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March Madness: 5 Life Lessons From Basketball

Basketball. It's on everyone's mind right now. Whether you like to play it, watch it, or just endlessly fill in and refill in brackets; basketball is the sport of the moment.

It's also my favorite sport?I've played since I was old enough (and far enough away from the ground) to start dribbling. I can still hear my dad: "Take the ball with you to the post office and dribble the whole way. You'll never get better if you don't practice, practice, practice?and don't just use your right hand either!" So I would put my right hand behind my back and make myself dribble with only my left hand all the way to the post office and back (using my right hand to carry the mail on the way home).

Challenging myself to grow in weak areas wasn't the only life lesson I took away from my years of basketball?here are four more ? random, unrelated, and in no particular order:

Assists Are as Valuable as Points

Though basketball is my favorite sport to play, I have a very hard time watching it. Now, I'll admit that part of this is because I'm jealous. I want to be the one playing. But it's more than that. When I watch professional basketball ? and, yes, even college basketball ? I get frustrated with the apparent egos on the court. Everyone is shooting all the time! It never seems like they set up a play, strategically pass the ball, or even get in position for a decent shot. Now, I know that many NCAA fans are groaning right now, asserting that this is most certainly not the case. And it's probably not always, but in general that's what I see?and hear. I mean, when was the last time you heard which player had the top assists in a game? You always hear who scored the most points, but you rarely hear mention of who made the perfect pass that allowed the basket. There's no glory in it. So I suppose it's no wonder everyone wants to shoot and score, and no one seems to want to set up a play or pass the ball.

Learning to take satisfaction from an assist is a hard lesson in humility, but it's an important lesson ? especially for leaders. As leaders, we're often used to getting accolades. We work hard, we accept and ask for lots of responsibility, and many of us "earned" our positions as leaders based on past accomplishments and success. And (those of you like me) we are often motivated by praise. So to be the one behind the scenes ? the one setting up the play and making the perfect pass for someone else to score ? well, it's not always our strong suit. But a good leader is a good teammate, building others up, strategically helping her teammates score, and being excited for them when they do. A strong leader recognizes that the assist played an important part in the score, but needs no recognition for it.

It was Paul who said, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

So go on?pass the ball!

What We Teach Our Daughters Matters

I was a bit of a tomboy growing up. I loved to camp, to fish, to help Dad "build stuff," to climb everything, and to play sports. My parents encouraged this ? they were happy I wasn't too prissy or pampered to get dirty. And I grew up proud of this ? proud to think I wasn't one of those girls who wouldn't do anything fun. At the time I noticed no grown-up women were participating in any of these activities, but I swore I wouldn't be that way. When I grew up, I'd still play basketball with the guys, and go fishing, and watch golf on television. And I try to?but it isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

I remember the first time I felt the strain. I was in college and a big group of us were hanging out at someone's house after church one summer evening. One of the guys wanted to start a game of knock-out (a basketball-derived competition involving free-throws and fast moving). I was in?of course. But it turned out I was the only girl interested. So as I played with the guys, the girls retreated into the house to talk and fix snacks. The boys thought I was "cool," the girls thought I was just trying to flirt?and get out of helping cook.

The scenario has played itself out many times since then. Sometimes I can't resist and I join in with the guys; but more often than not, I cave and go hang out with the girls. That time spent with girls has often been good, leading to deeper relationships and heartfelt conversations. But I can't help but wonder if I've left something of myself behind out there on the basketball court with the guys.

It hit me hard one day as I listened to a co-worker describe a weekend get-together he'd had at his house. He and his wife had invited several young families over to their house for lunch. The women made the meal, as the guys played football outside. "My daughter wanted to play football with us," he told me. "It's so cool?I'm so glad she's into sports and isn't afraid of playing rough with the guys." I smiled and wondered about the women inside making the meal; and if his daughter would one day join them or stay outside to play football.

I don't have a good answer for this. I've found girl friends who love sports as much as me; who are always up for a game, who will try almost anything. When we go out as couples, there's very little segregation. We all go fishing together, then we all come back and prepare the meal around the campfire?together. It feels perfect to me - and it's what I hope to instill in my kids someday.

Make Predictions, but Leave Room for the Unexpected

I grew up in a small town that had a bit of an unhealthy obsession with high school sports. Which meant that people started analyzing our future chances at the state trophy when we were still in grade school. My elementary P.E. teacher would also one day be my high school basketball coach. So she had our positions picked out for us before we ever hit fifth grade; and started grooming us for those positions during our P.E. classes. She had a variety of criteria for making her predictions: family genetics, natural talents, and general disposition. My mom and dad are 5'4" and 5'5" respectively, I was a natural dribbler and defensive player, and had an eye for strategy and plays. I would be the forward.

She got 2 out of 3 right. By the time I was a Junior, I'd outgrown everyone on my team. Now she couldn't have predicted I'd be such an odd branch in my family tree?or that no one else on my team would quite reach their family height potential. But no matter, she had trained and prepared us well for our positions. I remained the forward, but I learned to do a few things most forwards don't: I ran a lot of pick and rolls into the paint, I would switch on and off between guarding the forwards and the posts, and I became the top rebounder on our team.

The point is: (especially as leaders) we can make predictions and prepare for the future, but we have to be flexible enough to adapt to the unexpected. My coach didn't abandon her original plan because one of her predictions didn't come true, but she did learn to utilize the new development and created a stronger team because of it.

Playing Is Good For You

I was recently in California. Each morning, I would get up early and go for a walk on the beach. One morning, I walked to a group of large rocks. I stopped and looked at the rocks?and then I started climbing them. It was exhilarating! As I climbed and jumped from rock to rock, I felt like a little kid playing. I recaptured this joy I hadn't felt in a long time.

Afterwards, I was thinking about those rocks and that feeling of exhilaration. I realized I hadn't let myself just play in ages. I hadn't done anything dangerous (or with the pretense of danger)?I hadn't experienced a physical rush like that in a long time.

It's what I love about basketball ? about sports. It's pointless, it's silly, it doesn't really advance the world in anyway. But playing basketball brings me joy in a way that few other things can. A Christianity Today editorial titled "The Lost Joy of Sports," says it like this:

"The Latin Vulgate translation, the church's only version for 1,000 years, translated Proverbs 8:30-31 like this: ?I [Wisdom] was at his side putting together everything, my delight increasing each day, playing before him all the while, playing in this world made of dust and my delight was to be with the sons of men.' Wisdom in this passage has been commonly seen as a reference to Christ, the Word. After reflecting on this passage, medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas concluded, as one scholar summed it up: ?God plays. God creates playing. And man should play if he is to live as humanly as possible and to know reality, since it is created by God's playfulness.'"

So enjoy your basketball this weekend...and don't forget to take some time to play!

March28, 2008 at 5:48 PM

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