JOHNNY WILLIAMS had
lost his temper again. I watched him come off the floor scowling and
belligerent and take his seat on the side lines. It wasn’t the first
time that Johnny had been banished from the game; in fact, there were
few games in which he was able to play the entire time without getting
In 1896, in Denver,
Colorado, I was coaching a group of teams in the Y.M.C.A., and among
those was one made up entirely of printers. Johnny Williams, a short,
stocky, red-haired Welshman, was a guard on the printers’ team. He was
an excellent player, and time after time he would play brilliant ball;
but eventually he would lose his temper and be told to leave the floor,
many times when he was most needed.
As I watched Johnny
leave the floor in this particular game, I decided that I should talk
with him. After the game, I asked him to come into the office.
When he entered, he was
still resentful toward the circumstances that had caused him to leave
the game. He scowled at me, ready to take the reprimand that he
expected, but still unwilling to admit that he was wrong.
I told him that he was
a good player and that there were few guards that were his equal, but
that he was really a detriment to his team. He looked at me, and his
eyes snapped. Disregarding his expression, I told him that, if he was
ever to be a success in basketball or in life, he must learn to control
his feelings. Before he left the office, he agreed to try to control
A short time later, he
found, when a foul was called on him, that self-control paid. He started
toward the official to protest; then suddenly he remembered his
resolution and trotted away, with his face as red as his hair. The next
few plays saw Johnny all over the court; he was offense and defense
both, and I knew that through this physical effort he was working off
By the end of the
season he had so successfully learned to control his feelings that he
was the mainstay of the team; his mates unanimously elected him captain
for the following year.
Years later, on a visit
to Denver, I spent some time with Johnny, who was then attending a
session of the legislature as a representative from that district. He
asked me if I remembered what I had told him in the office that day, and
said that it had helped him to overcome a fault that would have been a
serious drawback throughout his life.
I realize, through such
an experience, the great amount of good that we can do through our
athletics and physical education. It is only natural that I should spend
much time in determining just what part basketball is playing in this
program. The decisions that I have reached in regard to the game are
that it is not now and it was never intended to be a complete system of
The main purpose of the
game is recreation and the development of certain attributes that are
peculiar to the game. Basketball was intended primarily for young men
who had acquired their physical development but who were in need of
exercise that would stress the skills and agile movements that were
lacking in manual labor.
Because it is
interesting, the game has often been substituted for all other forms of
motor activity. This substitution is a grave error with young boys who
have not already acquired their muscular development.
has a definite place in a program of physical education: first, because
it is attractive; and second, because it develops certain attributes.
The game mainly develops control of nerves rather than a rugged
Games have been called
the laboratory for the development of moral attributes ; but they will
not, of themselves, accomplish this purpose. They must be properly
conducted by competent individuals. Under such leadership, I believe the
following attributes can be developed by basketball.
1. Initiative, the
ability to meet new conditions with efficiency. In basketball, it is
impossible to tell what an expert opponent will do; consequently, a
player must react to the conditions without tune for deliberation. When
he meets an entirely new condition, he can not depend on the coach, but
must face the emergency himself. I consider initiative one of the most
valuable atributes, and the present tendency of the player to depend on
the coach for his next move largely destroys the opportunity of
acquiring this quality.
2. Agility, the power
of the body to put itself into any position with quickness and ease. It
is especially developed by the movements of the body in eluding an
opponent, in keeping the ball away from him, and in getting into a
position to make a pass, to shoot, or to dribble.
3. Accuracy, the
ability to do the exact thing that is attempted. Basketball goals are
made by passing a ten-inch ball through an eighteen-inch opening. In
order to do so, it is necessary to give the ball the right direction,
elevation, and impetus. It is the accuracy with which the acts are done
that determines basketball games.
4. Alertness, the ready
response to a stimulus. In some games there may be a letting down of
attention, as no further activity may occur until a signal is given. In
basketball, the attention must respond instantly and at any time. The
ball travels so fast and changes hands so rapidly that every player must
be ready to act while the ball is in play.
working with teammates without definite plans from the coach. In no
other game is co-operation so necessary. There are only five players on
a basketball team, and each of these is dependent on the others. Five
men co-operating can always beat four, and if during a game one player
fails to work with his mates, he places them at a serious disadvantage.
6. Skill, the ability
to use the correct muscle group at the right time, in the proper
sequence, and with the correct amount of force, while handling a movable
object with moving teammates and against moving opponents. Basketball
presents these conditions better than any other game, with the possible
exception of hockey or lacrosse.
7. Reflex judgment, the
ability to have the body perform the correct movement without mental
process. In basketball, the eye sees an open space toward which a
teammate is running, and the ball is automatically passed to him without
deliberation. No prettier sight can be seen in athletics than a
basketball player tipping the ball to a teammate, he, in turn, tipping
it to a third mate who, while high in the air, tosses it into the goal.
The whole action may take place more quickly than the mind could
possibly devise the play.
8. Speed, the ability
to move from one location to another in the shortest possible time.
Basketball is a series of sprints rather than continuous running.
According to our experiments, an average player is in action less than
40 per cent of the actual playing time. When he does move, however, it
must be at a maximum speed. This speed entails quick starting and rapid
movement, as a man may need to change his course to avoid another player
coming at any angle into his path.
9. Self-confidence, the
consciousness of ability to do things. Each player must be able to
“carry on” by himself when the occasion requires. There are times when
he cannot depend on his teammates to do things, even though they are
better qualified than he is. When these times arrive, he must feel able
to cope with the situation.
10. Self-sacrifice, a
willingness to place the good of the team above one’s personal
ambitions. The unit in basketball is the team rather than the individual
player. The player who attempts to get personal glory at the sacrifice
of the game is a hindrance to any team. There is no place in basketball
for the egotist.
11. Self-control, the
subordination of one’s feelings for a purpose. The player who permits
his feelings to interfere with his reflexes is not only a hindrance to
his team, but he is also occupying a place that might better be filled
by another. There are so few players on a team that one player not doing
his best is a greater reduction in the relative strength of the team
than in a game where there are more players involved.
12. Sportsmanship, the
player’s insistence on his own rights and his observance of the rights
of others. It is playing the game vigorously, observing the rules
definitely, accepting defeat gracefully, and winning courteously.
Basketball is peculiarly adapted to the development of this trait
because the players, officials, coaches, and spectators are in such
close proximity that an action of one is observed by the others.
Both of the contesting
teams occupy the same space on the floor, and often the teams are so
intermingled that it is hard to distinguish one from the other. To obey
the rules that have been set down, and to recognize the rights of the
opposing players under these conditions, demands the highest type of
The official is often
no closer to some of the plays than the spectators, and it is evident
that he must practice the strictest impartiality. He must be competent
to judge reflexly and have the courage to disregard any personal
feelings that he might have.
The coach is not only
the inspiration of the team, but he also indirectly affects the attitude
of the crowd. On him falls much of the burden of establishing a
sportsmanlike attitude in both the players and the spectators. Any
breach of ethics on his part is immediately noted by all who may be
attending the game.
Last of all, the
spectators are so close to the field of play that it is often necessary
for them to curb their feelings. There is no player who never makes a
slip, there is no official who is always right, and there is no coach
who, in the heat of a hard-fought game, may not momentarily lose his
stoical attitude and commit himself in regard to some decision that he
may feel is unjust.
“Booing” by the
spectators of basketball has caused some comment in the past few years.
I, too, have condemned the practice; but one comes to realize that we
have been so proficient in teaching the game that many of the spectators
are very well versed in the technique, and that it is against human
nature to expect these people to sit passively and accept some decision
that they honestly feel to be unjust. I believe, however, that the less
attention paid to the practice of “booing,” the sooner it will cease.
I may say in
conclusion: Let us all be able to lose gracefully and to win
courteously; to accept criticism as well as praise; and last of all, to
appreciate the attitude of the other fellow at all times.