Thirteen years ago, I was coaching my kids’ teams. I noticed that some kids always wanted to be perfect. They got upset whenever they made an error or missed a basket. Sometimes, wanting to be perfect got in the way of their becoming better players.
So I thought: What if there was a kid who wanted to pitch a perfect game? (That’s a baseball game where one pitcher does not allow any base runners: no hits, no walks, no errors.) The problem is that this kid loses his cool whenever he is less than perfect.
As I thought about what would happen next in this book, I imagined the kid’s coach asking him to play on a Special Olympics Unified Sports team, which pairs up kids with and without intellectual disabilities to play and compete together.
I thought it was a great idea for a book.
I tried to write that book, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know enough about Special Olympics athletes to create realistic characters.
So I put the book away and did other things. I wrote other books and watched my kids play sports.
A year ago, I decided to try to write the perfect game book again. I spent several weeks watching Special Olympics Unified Sports basketball teams at Blessed Sacrament School in Washington and Landon School in Bethesda.
I learned a lot. All of the players — the Special Olympics athletes and their partner kids without disabilities — were working on their games and trying to get better.
But being perfect wasn’t the goal. In fact, winning wasn’t even the main goal. The players concentrated on developing their skills, being good teammates and having fun.
The Special Olympics Unified Sports Handbook puts it very well in its section on what the program expects from its athletes. It says athletes should:
●Treat teammates with respect.
●Encourage teammates when they make a mistake.
●Treat opponents with respect; shake hands before and after contests.
●Respect judgments of contest officials; abide by the rules of the contest.
●Not retaliate (verbally or physically) if the other team demonstrates poor behavior.
●Define winning as doing their personal best.
That’s good advice for any kids who play sports. And a good idea for a book.
The Special Olympics of Montgomery County will sponsor a Unified Sports Basketball Tournament at Landon School, 6101 Wilson Boulevard in Bethesda, Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.