People tell me it’s great that I coach youth basketball. The truth is, I’m not just coaching youth…I’m coaching future mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. You.
The time you play basketball with the Wolverines is just one slice of your youth. Much bigger events will come: High school graduation, college applications, the joy and pain of falling in and out love, landing your first real job and paycheck. Growing up is quite an event, but just think. Once grown up, there’s still more stuff to do!
I wish you could have seen me back in the day competing with players much taller than me on the high school court. I wanted to play ball so bad, but in my immature mind, I wasn’t getting enough playing time. I was convinced I was a knock-down shooter and heck, I went to a few Isiah Thomas basketball camps. I deserved to play!
The truth was — I wasn’t the best player. I was riding the pine my junior year in high school, except during garbage time at the end of games already decided. I was feeling sorry for myself and was probably sulking big time. I needed a major attitude adjustment. Luckily, the attitude adjustment came from my coach and a wooden bleacher. You see, my coach was always telling me to work on my outside shot. But what did he know? I was the fastest guy on the team. I would just drive to the basket. Ha! Who needs an outside shot. Right?
One game, my coach told me to check-in during the second quarter (surprise!) of a big rivalry game (it was the Cheboygan Chiefs for crying out loud!). Dumbfounded and excited, I nearly fell over on my way to the scorer’s table. I was going in the game in the 2nd quarter!
Once in the game, I buzzed by my much taller defender for an easy right-handed layup, then did it again the next time down. In those two possessions, I simply was the man, the greatest basketball player of all time. Then, the 3rd possession, the much taller defender stayed back. I tried my quick move to the right, tried it to the left. Nothing. I couldn’t get past him. He was daring me to shoot. So I did. And what do you think happened?
I didn’t score another point in the game, but that aforementioned wooden bleacher had a lot to do with it. I remember looking up at the clock. 2 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. I had been in the game for 4 minutes without being subbed out! I was on top of the world! And my team was winning — with me on the court!
And then I learned a big lesson about staying on an even keel, not to get too high or low. There was an errant pass that one of my teammates deflected, heading out-of-bounds. I was the closest to the ball, but it was careening away from me towards the crowd. I remember reaching out my hands and jumping towards the ball. Headfirst. Right into the wooden bleachers.
And when I woke up, I was being wheeled into the emergency room. On my back. Restrained.
Imagine that? The first time real quality playing time on my high school varsity team, and I get wheeled into the emergency room for diving headfirst into the bleachers. The ironic part is my father was the on-call physician that night. He didn’t expect I would play, so he didn’t take off that night. What a surprise it was to see his own son being wheeled in!
The good news is that I was okay for the most part. My legs and arms were tingly for a while and my neck was sore. I sat out the next few games. Once back in action, I embraced the role of being the energy guy, the change-of-pace guy opponents underestimated when they saw me warming up with the team. I hated that. I hated players smiling at me when I went in the game. I knew they thought I was a scrub. So I had to prove myself. Every second of every game. So I worked on my outside shot. Over and over again. This hard work helped me get 8-12 minutes of quality playing time the rest of my high school career (two years varsity ball in the early 90’s).
When I think of that boy growing up in Michigan, I never imagined that my basketball playing experience would help shape the person I am today. Those memories, those lessons of having to prove myself on the court has always been a motivating factor in my off-the-court life. You’ll have to face the fact sooner than later — you will have more off-the-court time than time on the basketball court. This is true for Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James! So be appreciative of your court time; it’s a limited-time gift.
We all know mistakes happen on the court all the time (I’ve made a ton), but don’t hang your head! Tell yourself you’ll do your best not to repeat it. In life, mistakes happen. Just don’t repeat them over and over again.
In my opinion, being part of a well functioning team is the most effective way to find yourself, to be at peace with your abilities and deficiencies, to feel comfortable in your own skin. In basketball, there’s always something to improve on, albeit free throw shooting, field goal percentage or the pick-and-roll. Life is the same — there is always something worth learning. It’s up to you to open your mind to learn it. If you feel frustrated, your teammates will be there to pick you up. In life, your teammates are your parents, your siblings, your friends and family.
With Mothers & Fathers Day approaching, try to remember not to take people in your life for granted (parents, your guardians, even your little brother and sister!). These people are your teammates who care about you. So give them something once in a while (an assist) to show you appreciate them. Hold your spot for them (box out!), they will appreciate you. They will do everything they can to help you reach your goals. But a fair warning – you may fall short of your goal (missed shot), but with the proper technique and form, you’ll always move towards achieving your goal (2 points!).
And…if you’re lucky, you may get an “And-one” if you are brave enough to drive the middle.
Rooting for you always,