Tim Sullivan, far left top row, and daughter Margo, second from left bottom row, with the basketball team. (Photo courtesy Score Photo Inc.)

We spotted a guy at Dick’s Sporting Goods wearing a t-shirt that said, “I can’t. My kid has practice.” All I could do was nod as if to say, I know, dude, I so know. It was a dreary Sunday afternoon and our basketball season had ended the day before with a thud as Elliott’s team lost a playoff game they could have won. I can offer that critique because I was the coach. We hoped to soothe the burn a little by shopping our way into soccer season.

We started off as a very focused group. Elliott’s friend Sebastian was with us and while they both already had cleats, they needed flats for the once-a-week indoor practices. I assisted the boys while Kristen helped Margo find some running shoes for an upcoming 5k. Then we switched. Then we switched back because according to Margo, Mommy is better at shoe shopping than me.

Then I lost everyone. Kristen and Margo had moved on to the vast, athleisure wear department and the boys just disappeared. I was wondering why the mannequins in the golf section all have the physique of an MMA fighter when a sales associate asked if he could help me find anything. I said “My wife and kids?” He thought I was kidding.

As we slipped into hour two of our Dick’s excursion I found the boys loudly shooting baskets on goals that had plastic lids over the rims. I corralled them to help me find Kristen and Margo and they pantsed a mannequin along the way. Eventually we made it to the register and even with all my coupons you’d think I bought a boat.

There is a valid argument I should care less about the outcomes of youth recreation basketball games. Like most coaches in the league, I do and I don’t. I’m not a hysterical sideline presence but the want for our players to have a positive experience is strong.

When I played in the NY Catholic school league, basketball was on par with religion. I’ll never offer advice on who or what to pray to nowadays but if we’re talking the implementation of a one-three-one trap defense, I’m going to have some opinions.

Nothing is more satisfying to me than seeing a kid score their first basket and if a give and go actually works, it’s euphoric. Maybe it’s just me.

Margo scored her first basket of the season on a beautiful jumper but the team lost their playoff game 8-2. It had been a tough campaign for the Lancers. Still, we had fun and all the girls improved. Margo may be filing a formal complaint with the league about the officiating though. At her level the refs “encourage” dribbling and sound defense but don’t call walks or fouls. Apparently she would prefer something a bit more draconian.

Elliott’s squad, The Red Storm, had really hit their stride. We lost our first couple games and then finished the season winning five out of six. I liked our chances in the playoffs but in the first round we faced a stingy Raiders team that forced us into a shooting performance that had me checking to make sure there weren’t plastic lids over the rims…

We lost in overtime and the season was over. None of us were ready for that. Elliott was our leading scorer but that didn’t matter to him. He wanted more basketball and I didn’t blame him.

When we got home, Elliott immediately started shooting hoops in the driveway. It was raining but I joined him anyway. We just shot around, breaking down the game and eventually we moved on to talking about what we might look to do next year. Maybe the rain was something of a therapeutic balm because after an hour he was ready for a snack, a shower and for soccer season to begin. I’ll get there eventually.

Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at tim@sullivanfinerugs.com.