It was game 3 of the tournament, the final game for the battle of 5th place. My son’s basketball team lost by another blowout; a product of playing versus teams the next level up. I could see it in his eyes as he was leaving the bench after the final buzzer buzzed. He was content, content from the effort that he put up during that final game. Sure, his team lost big, but individually he played his best game. The connections between putting in real effort and reaping the reward of a job well done were made. On a team of 10 boys, he is by far not their best player, but he has physical attributes that make him valuable and he is coach-able. For this tournament, his second; he was given the award of sportsmanship of the tournament for his team. An award given to the player who showed the most progress throughout. When his name was called out for the award, another connection was made. In a split second, he had physical proof that putting in the effort really does pay off. For the first time in his nearly 9 years, I could see confidence growing right before my eyes.
It was a mere week before this game that it almost looked like it wasn’t going to happen. We were at another basketball tournament where our son’s team was also playing against boys another level up from him. It was their first tournament and to be fair, most of them were almost overwhelmed by the enormity and formality of the games they were playing. Up to this point, all they had were one-off games versus other community teams and a handful of practices. My son, was certainly not in his element. As he was playing he was barely trotting up and down the court. He was chewing his fingers while trying to keep up with the game in front of him. He looked like a deer caught in headlights for most of the tournament. We became worried as it would only be a matter of time before a basketball would drive his fingers into his mouth. Whenever he did manage to get the ball, it might as well have been a bomb. He was petrified to make a play. His brain locked the moment the play was on him. It was on the ride home that we as parents had to have a heart-to-heart with our son. Should he continue to play basketball?
There were a few different ways we could have approached his play on the weekend. We could have reamed him for being a terrible player. We could have yelled at him and accused him of wasting our money. We could have degraded him by comparing him to other players on his team. But we didn’t. We simply asked him if he really wanted to keep playing. We also reminded him that it didn’t matter if he did or not, he owed it to his team to finish out the season. Under no circumstances can he abandon his teammates. He said he did want to keep playing but he was scared. He was scared to make mistakes. Afraid we would get mad at him, or his teammates would laugh. He heard other parents yelling from the stands at their kids and he didn’t want us to do the same. Afraid that if he did try hard and made the mistake, we would yell at him.
There are times when our children act funny when things become bigger than them. Hell, we as adults act funny when things become bigger than us. Many of us (myself included) live our lives in fear of being yelled at or laughed at. We avoid adversity and trying for success in fear that we will fail at succeeding. Sometimes, we even avoid putting in our full effort in fear that we might actually succeed! We will even go out of our way to guard our delicate self-assurance by not putting our complete effort forward so we leave a little room for excuse in the event of failure. While I am still learning about my own confidence, I still had to explain this concept to my son. I had to assure him that we would not be disappointed if he failed and failed hard, so long as he put his best effort forward. Shoot the basketball, want that ball more than the other players, put yourself into as many situations to fail as you can… because you might just succeed.
On the ride home from his award winning tournament, my son asked me “did I make any mistakes today?”. My response was a resounding “yup! and I am glad you did.”. He was kind of shocked when I backed it up with “you even made more mistakes than last weekend!”. His confidence the rest of the day was at an all-time high and while he may not have learned to play the game of basketball any better from his experience, he did however, learn to play the game… of life.