basketball

Making A Move

My daughter’s worried little face reflected in the rearview mirror of my car. She had just voiced her concern that she had come across as foolish to the parents and other spectators who sat on the sideline of the previous week’s basketball game. She was worried that she had fouled too many times, played too aggressively, or unintentionally committed another one of the million little errors that anyone who is learning the technical sport of basketball is liable to commit. She wondered if she should tone it down a bit on the court in order to avoid criticism.

I did not hesitate to dole out a heaping dish of advice that took the better part of our twenty-five mile drive.

“Don’t hold yourself back from playing your hardest. It’s worth putting everything you have into any endeavor that you truly care about,” I said, nodding authoritatively. “Even if you stumble along the way, you’ll feel much better about yourself if you know you gave it your best shot.” I heard the words come out of my mouth, and along with them an unsettling hum that I couldn’t quite place began to buzz in my ear.

Having finally reached our destination, I sat on the sideline and watched my daughter take my advice. She was a fearless little warrior on the court, throwing her heart and soul into the game. A sense of pride filled me as I watched her play. No, it was more than pride that I felt; it was a sense of satisfaction that took root within me. Pride in watching my child give her best effort was understandable, but deep rooted satisfaction was something else. I was living vicariously through my child in that moment, as if watching her push herself to play her hardest and achieve her goals, somehow fulfilled my own long abandoned hopes and dreams.

The nagging little hum that had started on our drive, turned into a full-fledged ringing note of hypocrisy. How easy it was for me to dish out advice to my daughter from the sideline, judging from afar the level of rigor with which she should tackle her goals and dreams, while I sat safely, comfortably by waiting for some distant day in the future to make a move toward my own goals and dreams. The realization of the disconnection between what I so assuredly preached to my daughter and what I actually practiced in my own life was unsettling.

In fact, it probably would have been far more appropriate if our roles had been reversed and my daughter sat in the driver’s seat on the drive to her game that morning giving me advice on how I should go about giving it my best shot. After all, she had put herself out on the line to achieve goals that she set for herself repeatedly over the past several months alone. She ran her heart out at her school’s annual Turkey Trot last fall and came in an admirable third place. This winter, she had devoted herself to practicing chess during her lunch recesses in preparation for her school’s chess tournament. The afternoon of the tournament, she had greeted me at the door with a mile-wide grin holding the giant Hershey bar she’d won for coming in first place at the tournament. Now here it was basketball season, and the degree to which she had thrown herself into the sport was turning out to be no exception to the pattern that she had set for herself.

She had accomplished all of this only months after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Her diagnosis hadn’t stopped her from living. In fact, it hadn’t even slowed her down. And here I sat, waiting in the recesses for a time when my words would come out perfectly articulate and my performance would be impossible to negatively critique. Here I sat, playing it safe in the shadows, instructing my daughter from afar to push herself without fear of what others might think.

Much like my daughter, I used to be the kind of kid who was adamant that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to. I put myself out on the line to tackle the goals that I had set. I fearlessly tried out for drama productions, sometimes alongside adults. I could stand up in front of an audience of people without letting my nerves rule me. My confidence outweighed my fears and reservations. My desire to achieve my dreams ruled over fears of how I might appear to others. I had confidence that my voice mattered. I literally and figuratively threw myself onto the stage of life.

As I transitioned into adulthood, my apprehensions and fears claimed superiority over my confidence. I became the master of daydreaming about a time when I would start working on accomplishing my dreams. I went from a little girl who said I will accomplish this, to a woman who said one day when point a and point b align perfectly in my life, I will start working on that goal I want to achieve. I became a woman who dreamed from afar, a woman who counted down the days for a better time in the future to begin working on that distant goal.

From my position of safety on the sideline, I watched my daughter set an example for me by truly living in the present and making a move toward a goal that she cared about achieving. She worked through her fear of what the people on the sideline thought of her performance. In that moment, I realized she didn’t need my advice; my advice was just words. She needed a true-life, living example of an adult, a woman, a mother (her mother) who carried her dreams and goals into adulthood and continued to make a move toward achieving them regardless of what life circumstances got thrown in her way.

That afternoon when we arrived home from the game, I turned the advice that I had unleashed upon my daughter earlier that morning into an internal dialogue directed at the one who really needed the advice:

Life is too short to be paralyzed by fear and insecurity. I need to reclaim my ability to take chances and put myself on the spot, even if is means risking criticism. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to stumble. It’s not okay to clam up and keep yourself from trying for risk of failure or others’ criticism.

Then I turned my computer on and I began typing.

My daughter’s worried little face reflected in the rearview mirror of my car…

Why We Shouldn’t Wait For Perfection To Let Our Voices Be Heard

For much of my adult life I have held back from expressing my voice. I thought that once I had refined my thoughts and written what I wanted to say in a precise and organized fashion that my voice would be worthy of sharing. The problem was that I could never get it right. My thoughts refused to come out exactly the way I wanted, so instead of risking vulnerability and criticism, I opted to silence myself, and I put my ideas on hold for a better time when they would come together in a more articulate, concise, and profound way.

I found myself particularly out of my comfort zone this week when I assumed a role that I had never undertaken: sports commentator. It was the much anticipated staff versus eighth grade boys’ basketball game, and I sat shoulder to shoulder on packed bleachers with my seventh grade students. To my left sat one of my students who has a visual impairment severe enough to prevent him from seeing a basketball game from the position of the courtside bleachers. He could experience the excitement in the air as hundreds of amped up middle school students stomped in sync, clapped, and cheered. He could hear the intermingled voices of his peers amidst all the chaos, and he could periodically catch a score update, but his limited eye vision could not capture the play-by-play action on the court.

Realizing that it would be difficult for my student to fully enjoy the game without some commentary, I clumsily and inarticulately began to string together a verbal account of the game as it unfolded before us. I messed up on technical terms many times along the way. I didn’t verbalize every play perfectly. During my hurried description, I missed a few ball fumbles here and a few passes there. I had to recruit one of the boys sitting in front of me to be a second set of eyes and double check my facts. “Who fouled whom?” I leaned over and shouted above the roar of excited students, my hands waving wildly in the air as I struggled to quickly and succinctly convey the back and forth action of the game to my student. I’m certain my loud voice and dramatic gestures must have pegged me as an over-aggressive sports enthusiast to the elementary teachers sitting on the other side of the court with their classes.

I stole a glance at my student from time to time, embarrassed by my inability to express the correct technical terms of the plays taking place on the court. When I saw the smile on his face, I knew that he was not concerned that my ability as a sports commentator was less than ESPN worthy. He was not judging me for misstating what type of foul Mr. M. just committed or for accidentally calling a Hook Shot a Jump Shot. My commentary was enough to paint an image in his mind of an experience that he would not have been able to fully engage in without my shaky, inarticulate words. When the game ended, we parted ways to our separate third period classes, but not before he expressed one of the sincerest thanks yous I have ever received from a seventh grade student.

My experience as a sports commentator reminded me that we can’t always wait for a time when point a and point b line up perfectly to let our voices be heard. Sometimes others need to hear our voices, even when we have not rehearsed what to say and our words come out in a jumbled mess. A scratchy, hoarse throat followed me throughout the rest of the day, reminding me of the power of voice, of language, and of words. Not necessarily the kind of words that are perfectly polished and refined, but words that grasp, claw, and struggle to convey ideas for the authentic purpose of helping another see, feel, and experience a moment.