Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

This morning I am teaching Confirmation class to some fifty 6th graders. So of course, I was thinking about basketball ūüėČ

That much is normal. What is not normal is that I was thinking about North Carolina basketball….in a positive light! Some of you won’t understand, but members of Big Blue Nation (University of Kentucky fans) are raised from birth to understand that the Tar Heels are the enemy!

How did I get there? This morning’s class was on our doctrinal distinctives. I was thinking about how we are often able to see because we stand on other’s shoulders. For example, John Wesley brought to the church an understanding from Scripture of God as a loving Father, but standing on the shoulders of others helped him see. Luther and Calvin are examples of those who had gone before and given great insight to the church.

And so I was thinking about Dean Smith, past coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Dean Smith is credited with so many innovations we now take as normal:

  • Huddling at the free throw line before a free throw attempt
  • Pointing a finger at the guy who made the assist
  • Giving the “tired” signal to the coach when a player needs a rest
  • Using multiple defenses in a game
  • Using the point guard to call out the defensive sets
  • And perhaps the most infamous, the ball control offense. Dean Smith managed to make the game so boring by effectively running the four corner offense that the NCAA instituted a shot clock to speed up play.

The kind of basketball that I and countless other fans love today – that of aggressive, fast-paced offense would not have been possible without Dean Smith’s extremely effective use of the rules of that day. In fact, it occurs to me now that when Kentucky wins their 8th National Championship on April 2nd, they may owe a sort of a debt of gratitude to Dean Smith!

I stand on the shoulders of more people than I can count. My dad’s integrity and humility. My mother’s hospitality and passion for the overlooked and the outcast. Dr. Kinlaw’s preaching. Jeff Blake’s encouragement. Hule Goddard’s mentoring. Rev. Slone’s teaching. Annamarie Hamilton’s grace. And on and on. I did a Facebook post once mentioning many who had invested in me…and on whose shoulders I stand to see.

Whose shoulders do you stand on?

And this may be another whole post, but while Dean Smith changed the game for the better…the final result looks like nothing he envisioned. As others stand on my shoulders and on yours, can we let them improve on what we have created even when it feels like dismantling? Looking back, how do we learn from those who went before to allow others to come after?

There will always be a disconnect between players and coaches….and referees.”

One more sports related post (at least for now!)  I spend a lot of time in a gym this time of year.  This past Saturday, having coached two games already, I was attempting to watch one of our high school teams and one of our junior high teams tackle undefeated teams at the same time on parallel courts.   Watching with me was a former standout college athlete with sons on each court.  And all around us was the buzz of complaining about a ref in the previous game.  The parents had plenty of evidence.  But it was his tempered wisdom in the quote above that stood out among the others.

I wrestle with how to think and feel about referees every season. ¬†I appreciate the good ones. ¬†A lot. ¬†And pray for grace for the others. ¬†Grace for them and grace for me. ¬†I really do. I think they have a really important job in our culture as they choose how to model ultimate authority in a given situation. ¬†Power trip or velvet brick….gracious teacher or earning a check? ¬†Whether they serve…and how they play their role has a lot to do with how many young people learn about how to handle authority.

My younger brother was the head ref in a soccer league in high school, so I got to hear the yelling and the complaining that came in over the phone every Saturday.  The buck stops at the top.  Some people called every week.  Somehow, their child was always the one with the raw deal!

I refereed for my brother, so I knew first hand of the abuse that comes on the field as well. But I have also been on the other side (I won’t tell you how recently :-)), coaching in games where the official was lazy and rarely got into position, where I had to call a timeout to get my bleeding player out of the game, and where officials took retribution on fans who were rude by calling imaginary calls on their players. ¬†I have been the ref who groaned inside when I saw particular parents arrive….and I have been the coach who realized that the game would be an uphill struggle well before the tip-off. ¬†And I have been the coach who was chewed out by parents for not defending their sons and daughters against unfair calls.

My friend had a lot of pragmatic wisdom. ¬†And the big picture is that a blown call mostly doesn’t matter…even in the pros…even when the ref decides the outcome of the game instead of the players. ¬†But I still find myself wondering questions ¬†like:

  • Where is it appropriate in life to fight for justice?
  • When should you offer grace to an authority that is obviously in over his/her head?
  • When should you turn the other cheek?
  • As a role model, am I teaching strength under control or a form of tolerance…..justice or self-righteousness?
  • What happens when I model allowing an injustice to stand? ¬†What about when I offer grace in the midst of failure?
  • When does the game become bigger than the players?
  • Can I really compartmentalize my players from the game?

My questions go on and on….every season, every year for more than a quarter century. ¬† My mom and dad had the courage to pull me out of sports completely for a year in middle school to help me gain some perspective on this issue. ¬†I grew a ton that year. ¬†But I still have questions. ¬†The lessons of sport transcend the game. ¬†And we never stop teaching theology.

I wish that I had internalized much younger that life is not fair….but God is good. ¬†That is my default and yet, I struggle with passivity that seems to me no virtue, but compromise. ¬†As you can see…there are few issues that matter much to me about which I feel more conflicted.

Does anybody feel my pain? ¬†And how do you work through the issues of sport….and coaching….and refereeing? ¬†Of justice and mercy? ¬†Of being right and doing right?

Piggy was John Wooden’s old coach at Purdue. And John Wooden was quite possibly the greatest coach ever, the “Wizard of Westwood!”

In his book, They Call Me Coach, John credits Piggy with keeping coaching simple by focusing on the right mental attitude. He believed this attitude was achieved by conditioning – getting in the best mental and physical shape possible to play, by fundamentals – executed quickly and skillfully in an uncomplicated way, and by team spirit – developed by consideration at all times for one’s teammates.

Wooden maintained that when we complicate the game, we lose sight of the beauty and grace.

I don’t really think I need to add anything to that. Thanks, Coach!