In a weird sort of way, I should probably thank the friend who left me standing there with the proverbial whistle.
The past few years, I’ve assisted that friend in coaching our respective daughters’ YMCA basketball team. My friend knows his stuff. He was a high-level athlete in his day. He’s also a gentle giant, and the girls love him. Meanwhile, I’ve dutifully sat on the bench and helped with the rotation.
I was looking forward to another year of my Robin to his Batman when life happened. I can’t do it, he said. Not this year. You’re in … Coach.
And just like that I’ve got a clipboard in hand, and I’m walking around the court like I’m supposed to know what I’m doing.
From the very first practice, I notice one of the girls has the look. She’s tall. A baller, no doubt. She’s never played organized basketball before, she says, but she’s been in the driveway with her big brothers plenty, and it shows. She has a pure-looking shot, and I see potential all over the place. Keep shooting, I say.
She does. The Baller has a solid season. She gets rebounds. Plays defense. Hustles like crazy. Her shot always looks good as it goes up, but more often than not, it doesn’t actually go in. It’s only a matter of time, I say. Keep shooting.
In the blink of an eye there’s one practice left, one game, and we’re staring attrition in the face. One of our best ball handlers won’t make it to the final game. OK, girls, I say, I need a backup point guard on Saturday. Everybody gets a chance to play the one tonight, and at the end of practice, I’ll tell you who it is.
We have the best practice of the season, and when it ends, I say: Backup point guard duties go to The Baller.
Be ready, I tell her.
Oh, wow, she says.
On gameday, I put the girls through warmups. I’m watching them shoot layups and jump shots, and I see something. The Baller isn’t missing. The ball goes in. Every. Single. Time.
Did you practice this week? I ask.
The Baller nods, and the game starts. The Baller scores the first six points. Six to nothing, just like that. The other team calls timeout, and I’m standing there sort of in disbelief, but not really.
Turns out, The Baller isn’t finished scoring. Call it a scoring explosion. We win the game. The season’s over. The girls are happy, and I shake my head.
My daughter and I enjoy a pleasant car ride home. Then I go for a run, and somewhere between mile two and three it hits me – what it was that just happened back there. It wasn’t an accident The Baller practiced all week and came out with her hair on fire.
She did it because I told her to be ready. She took the challenge to heart, and she reached for it.
And I think to myself isn’t that what a coach does? A coach sees the potential. A coach challenges us to extend our reach. That’s precisely what so many teachers, ecclesiastical leaders, mentors, coaches, bosses, colleagues, friends, family members, and heroes have given me over the years.
The difference is they knew what they were doing.
Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six children. He has a B.A. in communications (print journalism) from Brigham Young University and a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law. Chris enjoys music by The Piano Guys, flying kites, and pumpkin pie. Chris is the author of Red: A Football Novel.