I write an inordinate amount about youth sports. That’s for 2 reasons, mostly. I have youths in sports. And I have always loved sports.
Sports were the main tie between my dad and I. Without it, I imagine we would’ve drifted apart like ships lost at sea. But we did, we were tied together, we didn’t drift. When I coach, watch a game or ESPN, see a batting average, pick up my glove or a football, he’s not far away. I can see him, smell him, feel him. So, the foundation for each of these posts is that relationship, how much I miss him, and how I’d like him to read them.
I am tied to my boys by many things, all of them more important than sports. I am not my dad. But if they think of me when they catch a ball or shoot a jump shot, that’s cool, too. They (we) love basketball and the season began last weekend with something called a tip-off tournament.
The thing about sports is how it is a solid metaphor for everything else. Like when I tell you that my youngest feels the weight of perfection and that often sucks the joy out of the game, you know what I mean, right? Have you ever felt like you needed to keep things together, that if you happened to fall, you would ‘let everyone down?’ Have you ever felt paralyzed, unable to act, in fear of failure? Have you ever stayed too long in a relationship or a job because what if…? Have you ever put so much pressure on yourself to be great that it made you sick and certainly kept you up at night? Me, too.
Incidentally, what keeps me up at night is what I may have done to instill this perfectionism in him. I tried to encourage risk, value failure, while celebrating each win. I never withheld my affection or punished a loss, always gave a soft place to land, always threw my arms around him no matter the game/test result. Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe nothing.
Or when they take the court and in the course of the game end up guarding the 6’5” 300lb monster under the basket. Right??? I have felt overwhelmed by monsters real and imagined so many times. There are giants everywhere.
Is the final score all that matters? The bottom line? Does it matter how you play if the ends don’t measure up? Do the ends justify the means?
I love the purity of spirit in giving everything we have for something, anything. Too often we hold back, we detach, we hide, we hedge, we are afraid to empty our tanks because what if we lose? What does that mean about us, our worth, our value?
But what if the value is in the engagement? What if our worth isn’t tied at all to the final score? Maybe that’s what we end up learning, and maybe that’s a lesson my dad couldn’t see. That we are so much more than the game, the competition. That it isn’t about the final score, that it never was. And that it is about the connection, between my boys & I, my dad & I, teammates, coaches, our relationship with our own selves, and ultimately the relationship between us and the God that gave us these wonderful gifts. As it turns out, it’s not the sports at all, it’s simply a background for the beauty of all of life, if we can open our eyes, hands and hearts long enough to see it.