Sometimes the Best Passes are the Missed Shots

Feb 16, 2023 by Mike Magluilo
There’s a ball hog on my son’s elementary school basketball team. He only shoots three pointers and routinely ignores opportunities to pass to open players under the hoop. He’s a jump shooting contradiction of the advice I’ve given my son about how to make a difference at his age. 

The coach makes no effort to correct the behavior, thereby setting the wrong example for the rest of the team and making it harder for responsible parents to encourage their kids to focus on fundamentals and higher probability shots. Ball hogs used to get benched. Now they’re guaranteed equal playing time with the rest of the team. 

Every once in a while, the ball hog hits one of his threes, and the cheers from his teammates and coach reinforce the behavior. After a recent game, my son asked if I saw one of the ball hog’s baskets, glowing in the repudiation of my quaint recommendations to shoot from the paint. 

I couldn’t resist pointing out the kid missed the nine other shots he took from downtown.

My son responded, “Yeah, but he had the most assists of the game.” 

Ironically, most of the kid’s missed shots found the hands of a teammate, either via airball or a rebound. Five of those ended up in the net following subsequent shots from the paint. 

Missed shots are the failures on the road to bigger dreams. No doubt we want to do the hard work of getting the ball into the paint for the high probability shots, but a few bombs every now and then can pay off in multiple ways. First, a small percentage will hit and bring outsized returns. Second, with the right systems in place, such as a disciplined team crashing the boards, we can apply the lessons of failure to the rest of our work—or get a second shot at the hoop. Missed shots become rebounds for agile, well-positioned, hard working teams, and the right strategy can turn interim failures into assists. 

The dreams don’t need to be big and of the corporate sort. Back to my son and youth sports...While I don’t want him firing from three point land, I want him to be comfortable taking risks. Signing up for new challenges, even if they scare him a little, is a good example. 

As basketball wraps up, wrestling season has begun. My son has never wrestled and is well aware the other kids have a lot more experience. When he hesitated to sign-up for a tournament this coming weekend, I explained how sometimes the best passes are the missed shots. While he may win big this weekend, it’s more likely he’ll struggle. 

Either way, I’ll be crashing the boards at the edge of the mat, helping him learn from taking a shot from downtown.