My Son Is the Worst Player on His Basketball Team. What’s a Dad to Do?

Elijah at basketballMy son’s first basketball game proved one undeniable truth – genes matter.

I once spent two months shooting hoops daily just so I could (barely) beat my girlfriend at one-on-one. I’m not a bad athlete, but suffice to say basketball is not my sport.

So far, the same holds true for Eli.

I took Eli to his first official basketball game over the weekend. To my shock, some of his teammates on this 5 and 6-year-old squad were so good I’d have to revisit my personal training camp to beat ’em. They could dribble, do layups and hit nuthin’ but net. And then there was Eli, alternately looking lost and bored, coming to life only when he decided to turn covering a girl on the other team into a pseudo dance competition.

To be fair, she didn’t sink any baskets, either.

I watched fathers all around me cheer on their sons, offer advice and applaud every basket. I sat there alternately wrestling with my two year old who wanted to be anywhere but the gym and hoping some of my wife’s genes would make an appearance on the court.


I saw my parental sports future laid out before me. Getting annoyed by fellow dads screaming directions at their kids. Wincing as my son gets outmaneuvered by his competition. Figuring out what to say after the game and whether Eli would be flustered or simply happy to be there.

My wife reminds me the best thing to tell Eli after a game is that we’re proud of his hustle. “You tried your best, son,” is the approved mantra, and it’s exactly what I told him after the game. My pride was still in shock, and I wasn’t proud to admit it.

We live vicariously through our children, for better and worse. Watching Eli’s less than stellar performance sprinkled salt on my old athletic wounds. Getting picked second to last – just once, but once was more than enough. I never embarrassed myself in gym class or on the baseball diamond, but I also rarely heard the cheers every boy pines to hear.

Later that day I manually reset my parental compass, but not without some effort. I refocused on Eli and his sports future. I don’t want him to be the worst on his team for long. That’s not a spot any child wants, and I can drill him past it with a combination of elbow grease and parental nudging. From there, I don’t care what happens next. He’ll blaze his own trail, make his own two-point shots (fingers crossed) and maybe even get picked second once in a while when it’s time to choose teams in gym class. Playing sports teaches sharing, teamwork, perseverance and good character. I”ll be darned if I’m gonna cheat Eli out of all of that due to my bruised ego.

I deserve to be benched if I get in Eli’s way.


Have you faced a similar situation and have some wisdom to help other fathers? Please share how you dealt with your child’s sports issues below.


  1. says

    How about sports where Eli focuses his attention individually on a goal: Track – beat the clock Golf – go insane quietly trying to defeat the little white pill! Tennis – master a great stroke while hammering the ball and directing it where you want it to go. There are plenty of things athletic a kid like Eli can enjoy.

    • says

      Yes, we’re still getting to know where his interests lie … he’s actually pretty good hitting a ball off of a tee, so my fingers are crossed that he learns to love baseball. He doesn’t like to get jostled, though (like his papa) so hockey/football may be out of his realm!

  2. says

    My experience is quite the opposite with my 13yo son: I was not good at sports and avoided them as a kid, whereas he’s ridiculously coordinated and alternates between lacrosse and basketball. Yesterday I watched him sink a beautiful 3-pointer against a tough team, enough points to have our team ultimately win by the narrowest of margins. His Mom was in track so she could run without hearing anyone tell her what to do. So where’s it come from? All I can say, Christian, is let him try different sports and activities and find the one he not only enjoys but has some aptitude for, then help him excel. And just hope it’s not curling. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • says

      Yes, curling is the worst case scenario! Our plan is to introduce him to all the major sports and see what he gravitates toward. Our basketball league is the first of such measures.

  3. Erin says

    I see Eli as a swimmer. ๐Ÿ™‚ Ben will no doubt be the team-sports kid – probably a defensive tackle or some other sport that requires brute force.

  4. Maureen Toto says

    It was his first time on the court for organized sport. Just guide him along until he is comfortable. I’m sure he will be fine. Keep praising him and whatever you do, show him some layups and dribbling and making a basket. That’ll do it. He’ll feel more at ease. Maybe he’ll become a lawyer or doctor and won’t need basketball in his future.

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