The beginning of last Monday night’s practice started with Cate’s usual pep talk.
“Just before we begin, I want to inform you all of something I encountered at a all-girl’s tournament I played in this weekend…”
The attention of 12 bodies quickly focused on her.
“I was unhappily surprised by the amount of uncalled fouling that was present.” She paused for a moment, and then went on. “I received a couple of elbows in the face, and not by accident. They were very obviously intentional and the ref didn’t call anything!”
The general order of the group broke off and individual conversations began on their own. Beside me, Marcela began recounting her own story of injustice on the court, saying that referees are becoming more relaxed. I started thinking about Cate’s words, looking back at my own experiences.
Basketball is an aggressive sport. Having played with both men and women, I have encountered physical aggressiveness simply as part of the game. The strongest pick I’ve ever felt was in a girl’s pick-up game when a stout black girl blocked me from the left side, literally knocking me off my feet. Later, I thought about how I’d never felt a pick like that from a guy.
An aggressive or tough attitude is also important within the realm of any sport.
In my third year at university, my basketball world was the R.A.C. (Ryerson Athletic University); I played with guys and the occasional girl. One day, a short blonde girl appeared on the court; we got acquainted quickly. She knowingly showed me some drills that would improve my ball handling. I had been playing for a year at that point, and sometimes struggled with getting in on games. I wanted to play, but I was insecure about my skills. So I naturally marvelled as she confidently called next on games and put together her own teams.
As time passed, I started to see that this girl wasn’t just forward, but also arrogant; she walked onto the court as if she owned the whole gym. I watched in curiosity as she disputed with guys over small fouls (in pick-up, fouls are hard to judge, since each team is always going to believe in its side. A general law of honesty is set in place, but there are frequent disagreements over who touched the ball last before it went out.)
And one day, in an intense 3-on-3 game around noon time, she got into an argument with a guy over a technicality. The discussion escalated until she slapped him in the face. He did not react back. Everyone was shocked; physical fights were somewhat common in the R.A.C. but only between guys. I had never even gotten close to a fight with a guy, since I consider fighting the most backwards way to resolve problems.
After this incident, the girl disappeared and the story went around the court gossip for a couple weeks. I later talked to the guy involved and he angrily expressed how he’d been interrogated by several on-campus security. He told me that it would be awhile before he started playing basketball again.
What I learnt from this experience is that a good athlete finds a balance between tough competitive attitude and calm focus, knowing when to switch from one to the other. Of course, aggressive players are cherished because they have the potential to push a team forward in tough moments during a game. But too much of this can have negative side effects, like fights which can lead to suspensions.
Another revelation that came to me after this incident, is the fact that I do not have the cocky attitude of the blonde girl. I think for awhile I felt pressure to act in this way, because I played with guys and I wanted them to respect me. I wanted them to defend, play offense, and treat me equally overall on the court. I’ve realized it is better to just be myself on the court: giving my all with my body type and personality type. In this way, my best game will emerge.
After some passing drills on Monday night, we played 20 minutes of full court. On a rebound, I fought with a girl from the opposing team for the ball. She won after I slacked my arms a bit and I heard Cate yell from the sideline, “Cinthia, try harder next time!”
I’m working on developing my toughness on the court, because I know that true ballers gain respect from their game, not from their anger to fist fight.