by David Hernandez
San Luis Obispo, CA
Stretch. Jog. Sprint. Jump. Dribble. Shoot. Box out. Rebound.
Nine young men run across the court, as they have done all season, practicing a multitude of basketball drills.
But this is not a professional basketball team, or even an organized team at a college or high school level.
This is Team #2, or the self-proclaimed “Lakers,” of the YMCA’s youth basketball white division.
Comprised of 8-9 year old boys, the team practices together in the evening twice a week with a game on Saturday. They will spend about 30 hours together the entire season, which lasts from mid-December to early March.
The division is non-competitive, meaning that there is no official score to games, and wins and losses are not recorded. This is so teams emphasize skill development rather than worrying about the game outcome.
For the players, the activity may simply be after-school fun: a way to hang out with their friends outside of the classroom. They all go to the same elementary school: Bishop’s Peak in San Luis Obispo.
For the parents, it is a way to keep their kids productive and focused at an early age.
“All the parents I spoke with were very pleased with the teamwork, the passing, and communicated to me that their boys are having a great time,” wrote Berkeley Johnson via email, a father of one of the boys on the team.
The “Lakers” are not the only team enjoying themselves. According to CNN, there are an estimated 41 million American kids playing competitive youth sports.
Research shows that children who are actively involved in sports are more likely to be in good physical health than students who do not participate in sports. Peer interaction is also an important aspect of youth sports. A team-first atmosphere encourages both communication and effective conflict resolution.
For the “Lakers,” attendance is believed to be equally important. When players attend regularly, it teaches accountability and commitment. Emotionally, youth sports are intended to raise a child’s self-esteem. The “Lakers” season will conclude with players receiving a certificate or medal, unconditionally, so that they feel successful.
Research shows that children become interested in sports at about age five or six. Some educators maintain that when children involved in sports at an early age learn cooperation, they are better prepared for kindergarten and grade school.
For these “Lakers,” basketball is not their only commitment. Many involve themselves in other sports when basketball season is over. Some even participate in other activities, like soccer and choir, while the season is in under way.
However, the players’ exposure does not translate into instant expertise. For many, these recreational programs serve as a formal introduction to their favorite recess activity. The basics they learn here provide the foundation for future endeavors.
“The YMCA is an excellent beginner’s program,” says Cresson Sorby, an assistant youth basketball coach. “There’s not a lot of pressure here. It is an encouraging atmosphere.”
The rookie attitude does not mean participants are not passionate. All “Lakers” parents can be found cheering from the sidelines at games. They sit on the steps of a small stage at games held at Pacheco Elementary School.
Referees are generally lenient with rules, recognizing the learning process of the players. They try not to call too many traveling or double-dribble fouls, but they sometimes interrupt the games to give instruction. They know teams get excited to score on the final possession, so near the end of each quarter, they slow down the closing seconds: “Five….. Four…. Three….”
The San Luis Obispo area offers numerous opportunities in a variety of sports. Some are offered seasonally while others are available year-round.
The local Parks and Recreation offers volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, indoor soccer in the spring, and Junior Giants baseball in the summer. Usually, these seasons do not overlap.
Certain private businesses, like the Koei-Kan Karate dojo, offer youth martial arts all year. Performance Athletics is also open all year and offers both gymnastics and cheerleading.
For immediate interest, the YMCA is currently accepting registration for T-ball, roller hockey, and futsal (indoor soccer).
For the YMCA, typical registration costs range between $65-$85, with other fees sometimes included.