MOTIVATIONAL MONDAY – “There’s no crying in baseball.” Tom Hanks said it in A League of Their Own. I can’t remember the context and I really don’t care because it’s for the most part true, yet not always true depending on the circumstances. Not just for girls or women – but for all athletes.
I love it when a guy writes in his description of an ideal woman, which is says is “no drama.” (Whenever a guy writes this in his profile, to me, based on my experience, he loves drama. Yet that is another story.) I also don’t like it when coaches or people talking about coaching say that “girls just need to be treated differently.” I laugh. They don’t know what I’ve seen – grown men who sprain an ankle in a pick-up run, and you’d think by their screaming, shouting and crying reaction that we were going to have to do an amputation on the court. I vividly remember one good rec league player doing it at Northwestern – after he was dragged off, he ended up being on the next team on. I also vividly remember one of my early coaching jobs as a volunteer assistant to Lou Cioffi and his boy’s varsity team at Averill Park High School. I remember this one good, physical and emotional player, crying regularly in practice. I remember how dramatic it was and thinking, “When are we going to stop crying and start play basketball?”
So the crying part – well, the truth is there is room for it depending on the situation, and then there is no room for it. All of this is being written by a life-long and chronic Irish crier who knows when it should be permitted and when there should be a penalty for it.
Let’s start with what happened this past weekend in a highly physical game for our grade 8 girls versus a loaded ninth grade team in terms of raw talent, size, speed (but lacking in the skill department). Our opponent was kind in the first round, knowing they’d play us in the round-robin final. One big girl stood at the top of the key. She had two jobs, first, to set a screen for the best player on the team (clearly a future DI player or close). Her second job was to beat the snot out of anyone who got into her way. We played a triangle-and-two defense to jam up their star player. The high post enforcer took regular shots at our top guard in the triangle and also at any girls trying to rebound. She clocked our Caroline on the low block on one offensive board to the point where she should have gotten a T or at least a very firm warning.
We had only five team fouls going into the last 90 seconds. They had 10. Several were overlooked. The problem was exactly that – we had not fouled enough. In the meantime, they’re running us over on O and D, but we are hanging in this thrilling game with awesome team play, passing and toughness – to a point, which was mostly mental in that we simply would not go away no matter how hard they tried to bury us.
Within the last two intense minutes, Caroline steps in and takes a charge on a runaway train, and falls on her tailbone. She’s tall and thin and finally filling out. I know she’s been glassy-eyed for a good part of the game, especially after the cheap shot by the high post. She also was grabbing her ribs at some point. I’m ignoring her minor drama. Then she takes the charge, gets the call while on her butt, then she starts sobbing and grabbing her tailbone dramatically. The thing is she did not fall that hard. She actually took the charge quite well. I would know as a chronic charge-giver and taker. I know she’s hurt her tailbone before – so did I in sixth grade – it hurt for a few days, and my mother told me to get over it or she just ignored my complaints about a sore butt.
Caroline gets up sobbing, and of course, I have to sub her out even though I really do not want to. She comes over to me on the sideline, sobbing dramatically and it really is bugging me. I don’t go up to her with a hand on the shoulder. I say to her in front of the parents who are sitting far too close. “Take your mouth guard out, take a few breaths and get it together. And welcome to Big Girl Basketball.”
She looks at me in shock. I am calm yet demanding. I am giving her no room up until the point I realize that I have to take her out and back down, even though I know she is more emotionally hurt by the charge and shock of it than the physical pain. I know The Enforcer and the parents and coaches from the other team were all looking at this beautiful blonde cry, and Caroline just doesn’t get what it all looks like.
I say to her, “Sit down if you have to, or stand up, I don’t care. Figure out if you can go back in and let me know.” Before I completely give up on one of our best players being out for crunch time, I look her straight in the eyes and say, “That was one heck of a play.” I turn back to the game.
Seconds later: “Mo.”
I turn around.
“Do I get free throws for that?” Caroline asks.
“No, not for charges.”
Her tears are gone.
“Do you want to go back in?” I ask.
No more drama.
Granted our girls were awful at intentionally fouling that I almost ran on the court and hacked a player in an honest attempt to get the ball, but what can you do until you give a bunch of smart, analytical and ethical kids a live tutorial in practice on taking charges and fouling another human being without hurting them (it’s an art that one must practice). Until then, you can do nothing as a coach except scream like a lunatic over and over, “They beat you up all game. Just hit them back!”
So here’s my take on crying. You blow out your knee, you wreck your ankle, you rupture your Achilles, go ahead and open the dam. But get it together as quickly as you can because the last I checked it’s a team game. It’s also something you look back on and say, “I really wish I skipped the crying spell.”
I remember blowing out my knee in full (second time after a half-tear), and my parents coming out to get me. I was wincing and writhing, and crying, and the entire arena of 5,000 could hear me, as could my teammates. A few of them started crying. This is not good when you are trying to win the sectional final as defending state champions. Not the knee part. The knee part and the crying part. My father said to me on that bench minutes later, “Maureen, stop crying and cheer for your team.” When the injury is minor – even a bad ankle or hit to the eye or nose – cry if you must (especially with the nose because it’s a natural reaction), but get it over with fast.
When not to cry? Well, Debbie Barnes, another emotional player from my past – gave me a direct order when we were in 9th grade at the KC Jones Basketball Camp, and this wide post player backed me in over and over in the semis of the one-on-one tourney. I was so irked that she was essentially cheating (like my dad did when we played one-on-one). I lost and burst into tears. Debbie threw a towel in my face and said, “Don’t cry in front of everyone. Cover your face.” She basically was saying, not here, not now, toughen up, have some pride. Go find a different place if you have to or just don’t do it at all.
The one time that I feel it is okay for kids to cry – but again, it’s better if they can hold it together until they find a private space – is after the game, never during it and to cry only because you are so mad at yourself for not living up to your expectations of yourself.
During the game, you have to stay strong. You cannot and should not show weakness. You suck it up, you bite your lip, you stay the course to maintain emotional and mental stability for everyone around you. I cried once in the Empire State Games – popping after the ref called me for a cheap offensive foul because Charlene Fields, the scoring machine, could not make an entry pass to the post (me) to save her life. I was so pissed at her for not being able to get me the damn ball, that I think I knocked someone over. Twice. I got put on the bench and I popped. My cousins were watching and later I was so embarrassed to have played so poorly with so few minutes due to foul trouble and with so much emotion – too much emotion. It was also unfair to blame it all on Charlene.
There was also another time, after the Auburn game, when I cried, as did a teammate at Northwestern. We did it in public. We got thrown off the team almost immediately. I will write about that at a later date. It was beyond dramatic. It was traumatic for my teammate and me to endure what our coach put us through, but he was right.
I remember when I took a bad elbow to my face in my 30’s while in a gym full of men. My rule was to never cry in front of men, and the sexist Tom Hanks line had everything to do with it. I take this serious elbow to the face, yet I refuse to cry. I also refuse to open my mouth because I feel my bridge and teeth in the bottom of my mouth in pieces and I am in a gym full of guys. I finally open up my mouth to show someone so they can tell me how bad. The guy behind him – a guy I had a crush on – winced and looked away. I immediately threw all crying rules to the wind and burst out crying. I swear to you had he not looked at me with horror in his eyes, I would have kept it together.
When kids are hurt badly or there’s blood or stitches, I now know to not look at them with shock or horror. I also know how to handle and react to Caroline, who’s come a long way physically in terms of her body weight, height and toughness. I’ve begged this kid to get physically tough and she did. She banged all game. She took a charge on a big girl coming right at her. Now she has to combine the mental with the physical, and not think of herself as a weak, inexperienced private school player who can’t mix it up with the physical ones.
When I see her again, I’m not only going to have the talk about when to cry and when not to cry, I’m going to tell her something she must do to prove to herself that she is as tough as I think she can be. The next time she draws a charge, she’s going to get up before the offender does. And if she is really tough, she’ll do the same on the offensive end. She’ll go so hard to the hoop that she gets called for a charge. She’ll fall to the floor, and instead of thinking about how much it hurts, she will scramble to her feet as fast as she can. She will be sending a clear message to her opponent, her coach, her parents and any fans watching her play. Instead of thinking about crying, she’ll be spending all of her energy and focus on getting back on her feet and jog down the floor, showing everyone that this is what Big Girl Basketball looks like.
Maureen Holohan is a former All-Big Ten player, author and journalist. She is the director of Mo’ Motion Basketball & Fitness in New York City.