Category Archives: Little Stories

My Basketball Coach

I have always been tall and husky.  I was my current height, 6 foot 7 inches, in my freshman year of high school, and I was a basketball player and I was pretty good at that game. Back then a guy my size was automatically assigned the center position.  And that’s where my coach put me – in the center of the action. Today most guards in the pros are taller than I am.

I was a good passer and had a half decent hook shot and turn around jumper, but I felt out of sorts as the team’s center. I really wanted to play the forward position. I dribbled rather well for a big guy and I could shoot well from a distance.  In fact, I could hit from three-point range before there was a three-point rule. I knew I could score more and pass even better as a forward, but I said nothing.

Fortunately I had a coach who paid attention to his players. Each day before the official start of practice, I shot hoops and did some dribbling exercises. My coach was always there early as well and he saw over time that I was a high percentage shooter from the outside and that I could drive well to the basket when I had to.

When he told me he was moving to me to forward, I was averaging about 12 points a game, with 6 assists and about as many rebounds. As a forward, my average points per game doubled, assists rose to 10 a game, and I ended up being the second highest rebounder in the league. We were 2 and 2 when coach moved me. At the end of the year we were 12 and 3 and made the District Championship, winning it with a 20 footer at the buzzer. I was driving to the basket when I saw our point guard was all by his lonesome at the free throw line. I was half way to the hoop when I passed back to him. His shot rose into the air in slow motion and every player on the floor watched it float through the air and swish into the net as the buzzer buzzed.

Back then, it seemed like every coach discouraged the long game. They wanted lay ups and jump shots taken in the lane. That makes sense  but a good coach keeps an eye out for what can work best for the team, even if what works best defies common practice, defies the norm.

Truth be told, our players were successful with layups and short shots even more so than we had been because now they had a point guard and a forward that could shoot from the outside. That drew the defense out further and further and opened up other players for the easier shots.

My coach chose what would work best for the team, even though his choice was not conventional at the time. Instead of keeping me in the center position he worked with me to refine my jump shot. He taught me how to follow through with my wrist and how to put the proper spin on the ball.  He made me dribble more with my left hand because I wasn’t as good with my left as I was with my right. He worked with me to improve my talent.

My coach was the first leader in my life, after my father. What he taught me about the game of basketball contributed to who I am today and how I see what is going on around me.  I am grateful for his lessons and his willingness to believe in something different from what he was expected to believe in.

The day my coach told me he was moving me to forward, I told him that’s what I had hoped for but didn’t want to ask.

“How come?” He bounced the ball twice and added. “You should always speak up about how you think you can contribute.”

That was the biggest lesson of all.

Was that you I saw standing on the edge?

I was the Lumber Jack size of a man with his toes on the precipice just a stone’s throw away from you.  My toes were nearly hanging over, which meant my belly extended even further over the edge.

The other side – that place beyond the chasm where I wanted to be – wasn’t all that far away. I imagined if I backed up 20 yards and ran fast, I could make the leap with room to spare.

Were you thinking the same thing?

I tried not to look down or at the jagged rock face that would be my ruin if I missed my mark. I tried to keep my eye on where I wanted to be, on the prize so to speak. But truth be told, I stood there on the edge alternating my eyes between the perils below and the possibilities that waited for me “over there.”

We looked at each other a few times, quick glances as if each of us offered the other some solace, some sort of connection about the individual choices that we were facing. Would it help to stand side by side?  Could we help each other understand the risks and the rewards we might realize by leaping over the void?

Of course, we weren’t alone. Down the way from each of us were others standing on the edge as well.  Young and old, women and men, people of all colours. I think I saw a mother carrying her child and a man in a wheel chair.

There we were, all of us on the edge of who we were at that moment, wondering about the possibilities over there, our fears swirling beneath us, dark and dangerous.

That’s when I woke up.

It was the strangest dream.

Like many dreams, this one lingered for a while as I went about my business and then dissipated over the next few days. I had forgotten all about it until I started writing this piece. I remember thinking, “that dream could be a great introduction to a book.”

As an activist, writer, musician, father, and partner, I have stood on the edge of who I am many times. Sometimes I leapt over the darkness below and carried on with my journey on the other side until, as you likely anticipated, I ended up on another ledge, facing another chasm separating me from possibility.

Other times, I turned around and walked away, either not ready for what I might find “over there,” or just too damn afraid to risk the fall. As well, there were times when I realized that the possibilities of where I was were still unrealized and that leaping from one cliff to another would have smacked more of escape than exploration.

In all of these cases, one thing was certain and constant, namely that there was no certainty I could rely on. Staying put may have offered me comfort and safety, but if I am honest there was no certainty that my current location would serve me best. And the possibilities offered across the way – or perceived to be offered – were only that, possibilities. Nothing guaranteed was waiting for me.

This uncertainty was simultaneously unnerving and exciting. It seemed like every choice facing me was terrifying and yet I felt rich with choice.

While the dream was mine, the experiences it painted are, I suggest, part and parcel to our humanity, our human condition.

In the context of my work to end poverty or within the frame of being a creative person (writer, musician, artist), I am constantly faced with choices and few, if any, offer me a predictable outcome.

Reflecting on the dream, I see it as a story about change and its many risks and possibilities. The dream sparked my thinking about my own resistance to taking chances and my all too frequent desire to just let what is be good enough. I am comfortable with good enough, with my routines of living. I know what to expect or at least think I do. My guess is you get what I am trying to say here. There is often something heartwarming about the status quo.

There are many, many people testing new waters, crafting ideas, launching innovative actions. I am blessed to know so many incredible leaders and thinkers, risk-takers and catalysts, and passion-makers and boat-rockers. But even the best explorers get lost, prefer calm waters, and hesitate.

I have said more than once: transformative ideas require (and deserve) transformative practice. They must weave together if we have any hope of our ideas coming to fruition. To create unique, beautiful music goes beyond the composition. Creativity, passion, and experience are put to practice (technique) and what we hear is all of that, not just the notes the pianist is playing. In other words, often, if not all the time, new music requires new technique in order to act on the possibilities of our creativity.

And for a pianist to create new music, does she not have to redefine who she is as a pianist, if not a human being?

Think of the risks jazz musicians take when they sit together and jam. For such interplay to work well, each of the players has to trust their skills and techniques while being open to possibilities that unfold during their session together. Even the best musicians experience times when the magic doesn’t happen. Even the best player can miss a note or go sideways while the others head off in a common direction.

The risk goes beyond embarrassment for missing a note. Mistakes and misses are also about the person making them and the more innovative we try to be, the more likely we will fail along the way. How do we incorporate a value of failing within our identities? How can we find sustenance from one another when our quest for the new and better way to do things, tumbles us to the ground.

Our desire to act on what is possible relies on all we have learned while at the same time challenges us to move beyond what we know to what might be. It is hard enough to do this by yourself; it is so much more difficult to do this together.

One of the fundamental tenets of my practice as a leader, teacher, and innovator is this: big change is a group activity requiring that we help one another overcome our fears, our personal or professional shortcomings, and our collective tendency to gravitate toward what is comfortable and easy.

We need our edges and our chasms. Without them we are limited in where we can go and what we can discover. But I suggest we should not stand on the edge by ourselves. We have a much better chance of leaping forward if we do it together.

 

 

Acceptance

We can’t do it when we are young.
We know too little.
We have not tasted enough truth.

Eventually we can taste everything:
the sweet, the bitter, everything in between.
One day, Wisdom appears at our door.

Small and unsure at first,
it speaks nonetheless, each word
finding courage from the last.

One day we walk around a corner
and there it is waiting for use:
that space so deep inside

where our nature resides, that
which never changes, the constant “I.”
It is not the “self” but that which holds it close.

If you could taste it, it would
taste like candy we know
we should not eat

but we do
because of we didn’t
we could not be.

 

Pride

Two_dancersIt’s hard to find.

There are so many who
do not want you to have any.

They think it belongs to them.
They think that if you have any,
they will not have enough for themselves.

Thankfully, there are those
who want you to have it
feel it
breathe it
be alive with it.

Welcome them.
Have the pride you deserve.
It is not the only reason
but it is a very good reason
to dance.