When our freshman son told us he was going to try out for high school basketball last year, we rolled our eyes and laughed.
The kid had never played real basketball. He dabbled in dribbling in seventh grade, but COVID took away a chance of playing in eighth grade, and he had never made a basket the whole time he was on the seventh-grade team anyway.
Not to mention he is directly descended from two people who could care less about organized sports. We never played them. We never watched them. We never liked them. And we thought we had successfully passed that on to our firstborn.
Enter the summer before ninth grade.
Here came the proclamation from our upcoming freshman that he would be in high school basketball.
How could that be? Didn’t he know that he would never make the team? Didn’t he know our genetic make-up?
We put our strong parenting skills to work and decided to let others crush his dreams. I put him in a high school summer basketball camp so that he could see that he wasn’t cut out for a sport that all the other kids had been playing since they were elementary-school-years-old.
In fact, I had first put him in a basketball camp at his request when he WAS 8-years-old, but he sat on the bench almost the entire time with his arms crossed and anger etched across his face because “They won’t throw me the ball!” This was the almost identical experience he had at age 6 when we tried soccer and he would sit in the middle of the field in protest because “They won’t let me kick the ball!” A year later, he complained in wrestling that the other players were suffocating him. He tried Little League a couple of times too. After all, that was a sport that depended more on his solo performance. But honestly, he just wasn’t very good at it. He was always the last kid to run off the field. The straggler during warm-ups. It didn’t seem to be a good use of time. We decided he needed to give up on organized sports.
Apparently, he did not.
It’s important to note that our son is an Enneagram 8: The Challenger. He spent much of his childhood challenging us and his teachers. When color charts were the norm in kinder, he was often on an orange or red unhappy face, and when he was in first grade, he would sit on the buddy bench looking for a friend because nobody wanted to be his since they didn’t want to play what HE wanted to play. In second grade, he wouldn’t be quiet and follow directions and we were trying out daily behavior charts to see if that could help. I broke more than one wooden spoon on that kid’s booty. All for naught. Our son is who he is, unlike us, and it didn’t often easily fall into the expected classroom and social norms.
Neither would this obsession with high school basketball.
So off he went to TWO summer basketball camps where he tried to figure out what “plays” were taking place. He proclaimed in the car rides home that he just needed his coach to teach him more and he would be Michael Jordan. He would practice nightly at the basketball court at the nearby park and rode his bike daily to a local gym to work out. He watched Youtube videos.
In the meantime, he barked at his opponents on the court at summer camp.
His coach had to pull him aside and ask, “Nate, why are you barking on the court?”
“We’re the bulldogs, right?” Nate replied.
“Man, you can’t bark on the court during gameplay,” his coach responded.
His teammates thought he had learning problems. They were shocked to find out he had been accepted to the high school’s IB advanced academic program. One of his teammates asked me to text a report card for proof.
You’d think that barking incidents during summer camp and his bewilderment with what plays were going on would have dashed our kid’s hope to play.
No such luck.
In October, our challenger son went to every optional 5:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. practice and workout session with the “team,” and truly thought he could get onto the C-Team. We doubted his goal. But somehow, he did it. We figured it was some kind of “courtesy appointment”— if for no other reason than he kept trying even though he was failing.
It has been hard to watch.
He ran so much he puked in practice sessions. He would get depressed on the ride home because nobody would throw him the ball. He had to balance keeping his grades up in his advanced classes with the two-three hours of basketball practice. He had a hard time making friends on the team, something he never said exactly, but I knew was happening. He had things stolen out of his locker. It’s been rough.
We were having a hard time, too.
Why were we having to drive him to and from practice in the dark of the mornings, and late at night, on weekends, and even the holiday break, when he was clearly not getting any better? Not much better, anyway. Why was HE spending so much time and energy doing something he was not good at? Why were WE spending so much time and energy on something he was not good at? I mean, …who does that?
I begrudgingly went to every home game. The C-Team only won two games the whole season. His teammates rarely passed him the ball. Nate never made one score.
The last day of the basketball season
It was an all-day tournament and somehow, it happened. He got on the court and acted like he knew what he was doing. I could see his energy and confidence had morphed. And swoosh. Out of nowhere. Somebody threw him the ball. He made a basket.
I could hardly believe it. I’m still a little stunned this morning. He did it. He did exactly what he said he would do. He played high school basketball. And he finally scored on the court. He didn’t give up, even though we begged him to.
Nope. That challenger channeled his God-given nature into something I still don’t completely understand.
So, yeah. It turns out all the cheesy adages are true. If you’re not good at something, if you work hard enough, if you dream it, if you don’t give up, you can still do it.
Just do it.
Be Like Mike.