Posted on March 27, 2020
rdinarily, I would be writing about Pac-12 football or basketball in this space. But we’re living in unprecedented times, and the extraordinary fear that has gripped our lives has transcended sports.
Yet, as I recently realized while coaching my youth basketball team, the answers to our problems, even now, can be found in the lessons we learn from sports.
In many ways, our fear has created a bigger problem than the virus itself. People are hoarding toilet paper, getting in fights at the grocery store, and worst of all, feeling isolated from their family and friends.
And while all this has been manageable for most people, the last straw for many has been the loss of comfort and familiarity that comes from watching sports.
I’m here to tell you that we’re going to be alright: Keep believing, stay inspired, and do one thing each day for someone who has no means of returning your love.
First and foremost, the coronavirus situation should be respected, as it does have very serious implications for vulnerable populations. Obsessive hand-washing and social distancing may feel awkward, but as long as the health experts tell us to do so, they are the right things to do.
With that being said, people don’t need to live in fear. Those grocery store fights, reminiscent of MTV’s Celebrity DeathMatch, only increase our distress.
Still, while irrational behaviors are, well—irrational—they do give us a feeling of control, whether real or imagined. But know this. Control is only an illusion. All we can ever do is adapt.
I have a funny idea. Instead of worrying, posting panic on twitter, and jostling for the last container of disinfectant in Aisle 7, why not heed the lessons we learn from those sports we so dearly miss?
Entering our third game, my team had compiled a 1-2 record. In a seven-game season, there’s a big difference between 2-2 and 1-3. We needed a win to fend off the threat of a losing season, and I felt confident that we were ready. At least, until I looked across the gym. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There stood three seventh-graders who were magically over 6-foot-2 inches tall. Seventh-graders.
Clearly, my boys were undersized, and I couldn’t blame them for feeling intimidated. I quickly realized we had no business playing this team. On paper, anyway.
My assistant coach—Kurt “The Man,” as I like to call him—and I had gathered our squad together for the pregame huddle. Neither of us had a realistic strategy to overcome our opponent’s towering height advantage.
So we did the only thing we could do. We continued to preach the message we had been selling all year: Have fun, play the best you can play, and believe in yourself.
The game tipped off, and our team promptly fell behind 6-0. Things weren’t out of hand yet, but the way we were getting pushed around, they would be soon. I took a timeout.
We huddled up, reinforcing our “game plan,” which translates to playing our style of defense. At the seventh-grade, junior-varsity level, that means attacking, causing havoc, causing more havoc, and doing everything you can short of tackling those giant 6-footers to get after them.
Most of all, we told the boys to have a heck of a lot of fun while doing it. The players grinned, taking the court like kids running onto the playground at recess.
Immediately, our crazy, chaos-causing defense confused the giants. We tied the game at 6-6. Still a long way to go, to be sure, but the players and Coach Kurt were thrilled. So was I.
And while the loss of sports may seem like the final straw of sanity for some of us, it’s important to keep that loss in perspective. In fact, this may be a good time to analyze our relationships with sports.
Are the competitions still a valuable addition to our lives, or have they become an obsession to escape our own life circumstances? If it’s the latter, why not use this time of reflection to make a change? We will appreciate the games and events all the more when they return.
Events in life, as in sports, unfold in phases. Right now, it feels like we’re entering the fourth quarter of this pandemic, with the coronavirus still holding a seemingly insurmountable lead. The world has shutdown, the death-toll keeps rising, and the news just keeps pumping out fear.
But now is the time to overcome all of that, to believe in ourselves, to believe in the universe, and to keep on dreaming. Just like my young players did the day they tied the score early against the giants.
We both nodded, staying calm. “Just keep shooting,” I said. “You’ll make some.” Arthur shook his head. There was panic in his eyes. “Coach, I can’t make a shot. I’ll pass off to my teammates.”
I looked at him the way a father might look at his son, knowing the boy’s unselfish plan wouldn’t help his confidence, or his teammates.
“Arthur, that isn’t an option. You MUST shoot the ball.”
ith the world diving deeper into these unprecedented times, without the escapism that sports can offer, we must continue on our journeys of self-improvement. For some, that may be meditation. For others, it may be relaxing with music, a book, or a couple of beers. Whatever it is, we all need to keep moving forward.
We have survived Ebola, SARS, MERS, Bird Flu, Y2K, 911, numerous Middle East excursions, and two World Wars. Humanity is the strongest life force on earth, and we ought to believe in our ability to heal and grow from this, yet another troubling period in our history.
Coach Kurt and I threw him back into the game, despite the uncertainty written all over his face. Three possessions later, he got a good look from the wing. He let a three-pointer fly. Bang! A little later, same look, same result.
Everything started going our way.
One of our players stole the ball, and while simultaneously stumbling and dribbling, flipped the ball over to Arthur for an easy layup. Arthur scored eight points in a matter of four minutes, leading our team to a two-point victory.
After the game, it felt like I was talking to a new kid. His smile lit up the gym, and I have a feeling it will linger in my memory for as long as I live, as one my happiest moments.
For the rest of the season, Arthur lived up to his role as captain, leading our team to a 5-3 record, including a victory in our one and only playoff game.
His confidence shined through because he continued to believe in himself in the midst of trying times. He continued to love something he was passionate about, firing off those deep threes without fear of missing, even after his athletic gift seemed to have been taken from him.
—More from Nick Bartlett—
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SuperWest on Sundays with Nick, Stephen & Dane for Sep 17The three talk about the best games of the previous week in a lively, off-the-cuff discussion - September 17, 2023
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