Thursday, April 7, 2011


Part I of this story is here.

A few games into the basketball season, I realized just how confusing the sport must be to my special-needs child. His teachers and therapists (and parents!) had spent years teaching him proper social behaviors. Don't hit. Don't steal. Don't bump into people on purpose. Don't knock them down.

And here we were, nullifying all that.

You should have seen his face when I told him that all those "improper" behaviors were generally okay on the court. And when I emphasized that he was allowed to steal the ball,

"I can?" his voice went from incredulous to elated at light speed.

However, that still didn't translate to much when he was in the game. One time, his teammate was dribbling the ball down the court as Spencer stood next to the basket, wide open for a perfect pass. The moment that Spencer realized this opportunity, he whirled and fled off the court. There didn't seem to be much motivation for him to participate.

So I tried a different tactic. I bribed him.

"Stay next to your man during the game, and we'll go get a milkshake afterward." He seemed mildly interested in this idea, and he tried harder to guard his man. But it wasn't quite as motivating as I thought it would be. So at the next game, I tried something different. Our team was in the second round of the playoffs, and I hoped to at least keep him from being a liability on the court.

"What reward would you like to get if you play hard?" I asked him. He mulled it over.

"Umm... I want to eat some of my Valentine candy." I accepted his request and reviewed our goals: Stay with your man. Put your hands up if he tries to shoot. It's okay to steal the ball.

The game started, and nothing really happened with Spencer. But I began to realize just how far he had come this season: he no longer ditched his teammates and hid in my lap. He only rarely twirled pirouettes in the corner. And he was always in the midst of the action, even if it was just as an observer.

I marveled at the change. And during a time out, I reminded him of his Valentine candy waiting for him at home. He gave a little giggle and ran back out on the court. And then, something amazing happened. Maybe it was his choice of motivation, maybe it was something else. But something clicked.

Suddenly, he was on his man like glue. He sprinted up and down the court. He put his long arms up on defense and intimidated everyone around him. He jumped for rebounds and even stole the ball-- twice. I was floored. And so was everyone else in that gym.

Spencer's change was so astounding that I couldn't help but laugh hysterically. Where did this kid come from? It seemed that the hours of practice and nudging him back on the court again and again were finally paying off. And he knew he was doing well! He even pointed out his great moves to the referees. They were kind enough to congratulate him.

Granted, he was no Michael Jordan. He still couldn't dribble. But the referees let that go. And in one grand play, Spencer surprised us all. He grabbed the ball at the far end of the court and sprinted with it to mid-court (the ball didn't touch the ground once.) Then he heaved the ball over his head and chucked it at the basket from the half court line. Everyone cheered-- and laughed.

We lost that game, and we were out of the tournament. But did it really matter? I think everyone in that gym would have given the same answer.

Part III of this story is here.


Sara said...

I'm not much of one for sports. But that is a great story. You're an amazing mom. My kids are younger than yours, maybe I can learn some stuff from you. :)

Tracie said...

Good grief I always cry with your posts! What sweet moments you've captured!