There is a line where the desire to win demeans the players. That line has been crossed in girls varsity basketball.
I grew up playing basketball and dedicated 10 seasons to my sport. The sport instilled in me a sense of teamwork, accountability, loyalty and commitment. After my experience with high school varsity basketball, I don’t know if I would do it again or encourage others to play.
As players, we know our place. There is a clear understanding that a bench player will get minimal playing time, even if you are a senior.
That’s the way it is. That’s the way it should be. We demonstrate our commitment by choosing to finish our last year.
Players should be able to maintain the expectation that they will still be valued. The coaches should recognize a player’s improvement and that, if there is an opportunity for playing time, a bench player would be given a chance.
Bench players quickly learn that they are intended to act as pawns, a means to allow the starters to practice. The varsity girls basketball practice is the starters versus the bench. This enables the starters to establish strong communication and flow on the court.
I strongly believe this is an ineffective way for any team to practice. It prevents the starters from being challenged and allows them to develop a false sense of accomplishment. It degrades the confidence of the bench.
It also harms the team’s endurance because instead of scrimmaging full court in diverse teams, everything is centered on the starters. They learn, play and grow.
In the beginning of the season, it is made very clear that the coaches will do what they need to win. They don’t want to hear anything about playing time or practice.
In the beginning of each season coaches explain a set of values. They dictate each player’s minutes on the court.
My team learned that while we would never be punished for being sick, hurt or for having a family or school obligation, commitment is important. Those that work hard, show up and play well will be rewarded. The main priority is to win games.
However, coaches always make exceptions for the starters. Their focus is winning.
The goal is to win, but we’re not very good at doing that either. With a season record of 8-17, we failed to achieve it. Seems like a flawed system.
Between 2012-2018 the girls varsity basketball team’s overall success rate is 36 percent and their league success rate is 33 percent. If that was a student’s grade in a class, unless they had a very lenient teacher, they would fail.
Considering that the school is small, lacks sports’ funding and our team doesn’t have a strong reputation, attract many serious athletes, aren’t as competitive as, for example, Redwood. All of this is fine. Winning isn’t the most important thing. But if it’s the foundational value of a team, we should at least have a 60 percent.
Senior night rolled around. The seniors, three out of five are bench players, started and ended the game. But the three of us that usually warmed the bench were replaced after a few minutes. We played hard but the score was too close for comfort. We continued to watch into the fourth quarter. Even when our team was up 16 points with six minutes left on the clock, not one bench player was in the game.
Before the game, the coaches promised that if we played hard, we would play all night. Another broken promise. We returned to the court after the four minute mark, up by 20.
In the last game of the season, the bench players did play. But we should have played the whole game.
There was no possibility of making playoffs or NCS. Even if the starters played the whole game, we wouldn’t have won.
Of course we want to win. But during that last game, we just wanted to play. I couldn’t have cared less about the scoreboard; I wish that’s how my coaches had felt, too.