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Rules, Feelings and Fun - Playing Basketball in Otavalo, Ecuador.

The other day my friend Sasha and I went for a walk. Along the way we saw some girls on a basketball court. We talked to them for a minute then asked if we could join them. The owner of the basketball, Carolina, 11, smiled and handed the ball to me. I walked over to take a shot but then decided to pass the ball back to her to let her take the first one. She threw the ball up towards the backboard and I got the rebound and passed the ball back to her to let her take a few more shots. Then some others joined us. We took turns shooting for a few more minutes. Then one of the girls, about ten, passed the ball to Sasha, who had just been standing there watching us. No one told her to do this, and Sasha didn't ask for the ball. The girl just wanted Sasha to be included. This is another example of how sweet young females naturally are. (See side note)

After a few minutes of shooting, we decided to play a game. We picked sides, with Sasha on one side and me on the other. Carolina wanted to be on my side, so two other girls went on Sasha's side. The girls had learned the basic rules of basketball - how to throw the ball in bounds after a basket etc. But beyond that we didn't follow many of the other rules. I deliberately didn't want to pay much attention to the rules since I have seen what rules can do.

I remember when I saw 16 and 17 year old females practicing basketball after school in Jakarta, Indonesia. They were laughing, running around, chasing the ball, getting exercise and having a lot of fun. They were able to work everything out themselves.

Then the coach came out. Everything changed. He started blowing the whistle, shouting at them, keeping score and making them follow the rules. It wasn't fun anymore. Now it was a competition. Winning became the focus. And they became afraid of making mistakes or getting yelled at by the coach.

So I have seen how imposing rules and keeping score quickly changes feelings and I didn't want that to happen. I wanted to keep it fun. In fact I wanted to make it even more fun and I found lots of ways to do this.

Here are some of the ways I changed and ignored the rules to make things more fun. Many times the ball would go out of bounds, but I just let them chase after it and keep playing. Actually they got more exercise this way anyhow. And I didn't call any fouls, even though the girls were sometimes climbing on each other's backs to get the ball. As long as they were laughing and smiling I let them keep playing.

Also, when the other team was behind and I would get the rebound I would hand the ball back to someone on their team and let them take two or three more shots. No one on my team complained when I did this. No one said, "Hey what are you doing? They are not on our team!" They all understood what I was doing.

At the beginning it was just Carolina and I on my side. Then her younger sister, Jennifer, came to join us. At first she had been too shy or unconfident, but then she saw how much fun we were having and wanted to be a part of it. She could barely catch or throw the ball and she was the shortest one on the court, but I kept giving her a chance by throwing her the ball.

There was one girl on the other team who was overly aggressive and competitive. I will call her Angie. Already at 8 years old Angie thought it was more important to score than to help Jennifer or to care about her feelings. When I would pass the ball to Jennifer she would run over and try to take it from her.

I regret not saying something to Angie about this. I could have said, "Let's help Jennifer because she is the youngest and smallest. It doesn't really matter who wins the game." I could have also talked about the concept of older people helping younger ones. And I could have asked her what she thought was more important, winning or Jennifer's feelings. This would have made a good discussion topic, so I'll probably do this the next time I see them.

Then there was Mishel. She was watching us from the side with another female. I asked if they wanted to play. One said, "Not me but Mishel does." Mishel is black, by the way, and you don't see many blacks in Otavalo. She might be the first one I have seen in town, in fact. Because of this, I especially wanted to include her so she wouldn't feel left out or discriminated against.

So I looked at the others and said, "Whose side will she be on? Angie said, "She can't play because there are already three on each side." I said, "No importa," which meant it wasn't important, the rule of having even sides didn't matter to me. I asked what the score was and Angie said it was 8 to 4. My team was winning so I said, "Okay, Mishel you go on their team because they need the help." Everyone agreed to this easily and Mishel joined the game.

Then when Sasha and Angie's team got ahead, I said, "Okay Mishel, now you come to our side because we need your help." And again, everyone was okay with this. She switched sides several times whenever the side she was on got ahead. Everyone caught on to this very quickly and it wasn't a problem. When she was on my side they knew not to pass the ball to her, but as soon as she switched sides, they would pass it to her. I thought this might confuse them a little but it didn't. It showed me how quickly and easily young people adapt to changes.

Obviously, being much taller, it was very easy for me to score anytime I wanted. Because of this I didn't do it very often. One time I deliberately bounced the ball off of the backboard and let someone else get the rebound. I don't know if anyone else noticed it but Sasha understood what I was doing and smiled.

Carolina was a good team player she was very smart about passing and getting into position. She was smiling nearly the whole time. Sometimes, just for fun, I would pull on her pony tail as she was shooting or try to block her shot even though she was on my team. Everyone laughed at this, including Carolina. Other times I would chase one of the girls like a monster them, and catch them and pick them up or tickle them as they were trying to shoot. They all laughed at this too. Angie was the only one taking the game very seriously, but I got her to laugh a few times, too.

Sometimes when someone would try to pass the ball to one of their teammates, but it would come to me, I would stop and say, "Thank you!" and shake their hand. Everyone laughed. Or sometimes I would hand it back to the one it was meant to go to. I wanted to keep things fun and not have any one feel bad for a bad pass or missing the ball.

Another way I didn't follow the rules was by letting them stop dribbling, then start again. This is not allowed in "real" basketball, but I let everyone do it all the time, and no one complained. Basically almost everyone was laughing, smiling and running around for about 30 to 45 minutes.

Sometimes when I would get the rebound after the other team took a shot, I would hand the ball to them and let them take two or three more tries. No one complained or said "That's not fair."

As we played I am sure that everyone understood that I didn't care about either rules or winning. I cared about having fun, getting exercise, giving everyone a chance to play and people's feelings.

This is how you teach values. I didn't have to give them a lecture about values. I showed them my values. I put my values into practice.

By the way, no one "won" the game. I don't even know what the score was when we stopped. I took a break at one point to talk to a boy sitting alone on the side watching. His name was Sebastian. I asked him if he wanted to play but he said no. He looked very insecure, like someone who was being hit at home, so I sat down next to him and talked to him to give him some attention. Then the others soon joined me. I thought they would keep playing, but it only took them about two minutes to come sit down with us. So this reminds me that young want to be around someone who treats them well. They will follow such a person. They will listen. So this gives the person influence to make a difference in their lives.

When we were sitting talking I asked the girls what was more important, money or love. Then money or clothes etc. They always said love. Then I said, "What is more important than love?" Carolina said, "Nothing."

Then I asked if she loved her little sister she smiled and said yes. Then I asked the little sister if Carolina loved her. She smiled and said, "Yes". Then I asked, "Does she hug you?" "Yes." So I said, "Show me." So they hugged each other and smiled.

As we were talking the sun went behind the mountains and it started to get cool. Seeing that Carolina was cold, one of the other girls moved next to her and shared her poncho with her. Again, no one told her to do this and Carolina didn't ask her to. Later the girl sat on Carolina's lap so they could both get under the poncho. This is also the kind of thing I see naturally happening with young females around the world.

While I was talking to Carolina, Jennifer and the others, Sasha was talking to Angie. She asked Sasha to write some things down in English. Things like "Good morning" and "How are you?" Later Sasha told me that Angie wanted her to come back so she promised to meet her at 4 in the afternoon.

As we walked away Sasha, who has been getting in fights with her mother for staying in bed too long, said "That was cool. It was better than sleeping."

S. Hein
June 17, 2004

(See part two of this story)

The Corruption of Females

This act of sharing and inclusion is the kind of thing I have seen young females do all around the world. But the longer they live in society, they more they become more self-centered and competitive. For example, from my experience, I'd say it would be much less likely for a female university student playing basketball in the university gymnasium to pass the ball to a stranger than it would be for a ten year old female on a playground to do the same thing.

If this is true, what does this say about society's affect on females?