This week I did something I haven’t done in a long time: I played basketball. I’ve spent a lot of time lately coaching basketball, watching basketball, and talking basketball, but I haven’t spent much time playing. A good buddy had been asking me to come join his group for their weekly pick-up game for a while, but I always had an excuse for why it couldn’t work. Finally, this week, I was able to make it happen.
I don’t know if you’re like me or not, but there was a long time where playing sports was a really important part of my life. I was always playing or practicing something, somewhere. These days, however, it doesn't happen often. Now that I've stepped away from playing the game, like many of us do as we get older and farther out of shape, it can be easy to forget what it’s like to be out there competing. Getting back on the court this week offered me a few reminders – some good and some not so good – of how it feels to play the game, and a few things to keep in mind as my own kids play, too. I’m hoping they can encourage you to think back, remember your playing days, and use it to help your child get better, too.
1. It’s easy to forget…that playing well is hard.
I think the farther I’ve gotten from my playing days, the easier it’s become to forget how hard playing the game well actually is. It’s probably human nature for all of us to create a little revisionist history when it comes to the stories we tell ourselves – and those we share with our kids – about the athletes we used to be. We spend time thinking back on our headline moments or talking about the times we stepped up and delivered in the clutch. It’s almost like ignoring all our shortcomings, mistakes, and struggles as an athlete has erased them from our memory. But stepping back on the court this week reminded me just how tough it is to play the game well. Despite my best effort out there, I missed some easy shots, made some bad passes, and lost track of my man on more than one occasion. I probably shouldn’t be too hard on myself. After all, even LeBron James misses shots and makes bad passes and loses track of his man occasionally. Sports are imperfect games played by imperfect people. Experiencing that imperfection firsthand again made me stop and consider how it might feel for my kids to play the game.
I’m sure you’re like me in that you have high hopes and expectations for the way your child plays. And, like me, I’m sure it’s possible you’ve been frustrated when your kid’s made what you might consider to be a silly mistake, like – I don’t know – missing an easy shot, or making a bad pass, or losing track of their man on defense. But it’s probably worth remembering that mistakes are part of playing the game for everyone – especially for kids – and that our kids’ shortcomings, mistakes, and struggles actually provide a great opportunity for us to teach (and for them to learn), if we recognize it. We can use those challenges to help our kids grow and improve, and to help them understand the reality of the learning process. We can also help them see that how they respond to the challenges they face is actually a lot more important than the challenges themselves.
2. It’s easy to forget…that teammates are so valuable.
Like just about any team competition, a pick-up basketball game is filled with all types of teammates. Of course, each player brought something unique to the team with his basketball ability, but each one brought something unique to the team with his attitude, energy, and outlook, too. Some brought something uniquely good – they were constantly talking, supporting, and encouraging. Others brought something uniquely bad – they were constantly complaining, criticizing, or carping about something. Other than my buddy who invited me, I didn’t know a person in the gym when I got there. And yet, only a few games in it was evident who made me and my team better, and who made us worse. Experiencing life as a teammate again made me stop and consider how it might feel for my kids to play the game.
Our children's experience as an athlete is in many ways an individual journey, but one important part of that journey is the time he or she spends as a teammate. No doubt about it, a big part of their success will be determined by the player they become. But just as important to their success, I hope you can see, is the
they become. Their experience as a teammate today is great training for the teammate they’ll become later in life as a spouse, a parent, a co-worker, and a friend. The truth is, for you as a parent, what you emphasize is what your child will learn to value. When you emphasize the value of being their best as a teammate, you help them bring something uniquely positive to the lives and experiences of those playing next to them. More importantly, though, you help them recognize the impact their attitude, energy, and outlook have on people for life.
3. It’s easy to forget…that playing the game is fun.
I think the further I’ve gotten from my playing days, the easier it’s gotten for me to forget how much I love to play. In some ways, playing some pick-up ball this week felt like re-connecting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in too long. Sports have always been an important part of my life. Growing up, I devoted weeks, months, probably even years of my life to practicing and playing. Why? There's no other way to explain it. I just flat out love to play.
I love so many things about playing the game. I love the competition – pushing myself and problem solving and striving to win. I love the bond it creates with others – whether I’ve known someone forever or we’re just meeting for the first time, if we’ve got basketball in common, there’s an instant connection. I love all that playing the game has taught me, about what I’m made of and what I’m capable of. I was so sore after playing the other night I could hardly walk, but even so it was tough to keep from smiling. Remembering how much I love playing again made me stop and consider how it might feel for my kids to play the game.
I sure hope someday my children can say about playing what I’m lucky enough to say – that they love it, too. Sadly, though, when I stop to consider what might possibly keep them from loving their experience, you know what seems to be one of their biggest threats? Me. Unfortunately as parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the stress and busyness of life. Sometimes in the midst of our "adulting," we can inadvertently become the ones snuffing the joy out of what should be one of our kids’ most enjoyable experiences. That’s humbling to consider.
At the same time, we have the potential to help our kids continue to develop their love and passion for playing. We have the chance to set them up with a game that can become a friend for life. One that will create for them an instant connection that bonds them with others. One that can teach them all they’re made of and all they’re capable of.
I don’t know the next time I’ll be able to get back on the court, but I’m excited to make it happen. Stepping back out there offered me a few reminders – some good and some not so good – of how it feels to play the game again, and a few things to keep in mind as my own kids play, too. I’m going to work hard to remember what can sometimes be easy to forget. I hope you will, too.