for those two months. We haven't had as many weekend Scouting activities as I would like, so it hasn't interfered much there. The boys don't seem to mind the extra night to play ball, however, I don't know about their parents. My wife, if she were being honest, would probably say it's too much.