Who was your best coach? Was it a parent corralling your pee-wee squad, or a teacher instructing an after school club, or maybe a former college athlete who lived in the area and was giving their time to help the youth? Maybe it’s someone who wears the title of Manager, Boss, or Mom, who showed up to instill hard work and focus, and belief in you. While I have great memories of batting practice with my softball coach and serving strategies from my high school tennis coach, I want to share with you a parent coach who influenced our children.
Four years ago, I approached our long-time friends who coached a winning basketball team and asked them not to “draft” our daughter. They couldn’t believe it (as they were always the winning team) I really couldn’t explain it at the time, but there was something about Coach Kyle that we wanted our daughter to experience. And it was an experience! As a new family to our school, his drafting decisions were lopsided, filling his lineup with his daughter’s friends instead of the best athletes, which ultimately caused him to be a little sterner and demanding trying to redirect their attention. But he was able to pivot. During practices when these scrappy pre-teen girls weren’t focused on the drills, he talked to them about honesty and integrity, building their toughness, trusting the ref’s decisions, even the unfairness of life. Not surprisingly, they didn’t have a winning season from a score perspective, but each girl grew in self-confidence (that’s victory in itself). In fact, the final playoff game is remembered for the extraordinary number of rebounds that the girls grabbed, but just couldn’t get the ball to fall through the hoop. The ball made multiple swirls around the rim yet remarkably fell off each time. It was unlucky, but a humorous and exciting ending of a great season.
What I couldn’t articulate in the pre-season became clear by the post-season. Coach Kyle was passing on wisdom he had learned from the Ultimate Coach.
We can learn too. Jesus walked in our shoes. He lived among us. He knows what each of us needs individually to improve our game (our life) and how, in turn, each teammate can help build up each other. He taught us how to pray and how to serve others. Jesus even shared visions of the final plays in the Book of Revelations, the Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls, with God giving us the ultimate victory… Jesus already beat death and invites us to eternal life.
Would we coach and play differently if we knew the end result was victory?
What if we all took a page from His playbook and called plays without having to yell and intimidate? What if we taught integrity, even if it meant overriding our partner on a call? What if we took the time to get to know and encourage the water boys, team managers, and the younger players who are vying for our attention? What if we demanded commitment until the finish line – finishing the season, work project, and covenant marriage? If we were holding God’s clipboard, would we be more apt to give the Glory to God with each and every play? Can’t you just visualize Jesus smiling down at each player making that sign of the cross on the free-throw line, or a single finger directing our gaze to the sky after a winning soccer goal? Wouldn’t the opposing fans wonder what was happening in our town? And wouldn’t we receive that as a huge compliment!
Pulling from God’s playbook, we would also need an amazing assistant coach. Jesus gave us a helper in the Holy Spirit, a supportive teacher to comfort us even when we lose the lead role in a performance, drop the pass, miss the shot, or get dumped in a relationship. The Spirit is within us as we (or we help our children) navigate rejection and disappointment. The Spirit nudges us to take ownership of God’s blessings and to bloom in our blunders. Rejection is a life lesson. How much better it is to tackle it today and then blossom as God intended. There is growth in working through the struggle, not harboring its damage.
Coach Kyle embodied many of Jesus’ characteristics, and the Spirit nudged me with the desire for our daughter to learn from him. I am forever thankful, because following the hilarious 5th grade basketball season, coach Kyle was diagnosed with a terrible form of cancer, one that would take him from our community. The season after Kyle passed, our son had his own 5th grade basketball playoff game in the same gym. Upon walking in, he immediately remembered the last time he was there, cheering on his sister. He came over and whispered to me, “I want to win this game for Mr. Kyle.” It broke and exploded my heart at the same time. Our son was never coached by Kyle, but he was the younger player that got to learn vicariously from him.
The boys played a more physical game: pushing, elbowing, name calling, fouling, and the score was neck and neck. In the last seconds, we were three points behind and our son got fouled, allowing him three shots. UGH. Major Pressure. First shot in. His best friend came up and slapped him on the back. Second shot in. A friend stood behind him, hands in prayer. Dribble, more nervous dribbles. The ball left his hands and swirled the rim, I held my breath … and … victory was not won on the court that day. But victory came in a different life lesson being learned. The value of retelling both of these nail-biting, 5th grade playoff games and both children keeping Kyle’s memory alive, far exceed any rehashing of just another Saturday morning win.
In this game called life, is Jesus your coach? Do you call the shots or does He? Who are the fellow believers you completely trust and cherish, would you pass them the winning shot? Who are the rookies you want in jerseys beside you in this game and eternity?
Pray with me – Lord, thank you for being an amazing teacher, friend and coach. We ask that You reign over our activities and that you lead us to people that need and desire more of your light. Let us be worthy players, but with a different agenda for winning. Please protect our body, mind and soul as we use our physical and mental skills to glorify You. We desire to be on Jesus’ varsity team, train us and move us up! And when it’s time for us to put on a coach’s hat, please give us your playbook, so we can further show others more of how uniquely wonderful You are. Amen