I was rushing to get the dog crated and grab my things before we headed out to basketball practice the other night, thinking it would be better to get there a little bit earlier than we had been, to give the Roc time to shoot and get comfortable before the actual practice started. I didn’t expect to find him sitting at the bottom of the stairs, tears glistening in his eyes, his nose and cheeks red. GC was sitting on the floor in front of him and we made eye contact and exchanged a silent message as I sat down next to the Roc and put my arms around him. He turned his face from mine and leaned slightly away from me, but I hung on, he moved back toward me within seconds.
“What’s wrong sweet-pea?” I asked him. He’s been anxious before every practice and the couple games he’s been in so far, but I assumed it would get easier each week. I didn’t think it would get harder for him.
“I’m upset,” he sniffed.
“Are you nervous about going to basketball practice?” I asked.
“Oh sweetie, it’s just practice tonight. You like practice don’t you? You do such a good job!” I tried unsuccessfully to get him excited. His face crumpled and a tear slipped down his cheek.
“I don’t know when to play defense!” he exclaimed.
I fumbled around for the right thing to say, GC and I exchanged another look.
“Maybe we shouldn’t go tonight,” GC said.
“Do you want to go?” I asked the Roc.
“Yes,” he said and sniffled loudly. “But I think I’m going to be upset for awhile.”
“Well, I think you’ll feel better when we get there and you get started, okay?”
I said the words, but wondered if tonight was the night he was going to crack, if this was too much pressure. We have watched him, so anxious, not always paying attention to directions, a bit awkward and stiff in his movements, but out there all the same. Out there. On the court, the noisy gym ringed with parents all watching, kids moving in different directions, balls flying, and him in the mix of it all. I have been so proud of him.
“Okay,” he said standing, another tear sliding down his face which he swiped away.
He continued to cry as he put his shoes on and as I helped him shrug into his coat. He gasped for air as we drove down the road toward the elementary school. My insides hurt and I screamed silently in my head as I looked back at his face contorting as he tried to talk. This shouldn’t be so hard for him! He loves basketball! It’s not fair! He’s just a little kid! He shouldn’t be racked with paralyzing anxiety about going to a basketball practice! He’s SEVEN! When does this poor kid catch an effing break?!!
I held his hand as we walked into the school behind a little boy racing ahead of his mother to get into the gym and get started, his energy trailing behind him as his mother quickened her step to keep up. The Roc stopped outside the double doors leading into the gym and I helped him through the motions of getting his track pants off and his shoes back on. His eyes were red ringed as he shuffled through the doors and over to get a ball. GC and I sat near a basket and waved him over, he started to shoot. Shot after shot went in. We gave him thumbs up, after thumbs up, big grins on our faces. Slowly, so slowly he started to smile just a little when we would catch his eye. Then the whistle blew and the kids all ran every which way to their respective coaches. We pointed at his two coaches and the Roc quickly shuffled over to them. I let out all the air I had been holding in, the food I’d eaten right before we left sat solidly in my stomach.
We watched him go through the four stations the different coaches were in charge of the first half of practice. He didn’t look at us as much as he did at the previous weeks and we saw him do a few new things he hadn’t done the week before. Watching him try to figure out how to jump off one foot and shoot was particularly interesting and had GC and I chuckling as we watched him watch the coaches feet and try to do what he was told. It’s a lot to process and the Roc wasn’t the only one who didn’t quite get it. I breathed easier as we watched him rotate through all four stations. His tears were long gone, and even though he didn’t look at ease with everything and his body was stiff, he was trying, and when he did look our way we gave him big thumbs up signs and a tiny crooked smile would grace his face.
The second half of practice, the Roc’s team moved to the cafeteria where they could have a court to themselves.
“Here we go,” I said to GC. “Defense, the thing that makes the Roc the most nervous.” I figured they were going to play a practice game, and that is what was giving the Roc the most anxiety. He doesn’t understand when to play defense and when to play offense…and I don’t think he really understands the difference between the two. The coaches called the boys over to talk, the Roc sat just on the outside of the group, as he does every time. Instead of doing a practice game they did a few other skill activities, geared toward learning how to play defense.
They broke off into pairs, one boy would dribble the ball and try to move down the court, the other boy would stay with him, arms out, trying to block the opportunity to shoot. First the Roc had to defend. One of the coaches talked him through it, reminded him to keep his arms out, stay with his guy, move his feet, etc. He did a good job and he was smiling a little bit. Then it was the Roc’s turn to dribble and move around the court.
That is when the Roc started to smile. Really smile. The smile I see at swimming lessons, the smile I used to see when he was horseback riding in Delaware. The coach walked over to where we were sitting,
“He’s really having fun! Look at him smile!” he said to us.
The coach had noticed, noticed that this was the first time the Roc really smiled, and he was moving his feet and really trying to keep up. I thought my own face might split open. When practice was over the Roc came over to us, big grin still plastered on his face, and said,
“I did a good job Mommy!”
“You did sweetie, I’m so proud of you!” I told him holding up my hand for a high five.
GC and the Roc shot a few baskets and the coach who came over to say something about the Roc’s smile during practice walked over to me again and said,
“He did a good job tonight.”
“I was worried,” I told him. “The Roc was in tears before we left, while we were driving here, and was still upset when practice started.”
“Yes, he was very nervous and he doesn’t understand how to play defense and when to play defense. He was really worried about that tonight.”
“A lot of the kids don’t get that yet,” the coach told me. “If there’s anything you think I can do to help him, just let me know, okay? If I need to explain something to him again I can do that.”
“That would be so great. That’s exactly what the Roc needs,” I told him. “Repetition is key with him. He needs directions repeated, he needs to be reminded to pay attention, and right now what’s really throwing him off during the practice games and the real games on Saturdays is when to play defense. He’s incredibly lost out there and appears to be looking for his guy the whole time, even when his team has the ball.”
“Sure, I think a lot of the kids need help with that. We are going to work on that. You can talk to me anytime if there’s something I can do to help him.”
“Thank you,” I said, hoping he could see just how much I meant it. These guys are giving up their time by volunteering to coach the basketball team, it means so very much to me that they take the time to look out for the Roc.
As we walked down the hallway towards the exit, the Roc looked at me and said, “I’m not nervous anymore. I did it. I tried my best.”
“You did baby, you did your best and that’s exactly what your supposed to do. I am so proud of you.”
The reality is that pride doesn’t seem a big enough word to describe how I felt at that moment.
What matters most to me is that he did his best, he knows it, and he knows that is what is most important.
What more could I ask for?