I was sitting on the sidelines, watching my 8 year old daughter at her first basketball practice of the year. Being the 3rd tallest in her league and one of the youngest, she steps onto the court tentatively… awkwardly. She looks over at me, hopeful that a look from mom will instill a confidence she can’t seem to find. She attempts to dribble the ball and it bounces off of her right foot… escaping across the court. Her head down, she jogs through the other girls to get it. As a mother, my heard strains. I want to run and get the ball for her, I want to take the embarrassment and awkwardness away. I want her to have “natural talent” in a way I can recognize. I want her to feel the confidence I have for her. My heart breaks just a little… as I know hers does too.
These breaks in the human spirit, in the heart, make room… room for us to create a new connection, a new skill, a new capacity for ourselves. It is in these spaces that we have a choice, to fill with love and light or to allow it to be filled with doubt and fear.
In this moment, as my daughter made her way back to her team, head down, shoulders slouched, basketball in hand… her coach saw the break. He calmly came over and put a hand on her shoulder, asking her to lift her head, saying,
“Who’s bigger than Izzy? Who’s stronger than Izzy? Who’s faster than Izzy?”
He waited. My daughter stood there confused. He said,
“Nobody. You are a champion as you are. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. If you are not making mistakes in practice, you aren’t practicing hard enough.”
My daughter’s head lifted, I saw her take a breath… I could see the fresh air revive her, bringing her back to the present moment. I saw the embarrassment melt away and a new energy enveloped her. She lifted her head and she tried dribbling the ball again… she was successful for a few bounces and then it bounced off to the left. She spiritedly ran over, grabbed the ball, head held high and tried again. Her coach watched this and smiled. This coach had just changed the trajectory of this awkwardly tall 3rd grader’s life.
My heart had broken, healed and filled, all in a matter of minutes. My eyes welled and my own shoulders relaxed. I was brought back to my a similar story of confidence… my own. When I was a tall and awkward fifth grader, I had knocked a girl down after a powerful rebound. Instinctively and tentatively I stopped in the middle of the scrimmage, reached down and helped the girl up. I said, “I’m sorry.” My own heart was breaking, I felt torn between being an aggressive, powerhouse on the court and being a gentle, caring heart. I will never forget my coach, Mr. Avalone, stomping over to me… getting up in my face and saying,
“If you say sorry one more time, I’m going to bench you! Don’t you ever apologize for your talent.”
Something clicked within my own spirit that day. The approach was different yet the result was the same. The message came to me in the exact format I needed. Within seconds, my heart broke, healed and filled. I remember thinking, “I’m talented? He thinks I’m talented.” From that day forward, I never apologized for being strong, or for using my power for the betterment of the team or others. That day, my own head raised a little higher… because of my coach.
So when I look over at Izzy, a piece of my heart on the basketball court… struggling and growing. I remind myself that it takes moments like these where we break, we heal and we rebuilt, to truly expand and grow. It can sometimes take a coach to recognize something within you that is greater than yourself. A coach can see beyond these moments, beyond the break and know how to help you heal and move forward. In these small moments, I am reminded of the brilliance and the incredible impact that coaches continue have in my life.