Civility comes to basketball?

Taking my cues in life -- as I always do -- from the arbiters of moral rectitude at CNN and MSNBC, I am, as John King said the other night, "trying to get away from that kind of language." What kind of language? Why, the martial language employed in everyday speech that so polluted our political culture and so obviously led to the horrific act in Tucson earlier this month. I am getting away from phrases such as "in the crosshairs"; "shooting myself in the foot"; "take a shot at it," etc.

It's been difficult, especially in my role as a youth basketball coach. You can only imagine the changes that have to be made.

Coaching fifth grade hoops is an exercise in the constant emphasis of the fundamental aspects of the game, which should serve the players well as they advance through junior high and high school programs. That means a lot of shooting. Or, I should say, it did mean a lot of shooting. It would be irresponsible to get the team accustomed to that sort of language. All of the shooting could lead to violence and I will not be responsible for developing crazed assassins. So, necessary changes have been made and I thought it would be helpful to cite a few for you.

Rather than the now-unfortunately named drill called "2-man Shooting" utilized before Tucson, we have transitioned to "2-man Basket Attempting." Awkward, perhaps, but if I were now to call out "2-man Shooting" during practice, who knows what chaos would follow?

Sometimes players at this level are reluctant to, uh, accumulate attempts at the goal. This can lead to hesitation, bad passes, and turnovers. Youth coaches are often fond of quoting the great Wayne Gretzky's advice regarding such timidity on the field of play ("One hundred percent of the shots you don't take don't go in").

We must now paraphrase. That sort of talk is just flat dangerous. It can make for some awkward construction when applied to basketball, but who cares? The other day I told a player who passed on an open look: "One hundred percent of the attempts to place the ball through the orange-painted iron ring with the nylon net affixed that are not taken do not go in."

During a game when the clock is winding down, or a player has a good look at the basket, I hope can curb my impulse to yell out "SHOOT!" in a crowded gymnasium, and instead do the responsible thing by shouting "HOIST THE BALL TOWARD THE RIM WITH PROPER BACKSPIN AND FOLLOW THROUGH!" That ought to avoid confusion.

Making changes in our speech takes practice, as does adjusting to the sometimes-awkward phrasing such changes create. But we must all change to make our country gentle and respectful. Otherwise, we are just as guilty as Jared Lee Loughner.

Matthew May is the primary author of the forthcoming Restoration: The God and Country Education Project. He welcomes comments at