Sunday, January 24, 2010

Learning Lessons

Yesterday, Will's basketball team played another thrilling, heartbeat-skipping basketball game. They tied, 35-35.

Our guys were up 19-11, then down 26-21. Back and forth it went. Down one with 90 seconds, Will nailed a 15 footer, then found an open man underneath for a three-point lead. The other team's star, who was three inches taller than our tallest player, made a no-doubt three with seven seconds. No kidding, it was more exciting than the 1992 East Regional final between Duke and Kentucky. I told the opposing team's star, who probably had 30 of their 35 points, that it was a pleasure to watch him play his heart out.

The parents and players knew they had witnessed something special. But, no offense, probably not as much as Dori, our family (my Mom and sister were in attendance) and a few close friends. After the game, Dori hugged her son, who played spectacularly. They both cried lovingly, which of course tore us up a smidge. Near the end of the game, I looked at Dori from the coaches' bench a few times, and she was crying then, too. How could you not?

I share this not because of the game itself. I share because I've learned so much from it and a few other events this week.

Last year, Will struggled to make progress in basketball. The potential was there, but he mostly took a few steps forward and few steps back. Sometimes, I handled it well. Sometimes, not as much. I walked a fine line as a parent and coach to help him elevate his game.

This year has been completely different. He's grasping most everything. He's combining smarts with persistence, a trait he didn't show as much last year. The development is ongoing, but my takeaway is to stay focused on combining encouragement, instruction and firmness when necessary. When does one do the latter? Two occasions for me are when I hear an excuse or when I see lackluster effort.

I'm seeing similar things in other places. Dori didn't get a job she was shooting for last year. At the time, I told her assuredly, and I completely believed it, that the disappointing result was a blessing. Many months later, she's in a great spot. Last semester, Kathryn struggled with a subject. We encouraged more effort, and she volunteered to do some after-school study. Her grades improved, and she made honor roll last week.

My life, and I would wager yours, are filled with these moments. Struggles and disappointments, and yes even disasters, are opportunities. I see that in the calamity in Haiti. Many have died; millions more are in a terrible place. But the outpouring of support and desire to rebuild are stronger than the inclination to retreat. Just ask Hurricane Katrina survivors ... They will be watching their New Orleans Saints play in the NFC Championship game today. Just ask the people of Charleston, SC, who emerged stronger from Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Anything come to mind in your life?

Another great part of my weekend occurred through Team in Training yesterday. First, as teammate Catherine and I were finishing an eight-miler, she said, "It's interesting how the last mile is always harder." I said yes, but that's the best training mile. Rather than slow down, I dropped the pace significantly, encouraging her to stick with me. Impressively, she stayed on my shoulder the whole way.

At a coffee afterwards with her teammates, she said, "Coach, did you hear my heavier breathing as we were finishing?" I said, "No, I heard your determination!"

An hour later at a recruitment meeting, teammates Jim, Sara and I shared TNT insight, encouraging the eight attendees to join us in the fight against blood cancer.

I think all of them are signed up or in the process of committing. They must have appreciated our determination.

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