Though I miss the basketball frenzy in America especially at this time of year, I learned to celebrate March Madness my way. As an expat in Europe for the past 35 years, the only March Madness I experienced was in 2014 when I traveled to the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point to be the keynote speaker at the DIII Final Four banquet in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX.
Fortunately after my international playing career ended, I joined a collect of coaches – many former players – who brought a taste of March Madness to the international schools in international and national competitions.
I have had my fair share of championship teams and though I am every bit as competitive as my cohorts across the Atlantic, over here the stakes are not as high. My players don’t perform in front of sell out crowds and my job is not dependent on the number of wins.
So though I retired from teaching in June, no one who knows me will be surprised that after medical treatments in the States, I came back to coaching in Switzerland to finish the season with my high school team.
At our international tournament in Basel, my team felt like they let me down when they lost their defending title to Zurich in the SCIS.
“I didn’t come back to watch you play basketball,” I said in the locker-room after the game. “I came to be with you. To help you get your international baccalaureate degree and to remind you that I believe in you. Always. Even in defeat. Especially in defeat.”
No one goes through life beating every opponent. It is what you do when the chips are down that builds character. Second effort is the difference between, well, going on and giving up. So after that disappointing defeat, we went back to gym and practiced. A month later we beat that same Zurich team to win the Swiss championship SGIS.
We can beat ourselves up reliving our errors. Forget the mistakes. The game goes so fast no one else will remember that you dribbled off your toe, threw the ball out of bounds or shot an air ball, what they will remember is that you hustled back down court on defense and played tough until the final buzzer.
The emphasis in international schools is less about winning and more about learning, so academics always play the biggest role.
No doubt I have book smart players. But playing basketball teaches self-discipline and perseverance and other valuable lessons that can’t be learned in a classroom.
This year one of my star basketball players is heading to Stanford and another one is off to Oxford; they won’t be going on athletic scholarships. They play hard, but study harder. And maybe that is how it should be.
Basketball basics 101 – a valuable part of any curriculum. It’s a throw back to the good old days in the early infancy of Title IX when we played for love of the game and to get a good education.
March Madness my way.