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The key to bouncing back in basketball

Three Japanese in their 30s, a man and two women, play basketball with us at the gym. The other day they arrived with several pages containing diagrams of basketball plays. The young man, who does some coaching, had prepared the material.

The plays were accompanied by text in Japanese. One sentence stood out because the characters were written in red. Doubtless, an important thought, but what was its meaning?

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Perhaps the sentence set forth the three essentials of the game: A solid defense, strong rebounding, and good shots. Or advised, "Practice! Practice! Practice!" Basketball players, like dancers, need to stay in shape and develop their skills. Or perhaps, on a less lofty note, it read, "Don't be a ball hog."

For those unfamiliar with the game, a ball hog is a player who shoots every time he or she gets the ball. Ball hogs are not popular on the court.

If I may digress briefly, on occasion I have been called a ball hog by teammates. The charge is painful and unjustified. I have one of the best shots of anyone at the gym. Why shouldn't I shoot when I get the ball? Ball hogs miss their shots. I don't. Advice to my teammates: "No complaining, please. Just pass me the ball."

End of digression. End of guessing. I asked the young man to translate the sentence for me. "It means," he said, "if you fall behind, don't become discouraged."

What a valuable lesson for every basketball player. Using more vigorous language, the same message is being imparted by coaches to their players in the National Basketball Association finals.

And what a valuable lesson in life. We all experience setbacks. Don't mope. Don't become discouraged. Get on with it. I feel at one with my new friends. Despite differences in age and culture, we think the same way.

A few days later, competing in an informal shooting contest with Yuriko, one of the Japanese women, I am far in the lead. But she does not become discouraged. She catches up and wins. For the future, I need to absorb my friend's wisdom - and also work on my shot.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor