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Chapter XI - The Values of Basketball

JOHNNY WILLIAMS had lost his temper again. I watched him come off the floor scowling and belligerent and take his seat on the side lines. It wasn’t the first time that Johnny had been banished from the game; in fact, there were few games in which he was able to play the entire time without getting into trouble.

In 1896, in Denver, Colorado, I was coaching a group of teams in the Y.M.C.A., and among those was one made up entirely of printers. Johnny Williams, a short, stocky, red-haired Welshman, was a guard on the printers’ team. He was an excellent player, and time after time he would play brilliant ball; but eventually he would lose his temper and be told to leave the floor, many times when he was most needed.

As I watched Johnny leave the floor in this particular game, I decided that I should talk with him. After the game, I asked him to come into the office.

When he entered, he was still resentful toward the circumstances that had caused him to leave the game. He scowled at me, ready to take the reprimand that he expected, but still unwilling to admit that he was wrong.

I told him that he was a good player and that there were few guards that were his equal, but that he was really a detriment to his team. He looked at me, and his eyes snapped. Disregarding his expression, I told him that, if he was ever to be a success in basketball or in life, he must learn to control his feelings. Before he left the office, he agreed to try to control himself.

A short time later, he found, when a foul was called on him, that self-control paid. He started toward the official to protest; then suddenly he remembered his resolution and trotted away, with his face as red as his hair. The next few plays saw Johnny all over the court; he was offense and defense both, and I knew that through this physical effort he was working off his resentment.

By the end of the season he had so successfully learned to control his feelings that he was the mainstay of the team; his mates unanimously elected him captain for the following year.

Years later, on a visit to Denver, I spent some time with Johnny, who was then attending a session of the legislature as a representative from that district. He asked me if I remembered what I had told him in the office that day, and said that it had helped him to overcome a fault that would have been a serious drawback throughout his life.

I realize, through such an experience, the great amount of good that we can do through our athletics and physical education. It is only natural that I should spend much time in determining just what part basketball is playing in this program. The decisions that I have reached in regard to the game are that it is not now and it was never intended to be a complete system of physical education.

The main purpose of the game is recreation and the development of certain attributes that are peculiar to the game. Basketball was intended primarily for young men who had acquired their physical development but who were in need of exercise that would stress the skills and agile movements that were lacking in manual labor.

Because it is interesting, the game has often been substituted for all other forms of motor activity. This substitution is a grave error with young boys who have not already acquired their muscular development.

Basketball, however, has a definite place in a program of physical education: first, because it is attractive; and second, because it develops certain attributes. The game mainly develops control of nerves rather than a rugged physique.

Games have been called the laboratory for the development of moral attributes ; but they will not, of themselves, accomplish this purpose. They must be properly conducted by competent individuals. Under such leadership, I believe the following attributes can be developed by basketball.

1. Initiative, the ability to meet new conditions with efficiency. In basketball, it is impossible to tell what an expert opponent will do; consequently, a player must react to the conditions without tune for deliberation. When he meets an entirely new condition, he can not depend on the coach, but must face the emergency himself. I consider initiative one of the most valuable atributes, and the present tendency of the player to depend on the coach for his next move largely destroys the opportunity of acquiring this quality.

2. Agility, the power of the body to put itself into any position with quickness and ease. It is especially developed by the movements of the body in eluding an opponent, in keeping the ball away from him, and in getting into a position to make a pass, to shoot, or to dribble.

3. Accuracy, the ability to do the exact thing that is attempted. Basketball goals are made by passing a ten-inch ball through an eighteen-inch opening. In order to do so, it is necessary to give the ball the right direction, elevation, and impetus. It is the accuracy with which the acts are done that determines basketball games.

4. Alertness, the ready response to a stimulus. In some games there may be a letting down of attention, as no further activity may occur until a signal is given. In basketball, the attention must respond instantly and at any time. The ball travels so fast and changes hands so rapidly that every player must be ready to act while the ball is in play.

5. Co-operation, working with teammates without definite plans from the coach. In no other game is co-operation so necessary. There are only five players on a basketball team, and each of these is dependent on the others. Five men co-operating can always beat four, and if during a game one player fails to work with his mates, he places them at a serious disadvantage.

6. Skill, the ability to use the correct muscle group at the right time, in the proper sequence, and with the correct amount of force, while handling a movable object with moving teammates and against moving opponents. Basketball presents these conditions better than any other game, with the possible exception of hockey or lacrosse.

7. Reflex judgment, the ability to have the body perform the correct movement without mental process. In basketball, the eye sees an open space toward which a teammate is running, and the ball is automatically passed to him without deliberation. No prettier sight can be seen in athletics than a basketball player tipping the ball to a teammate, he, in turn, tipping it to a third mate who, while high in the air, tosses it into the goal. The whole action may take place more quickly than the mind could possibly devise the play.

8. Speed, the ability to move from one location to another in the shortest possible time. Basketball is a series of sprints rather than continuous running. According to our experiments, an average player is in action less than 40 per cent of the actual playing time. When he does move, however, it must be at a maximum speed. This speed entails quick starting and rapid movement, as a man may need to change his course to avoid another player coming at any angle into his path.

9. Self-confidence, the consciousness of ability to do things. Each player must be able to “carry on” by himself when the occasion requires. There are times when he cannot depend on his teammates to do things, even though they are better qualified than he is. When these times arrive, he must feel able to cope with the situation.

10. Self-sacrifice, a willingness to place the good of the team above one’s personal ambitions. The unit in basketball is the team rather than the individual player. The player who attempts to get personal glory at the sacrifice of the game is a hindrance to any team. There is no place in basketball for the egotist.

11. Self-control, the subordination of one’s feelings for a purpose. The player who permits his feelings to interfere with his reflexes is not only a hindrance to his team, but he is also occupying a place that might better be filled by another. There are so few players on a team that one player not doing his best is a greater reduction in the relative strength of the team than in a game where there are more players involved.

12. Sportsmanship, the player’s insistence on his own rights and his observance of the rights of others. It is playing the game vigorously, observing the rules definitely, accepting defeat gracefully, and winning courteously. Basketball is peculiarly adapted to the development of this trait because the players, officials, coaches, and spectators are in such close proximity that an action of one is observed by the others.

Both of the contesting teams occupy the same space on the floor, and often the teams are so intermingled that it is hard to distinguish one from the other. To obey the rules that have been set down, and to recognize the rights of the opposing players under these conditions, demands the highest type of sportsmanship.

The official is often no closer to some of the plays than the spectators, and it is evident that he must practice the strictest impartiality. He must be competent to judge reflexly and have the courage to disregard any personal feelings that he might have.

The coach is not only the inspiration of the team, but he also indirectly affects the attitude of the crowd. On him falls much of the burden of establishing a sportsmanlike attitude in both the players and the spectators. Any breach of ethics on his part is immediately noted by all who may be attending the game.

Last of all, the spectators are so close to the field of play that it is often necessary for them to curb their feelings. There is no player who never makes a slip, there is no official who is always right, and there is no coach who, in the heat of a hard-fought game, may not momentarily lose his stoical attitude and commit himself in regard to some decision that he may feel is unjust.

“Booing” by the spectators of basketball has caused some comment in the past few years. I, too, have condemned the practice; but one comes to realize that we have been so proficient in teaching the game that many of the spectators are very well versed in the technique, and that it is against human nature to expect these people to sit passively and accept some decision that they honestly feel to be unjust. I believe, however, that the less attention paid to the practice of “booing,” the sooner it will cease.

I may say in conclusion: Let us all be able to lose gracefully and to win courteously; to accept criticism as well as praise; and last of all, to appreciate the attitude of the other fellow at all times.

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