One Ball… Five Lessons
My son and I returned to the school where I played basketball during my senior year. We were there to watch a game being played by a friend’s grandchild. Upon seeing all of the banners and trophies, the pictures of teams from the past, and the retired jerseys, my son asked, “which one are you?”
From the top bleacher, I looked down at the court, and asked, “do you see each one of those cracks in that floor?”
He shook his head, yes, and I said, “I am everyone of those cracks.”
I never started a game. Records of our shots hit to shots taken percentage never worried me. When I entered the games, we were either winning by several points, or the game was surely lost. I did, however, learn lessons that would help me in this life. Here are five of those lessons.
The high school team played in a nice gymnasium. When it rained outside, the team could play. If it was hot or cold outside, the team could play. There was always a chance that basketball could be played, at any time, at the high school.
This is why I wanted so desperately to make the team. The chance to practice, play, and do, what I loved to do. For years I played pick up games outside a local Catholic school. There were limited hours and sometimes people showed up, and sometimes they did not. But I loved to play basketball. There was more of a chance to play “on a team”, than anywhere else.
My senior year was good, but there was no sense that it was any better than other years, past or future. I find myself approaching anything in life this way. Finding what I love, in any circumstance, and realizing that it is the love that makes a thing great, not the way that love is manifest. This works with religion, employment, hobbies, contemplation, music, and nearly anything in life. Knowing the love, before the method of making the love manifest, helps keep the love, the main thing.
Before each practice (every day after school during the season), I swept the court. This is why I told my son that I am every crack in the floor. I came to know each part of the floor in a way that others did not. No one asked me to sweep, and it was done because I was the first to arrive for practice. There were no “thank you(s)” and no complaints. Most of the team never knew it was me that swept.
Later in the season, the coaches told me they knew I was doing this, but it was not for the coaches. It needed to be done, and in some ways, it helped calm my mind for practice after a busy school day. One broom. Fifteen minutes. Only to help.
I play very little basketball these days. The prep work for my day is much different than sweeping now. This year, and every year, I made “team humanity”. In the same way that sweeping helped calm my mind for practice, meditation helps prepare my mind for life. I wake up early, I spend some time letting go of what I believed went wrong the day before, and I send love to those I will meet in the next 24 hours. Each day is just practice, and sometimes I do well. Other times I do not. But, I do the prep work. Not for others, but for me.
Every day of conditioning, every day of practice, and every drill, I put in the work. I did not put in the work of the guy next to me, or the work that I thought the coaches expected, but the work that I needed, at that time. In comparison to my teammates, my work sometimes looked impressive, and sometimes looked mediocre. But, my work was not done for others, it was done for me.
I ignored the efforts of my teammates who asked me to “slack off”, and I also paid little attention to coaches who screamed, “you can do better.”
What I could do on the court, in the weight room, and on the track, was my best. Regardless of the good or negative opinions of others. What I did away from the court, to improve, was my own business and done in the same way. There is a satisfaction that comes when we do our best. This satisfaction outlasts the criticism and praise of those around us. Putting in the work has more to do with what we are willing to sacrifice, to invest, and to offer any project of which we are a part.
When we have the love, do the prep only because it needs to be done, and put in the work with our full intention, the reward becomes what we decide the reward should be.
It was never, for me, getting to play in a game. I did enjoy a coach or teammates encouragement, but those were only a part of the reward. The reward I found in basketball, was what I learned about team dynamics, my thresholds of exhaustion, and even just the process of playing the game. Without being the best, or the worst, it was easy for me to slip into being rewarded only for my efforts, by my efforts.
In a world where people seek opportunities to be rewarded for the work they perform, basketball taught me to consider the opportunity as the reward. Monetary compensation, positions seats, and reputations, are all nice, but they are not the reward. In short, the possibility of helping create a thing, rather than the thing, is the reward. All of what follows is only fluff. Creation, experience, and the love that comes with those, are the reward.
In every game of basketball, there is one ball and ten players on the court. Five of these players have your objective in mind and five do not. Score more than the other team. One person can score at a time. Every player has the chance to score.
Some say it is unselfish and a good quality to pass to another player. Others say it is selfish to take the shot. Yes and no. If you always take the shot, you become predictable. If you always pass the ball, you free up one defender to guard others on your team. To be well rounded, and contribute to the team, you have to do both.
Admittedly, I prefer the pass these days. There were times in my life that I felt the rush of shooting, but those days seem distant to me. If I can give credit, or opportunity, to another team member, I try to do that. It may be that I have become more of a “player/coach” in my old age. Some people get lulled into thinking I cannot shoot, which works to my advantage when it becomes necessary to shoot. My 10th grade Geometry teacher, Mr. Anderson, advised, “it is better not to let people know how smart you are.” In the words of my twelve year-old son, “buckets.”
Later in this life of mine, I wrote the words, “winning ain’t worth winning, unless you’re into losing, and winning ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
I mention this only to let you know that sports are not my thing. There is always the insinuation that the end of a competition is monumental. I do feel like it is important to celebrate our wins, but our record has so little to do with our worth, or the people we are, or have become. People get worked up over trophies being given to those who simply participate, as if it takes away from the importance of the trophies given to those for winning. This speaks to the inherent trouble of competition.
If we do a thing for a trophy, we only have a trophy. If we live life for the learning, the chance to help others, and the possibility of creating love in the world, we always have peace, and more opportunity to do the same. Each day is a new game, each day is a new season, and each day is a new start. Our record is now 0-0. Play the game today. Do your best. The winning will handle itself.
You are already a miracle. Take that miracle out and see what it can do.
Love and Happy Saturday.