The heydays of YMCA basketball


I have always been a basketball fan. My interest in the sport Dr. Naismith invented seventy-four years ago spans back to the trenches of YMCA recreational basketball. In those trenches of sweat and body odor, I figured out a vital aspect about the baller life: the bling on your neck doesn’t come before the bling on the scoreboard. No, seriously though, the two or so years that I participated in YMCA basketball taught me indispensable life lessons that I will never let leave my brain. At the time, I was in a state of mind in which I wasn’t equipped with a strong bravado or a powerful mindset; instead, I was inherently on the quieter end of the spectrum. Don’t get me wrong, a shy facade equals a deep soul; yet, this motto does not seem to age well with ten-year-old hotheads sporadically running in a heap of chaos across a basketball court.

My inaugurate practice with my first ever basketball team was set up at Thornapple Elementary’s secluded gym. All I remember was that I flat out couldn’t jump and grab the bar that was being set for me by my new teammates. To put it in a more blunt fashion, I simply stunk. I quickly came to the conclusion that I was no longer the swish-mongering executioner that I had become in my neighborhood driveway with my younger brother. Let’s just say that in my driveway my go-to move against my four foot nine brother was an uncontested layup down in the post. On the other hand, my go-to move on my YMCA team was the fundamentally functional two-handed pass to the most premier player on my team. After my first practice, I learned my first life lesson from the sport of basketball: there is always someone who is either more skilled or more talented than you. 

My team, the Purple Panthers, were the crème de la crème of the league that we competed in, so I only stepped out beyond the sideline for a maximum of five minutes to immerse myself in the game. With that said, the second life lesson that I learned was that —no matter how cliche it sounds— every element in life is earned through some sort of strenuous work. At the time, my immature mind was not equipped with a sensible amount of wisdom to grasp the importance of this lesson, but in this day and age I finally have acknowledged that hard work is not just a seminar topic preached on a powerpoint.

In the words of the renowned Notre Dame Football coach, Ara Parseghian, “A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” Oddly enough, my former YMCA coach—who only coached so he could suit up in Nike jumpsuits and blow a whistle—never soaked up those words that were preached by a perennial collegiate champion. What he did accomplish, though, was enlightening me in the most vital lesson I learned throughout that whole season. The lesson he blindly taught me was that the disdain for a coach, teacher, or adult figure should never be translated into a face-to-face confrontation or a lapse in respect. Despite the emotional amount of animosity I had for him, I still never disregarded his coaching ethics because I quickly understood that I had to adapt to his approach to coaching. 

As can be seen, an experience as small-scale as a YMCA basketball team has the capability to screw on brand-new bolts to tighten and bolster the index or glossary of the brain; the essence of success in life can be attributed to the trifling, miniscule memories in which people store in the back of the brain and utilize for future reference. Oh yeah…. The insanely mouth-watering post-game snacks weren’t too bad either.