Posted: 12/10/2014 in Life lessons

shutterstock_118561963Let me take you back in time. The year is 1978. The place is Gilbert High School. The occasion is a junior varsity basketball game between the Tigers of Gilbert and rival Coolidge Bears. Throughout a hard fought game the score remained close. In the fourth quarter each team desperately played to secure any sort of advantage. Finally, with Coolidge up by two points and less than a minute left on the game clock, Gilbert fouled the Coolidge point guard and put him on the free throw line to shoot one-and-one. If he made the first shot he would receive a second and a chance to put the Bears up by four points. It would be an incredible win against a rival in the opposing team’s gym.  He received the ball…four dribbles… deep breath… he shoots…

…he misses.

Gilbert grabbed the rebound and quickly pushed the ball up court for a basket to tie the score. Coolidge quickly in-bounded the ball.  They could push for a score and win the game or dribble out the clock and try their luck in over time.  However, Gilbert immediately fouled the point guard to put him on the free throw line to shoot one-and one.  With less time on the game clock, he could ice a two point win with two made free throws.  Once again, he received the ball…four dribbles…deep breath…he shoots…

…and once again, he misses.

Gilbert collected the rebound and quickly called time out to draw up a final play with only seconds left in the game. Out of the time out the Tigers in-bounded the ball. They executed their play to perfection….got a good look at the basket and, with time running off the clock, scored the winning basket as the buzzer sounded.

Free Throws

This is me during a home game some time in 1978. Short shorts and long socks. Those were the days! (c:]

Needless to say, the point guard felt like his missed free throws cost the game for the visiting Bears. The glares and murmurs from his teammates didn’t help matters much. It was quite an emotional experience for the youth. While the rest of the team went out to watch the varsity game the point guard stayed in the locker room to stew in his shortcomings. As he gently bounced the back of his head against a locker, the J.V. coach came in to see how he was doing. Observing the youth’s pitiful state the coach sat down beside him and began to speak encouraging words. The coach pointed out all the opportunities their team had to win the game and the mistakes other players made that could have equally been blamed for the loss.  He mentioned the steals, passes, and defense that the young guard contributed to a hard fought game. For the moment, the coaches words were lost…sucked in and obliterated by the vacuum of self pity.  Then, after a seemingly eternal pause, the coach broke the silence with these words: “You’re a hell of a player, kid, and I think very highly of you.”

No, the point guard didn’t grow up to star in the NBA. Although, that would be a nice end to the story. He did, however, muster up the courage to watch the second half of the varsity game along with his teammates…and to show up for practice the next day. He finished the season and eventually played varsity. All-in-all, he had a pretty productive career as a prep basketballer.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I am that point guard and the words spoken by Coach Doug Tanke that day had an immeasurable impact on my life. I believe as much as the words that were spoken, it was the timing of the words and the person who spoke them that made the impact. You see, coach was someone I had grown to respect and admire. He had gained the respect of all his players by being someone who genuinely cared about us. He was interested in our lives and was willing to just be there. Most of all, he was simply a good listener.  I was drowning in self pity and feeling pretty down on myself. The thought of hanging up my sneakers was pretty appealing at the moment. I just wanted to quit. Coach wouldn’t let me. I wouldn’t have blamed him for chewing me out (with choice words…it was the seventies, remember?) and telling me what a bad free throw shooter I was…or worse. He could have come down on me hard and really let me have it. But he didn’t.

Each time I recall that story I am astounded by the power of those words. I mean, here I am, over thirty years later and they still resonate in my ears…“You’re a hell of a player, kid…I think very highly of you.” Even though I never played organized basketball beyond high school those words have had a tremendous impact on my life and I have never forgotten them. I believe those words and others like them throughout my youth are the reason I am so passionate about making a difference in the lives of young people. I have dedicated my adult life to helping youth discover, develop, and deploy their potential. I am convinced by my own experience with youth that every child is born with the capacity, tools, and purpose to be successful in life. NO EXCEPTIONS! They just need caring adults to help them discover and develop what is already within them. Sometimes, all it takes is someone to believe in them…to speak encouraging words to them…to not give up on them. They just need a caring grown up who makes the time to win their respect and say to them, “You’re a hell of a (fill in the blank) kid and I think very highly of you.”

This is exactly why role models and mentors are so essential, especially in this generation. Mentors and role models make a difference! YOU could be that difference maker.  YOU could be a change agent! Think about it. Who made a difference in your life? Was it your parents, an aunt or uncle, a brother or sister? Maybe it was a teacher, coach, or friend of the family. The fact is, everyone who succeeds in life does so because someone else has believed in and supported them. Once in a while someone may unknowingly say or do something profound to have an impact on a life. More frequently than not, though, people make a difference because they choose to do so. And, it doesn’t take a large amount of effort to make a large amount of impact. Think about it.  How many thousands of minutes do you suppose I lived over the course of my life up to that fateful moment in 1978? How many millions of words had I heard?  And, yet, in comparison to all those minutes and all those words, fourteen words spoken in ten seconds of a six or seven minute conversation made a difference that still rings loudly and clearly to this very day.  My life is a living example that micro-moments can lead to MACRO-MOVEMENTS. When you choose to come out of your life to engage someone else in theirs, you take such a step. Back in 1978 a junior varsity basketball coach made such a choice. And, it profoundly influenced and impacted my life. His words helped me to shape the difference between feeling like a failure and having hope for another day. To fail is an event; to succeed is a process. And, believe it or not, all success is peppered with some failure along the way. Mistakes are a part of the process of success but they don’t have to be the end of it.

So, what do you think?  Do you have time to be someone’s micro-moment.  Can you make time to be a change agent?  You can choose to be a mentor and a role model. You can choose to speak life and hope to a young person…or any person. You can choose to IMPACT A LIFE!

Who knows?

It could prove to be an impact that only history can measure.

…Peace and Blessings…

~ joe


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