When parents bring children to a social gathering intended for adults, it can cause tension. Sure, you want to be accepting of family life, but the presence of kids changes the social dynamics. You don’t want to seem selfish or create a scene, yet it’s hard not to wonder about the parents’ sense of boundaries.
Let us now go to the Capital Athletic Club in Sacramento. The CAC is an upscale athletic club geared toward adults. Members are allowed to bring kids 12 and up to use the facilities only on weekends. The swimming pool is popular. I’ve seen a few adults shooting hoops with kids during dead times in the gym. I did that once with my 12-year-old grandson who was curious about the mysterious club. What I haven’t seen until recently is children playing in the Saturday full-court basketball games.
The midday games attract a good range of talent ranging from 20-year-olds to senior sharpshooters. The rules are basic: You put your name on a signup board and play by rotation. You get two 15-minute games, then you’re off the court. If you want to play more, you have to sign up again.
For the past two Saturdays, a guy has come into the gym and signed up two boys. I assume he is the boys’ father. He doesn’t sign up for the games himself. The older boy is a thin 14-year-old about 5 foot 5. The other looks younger and is perhaps 5 feet tall. For kids, they are pretty good but have little concept of defense and floor movement. They like to shoot 3-pointers and are eager to let them fly.
The introduction of kids into what has long been an adult game presents an awkward social situation. The rules posted on the signup don’t say anything about children. Making an issue of their presence could start an argument. It also seems petty. Yet their presence changes the way we play. It diminishes our intensity and forces us to take some responsibility for their welfare. No one wants to bang up a kid or play them too hard on defense. We tend to offer encouragement and praise a made shot.
I think back to my days at Braddock Park in New York. When I was 13 or so, the only way I could get into a game with the big guys was when they were short a player. I wanted the honor of playing on the main court, but the challenge was daunting. These were intense three-on-three games with the winners staying on the court. Defenders cut me no slack. I was a weak spot to be exploited. My teammates expected me to dribble little, pass them the ball, make any shots I dared to take and stop the man I was guarding. I got a look of disgust the first time a man gave me an elbow to the gut and drove in for a layup.
I learned the game of basketball is built on the principles of meritocracy. You have to earn the right to be on the court and work your way up the ladder. When I went to other parks, I had to darn sure I could measure up before putting in for winners. Getting picked to play was a lesson in humility. If I did well, I would get into future games more quickly. Similar lessons applied as I made my way through high school ball. They also served me well in my college studies and the work world.
What annoys me most about the situation at the club is that a member feels entitled to manipulate the democracy of the basketball signup board to get his kids into the game. They haven’t earned the right to be there on the basis of their skills, and their presence diminishes the experience of adults who are both better players and paying for time in the gym. One can only wonder what lessons the kids are learning.
I suppose I could gain some enlightenment by chatting with this club member and trying to understand his perspective. Perhaps I could become a better human being by spending my Saturdays passing on basketball lessons to a younger generation while increasing my tolerance for the views of others.
Yes, indeed, I’ll have to give those options all the thought they deserve.