A Little Bit

My 7-year-old son recently started to love playing basketball. He wasn’t all that into it before this year, he has never watched much of it, but he loves to play. It’s the first thing he has really taken to and he asks me to play all the time with him. We practice dribbling, rebounding, and defense in our backyard, and he can’t get enough. We also got a basketball hoop at our place upstate and he can play Horse all day long. I love doing it with him.

He asked to join a team two months ago, so we signed him up for a league. He practices once a week and plays a game every weekend. When he started he didn’t really know which side of the court was his teams or the opposing ones. He spent most of the first game with his hands behind his back, double dribbling, or almost falling when he was running from one side of the court to the other. Watching it was an experience.

But he loved it and that's all that mattered. He also wanted to get better. So the first thing we did was work on passing the ball to each other and moving around without the ball. We did this every night for 10 minutes. I never asked him to do it, he'd drag me outside after dinner and demand it. The next game there was a noticeable difference in his passing and catching abilities. But he would run away from the hoop when it came time to grab a rebound. So we practiced rebounding and made it fun. He’d have to jump up for the ball and when he grabbed it and landed on the ground he’d have to yell. The next game he got several rebounds and wasn’t afraid of the ball. Then we did dribbling. Then defense. Then shooting.

Every week he made progress. And in the last game he played, it went to triple overtime. That’s a big deal for a 1st through 3rd grade league. In the third overtime, the ref declared “next point wins.” The score was 20-20 (which is a high scoring game for a bunch of 7 and 8 year olds). My son was passed the ball and scored the game winning basket. I’ve never seen him smile like that before. He came sprinting across the court and jumped into my arms. The whole gym was lit up and as far as I was concerned he had just won an NBA Championship. It was an all-time moment. 

The chances of him being a pro are slim to none. He may grow bored of it next year and not want to play anymore. That’s fine. What has been incredible to see is how his consistent bursts of effort compound slowly, then quickly. As an adult (or whatever I am), it’s easy to forget how practice and getting reps in is the only way to get better. We want immediate progress, but it always comes gradually. We practice a thing and get better, but just a little bit. But when we do it over and over, the little bit turns into a lot. Parenting teaches me a lot of different lessons, but I was so happy to be reminded of this one, and to witness it again firsthand. A little bit over and over again goes a long, long way. 

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