Brian Goldman | No child left behind
The Gold Standard | Coaching basketball reminded me how we can influence kids
March 11, 2012, 11:04 pm · Updated March 12, 2012, 11:35 pm·
“Attack the basket, guys!” I shouted across the court to a group of 11- and 12-year-old boys. “And when the ball gets in the corner on defense, trap the player.”
This was not how I envisioned spending part of my spring break. But there I was last Friday and Saturday at my local basketball court in Queens, New York. My 12-year-old brother Alec’s basketball team had made it to the playoffs but their coach was away for the week on a business trip. So in stepped yours truly.
In the beginning, I felt a mixture of awkwardness and apprehension. After all, I was coaching kids that I had never met before and their season was on the line.
But boy, was I off. A few days later — after notching a couple playoff victories and getting to know the group — I was honestly (perhaps a tad bit selfishly) sad to leave the team and hand the reins back over to their coach.
Coaching basketball was an enjoyable experience that brought me back to my days as a camp counselor for kids of a similar age. I was 17 and 18 at the time but there were certainly similarities in the ways I interacted with the kids.
Young adults transitioning between teenage and adult years have an innate ability to influence younger kids. It’s not exactly clear how this gets done and I’m hard pressed to put my finger on the aspects of these kids’ lives that are positively influenced. But it’s certainly there. I saw in my camping days and experienced it again this spring break.
Tutoring, baby sitting, the University’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program — all subscribe to the idea that children’s lives can be enhanced through interactions with young adults or college students.
The logic behind these programs is that college students are young enough to retain a childlike sense of fun but old enough to be viewed as genuine role models. Their interactions can produce actual benefits on children.
But it’s a two-way street. While children look up to us and learn how to work hard and persevere through our interactions, we can also glean a number of lessons from them. Being aware of our position as role models, teachers and coaches to young kids also adds a layer of purpose to our stress-ridden lives.
Some of the most basic values that we practiced effortlessly when were young slowly slip away as the years progress and childhood wanes. The ability to laugh at ourselves and not take everything stone-cold seriously was definitely one that was reinforced over the course of my interim basketball coach tenure.
The specific benefits of these interactions differ from individual to individual, but the sentiment of positively reinforced values and outlooks seem more universal.
Here at Penn, our school makes a good effort to forge interactions and relationships between students and schoolchildren in West Philadelphia. My old roommate coached a West Philadelphia youth basketball team two years ago via a Penn initiative and always glowed when he talked about it. Small personal experiences like these can have as much of an impact on a child’s life as any elaborately conceived program can.
After the second playoff victory, Alec and I went to a Chinese restaurant with my grandfather to celebrate. At the end of the meal, our waiter brought some fortune cookies to our table, but Alec and I were ready to leave. Our grandfather, at 85 years of age, couldn’t believe that we were not going to read our fortunes before departing. So we sat and read our fortunes.
There’s an inner child in us all. Sometimes, it takes a basketball game — or a fortune cookie — to remember so.
Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is email@example.com. The Gold Standard appears every Monday.