We are having a very interesting basketball season to say the least. We are very young and have yet to win a game but we have made remarkable progress on several fronts. This morning, I gave my team, every player of which is new to the program this year, their Christmas presents, a One Year Bible. I was touched with their sense of gratitude. (Several told me they've already started reading their gift!) I've coached a great number of young ladies over the years. The following, from November 2005, is about an unforgettable girl- now a woman- on the first basketball team I ever coached.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I started coaching girls' basketball. Barely into my teaching career, I had only worked with our boys' program at Georgia Christian School when the girls' job came open. I had told the administration I would NEVER coach girls but the vacancy surfaced in July, a difficult time to fill the position. I felt a sense of obligation to help out and I liked the kids I knew would be on the team. There were concerns. First, they had been awful the previous season. Secondly, our boys' team was in the middle of a 125 game winning streak and the girls felt overshadowed. And most importantly, I had no idea of how to do the job. I sat down and talked a long time with Angie Patrick, one of the returning players, and came away convinced it could be a good fit. My world was fixing to change dramatically.
I inherited two seniors on that first squad, Elsa and Elizabeth. They were wonderful kids and showed great improvement through the year. Elizabeth was probably the funniest girl I have ever coached. Before I arrived, she had attained (some said it was self-christening) the nickname of 'the Brickhouse,' based on the Commodores' song about a well-built young lady. Elizabeth, tall and very thin, was referred to simply as 'Brick.' A good student from a wonderful family, she was my post player that year. Since I had no experience at heading up a girls' program, I asked for advice from a seasoned coach on how to work with the fairer gender. His response was to ''treat them like boys.'' That's what I did. My coaches always yelled at me as a player and I survived so I yelled at my players. The first day of practice, we ran. When we had done quite a bit of conditioning, the tears started to flow so I shouted, "If I see ONE MORE TEAR, we will NEVER stop running!" Magically, the fountains dried up and I learned my first lesson- they can help themselves. At first, I was stunned at our progress, which I knew was attributable to great coaching. Bursting with pride, I told our boys' coach, Mike Roller, "I think we are going to be good!" Mike's response brought me back to sanity: "No, you're not." He said anybody can look good practicing against themselves- and he was absolutely right. Reality set in with our first game. It was ugly. Our victory total for the year was only seven wins but it was a great season. The girls grew tremendously as players and in closeness. They were very tolerant of my countless mistakes. Immediately, I began planning for the next year. For coaches, there is always a next year. For seniors, there is not.
Shortly after our season concluded, a student brought me a note. It was written by Elizabeth and she had permission to share it with me. In opening up to her friend, Elizabeth said some things that have stayed with me. The note said, "I used to hate it when he yelled at me. Now, I would give anything to have him yell at me one more time." That bothered me. Although I knew I yelled, I thought the girls handled it like I did. But Elizabeth also was finding out what we all find out- that there is a clock ticking in our window of opportunity and it just struck midnight for her. It went on. "I could have been good. Instead, I'm just OK. Nobody wants to be just OK." We all live with regrets and Elizabeth was no different. She realized she'd decided too late that she wanted to be more than an average player. It doesn't bother us to be average in some areas. I am barely passable on the computer but that's all right. I have no mechanical skills and I can't figure out my tax forms but I don't mind. But like Elizabeth, we all wish we could go back and make some changes and alter the direction of parts of our lives. We talked in class this week about Jesus going to the common people and how nobody wants to be common anymore; especially, no ones parents want them to be simply average. Average in America is a four letter word spelled with seven letters. To be great, we have to do more than think about how nice it would be to have others consider us exceptional. It takes an incredible amount of work. Elizabeth was right- she could have been a good player. I might have been a world class guitarist or chess master but we will never know. I am sure of this. Elizabeth, while an average basketball player, was a world class person. It's never too late to start in that department. Several years ago, I met a woman in Honduras who was baptized into Jesus on the eve of her 100th birthday! Even if we are just average in heaven, we are in heaven! Whatever it is you want to do, whether social, physical, economic, or spiritual, start today. So many accomplishments that have bettered the world were the result of too old, too untalented, too average people simply deciding to succeed. Like others, I've made a list of fifty things I want to do before I die. There is only one obstruction- ME. I can do a better job than anyone else of keeping me from my dreams. I have made the decision not to stand in my own way anymore. I'm going to lean on God and step off the diving board. Elizabeth taught me this-don't wait until it's over. Do it now. Give yourself a chance . Don't wait until the end of your senior year.
Applicable quote of the day:
"There is nothing like a dream to create the future."
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org