Saturday, July 02, 2011

Basketball and Feelings Skills

Several boys were playing basketball outside their residential dorm. Marcus made a basket despite Jeff’s guarding him. Jeff began to taunt Marcus, saying the basket was luck, he didn’t know how to play, he was too short and too ugly. The insults expanded to include racial slurs and comments about Marcus’ mother. Marcus was flustered and missed his next shot. Jeff started to laugh. Marcus went over and punched him, hard. The staff stopped the game and brought the boys inside. Marcus and Jeff were bother restricted, and Marcus’ punishment was seven days of unit restriction because he had used physical violence.

This incident happened at a place I was training. This provided a great opportunity to put these theories into practice.

There were many men in the training, all shapes, sizes, ages, and races. I asked the men to consider that they were in a pickup basketball game with some friends and someone started insulting them, including using racial slurs. I asked for a show of hands of those who thought they could get through this situation without hitting anyone. All the men raised their hands. I then asked what they would do. Their answers included:

I would just stop the game and walk away.

I would say “hey, man, stop talking like that.” And if that didn’t work I would stop playing.

I would play better and better and wipe the person out in the game.

I would use that event as a reason to practice and make my game better.

I would remind myself that this was not very important; it’s only a game, who cares what he says.

Then I asked: what would you have to know, believe, or be able to do in order to respond like that?

After some discussion these ideas emerged:

You’d have to be confident enough of yourself not to take his words to heart.

You’d have to know you were getting upset and have some ways to calm down.

You’d have to have other good things in your life, other friends, other skills in order to know that this game was not that important and that it did not represent all of who you are.

What we want for these kids, what we are trying to achieve, is that they become these men. The taunts will always be painful. Anyone would be upset. But we want them to have what these men have- the skills that enable them to walk away and not hit someone.

And we also want to think about Jeff- how can he learn to handle someone else’s success or maybe even lose a game without resorting to racial taunting? Both the taunting and the hitting come from the same place: a deep feeling of inadequacy that results in this small game feeling like a measure of total worth.

So what will develop these skills? How can we increase confidence, self awareness, an ability to notice and modulate your own feelings, and the ability to turn bad experiences into motivation? Unit restriction will not accomplish any of those things, in fact may decrease some. Instead, if the boys do something constructive together (maybe raise money for some new sports equipment?) they will discover that relationships can be fixed, and that they have something to contribute to the world- whether or not they can always make a basket.

No comments: