Written by Daniel Padrnos
Guatemalan basketball is hilarious. Not because the players are bad. It’s hilarious because it’s so different from any kind of basketball I’ve ever experienced. To sum up it up, Guatemalan basketball looks like complete chaos in my American eyes.
Reilly, an FTF field worker who’s lived in Guatemala for 20 months plays in a Guatemalan men’s basketball league. Last week he invited me to watch one of his games in Momostenango. I love basketball! I had to go.
Another tidbit worth mentioning is that there wasn’t a single player on the floor taller than 5’7” – except Reilly (5’9”). Height isn’t a big factor in Guatemalan basketball like it is in America. In fact, most criteria that separate “good” American basketball players from “bad” players don’t translate into Guatemalan basketball at all. After the game, Reilly told me that playing basketball in Guatemala can be frustrating because his team “thinks he sucks.” I’ve played with Reilly in America and he doesn’t suck – he has great floor vision, plays hard defense, and has a good shot. In Guatemalan men’s league however, these skills are sometimes as useful as a fork is for eating soup. Until Reilly learns and practices skills that make a Guatemalan player a “good player”, his team will continue to see him as mediocre Gringo who’s no better than José Blow.
After the players performed the pre-game ritual of lining up and shaking hands with their opponents, Reilly took the tip-off and the game began. Forget about man-on-man or zone coverage. In this game defense was unpredictable, directionless pandemonium where multiple defenders simultaneously harassed whichever unfortunate player had possession of the ball. Offense was equally chaotic. Throughout the game, players would dribble through the lane, and right when I’d expect them to dish off a pass to the corner or pull up for a jump shot, the ball would immediately and inexplicably fly from the players’ hands and more often than not go right into the hoop—what on earth?
FTF field workers enter foreign communities on this premise. We can only be effective “players” in these communities if we spend time watching, listening, and interacting in the community itself. Reilly could pass off his American basketball skills not translating to Guatemalan basketball skills as Guatemalans not understanding “good basketball”. Better yet, he could sit in America, reading and studying about how to be a good Guatemalan basketball player. However, the best way for him to improve is by going to Guatemala, getting in the game, and learning from his mistakes. And hey who knows, maybe he’ll become a better American basketball player in the process.
In just a couple weeks I will be heading to Sierra Leone where I will be tempted to think that my “style of play” will be effective in the community where I will live. I’ll have to constantly remind myself that I must live humbly in my new community in order to realize my deficiencies, be an effective community member, and perhaps become a better human.