I ran into the woman who coached my basketball team, the Jellybeans, when I was a kid in 1971. I can’t wrap my mind around the decades that have passed.
Few people know that I have this secret past as a basketball playing, pony-tail shaking, trouble-making bookworm.
Well. Maybe you might believe the last part of that. The basketball, though, often comes as a surprise. I’m okay with people looking at my middle-aged “comfortable” body and squinting to see if there ever could have been a lithe athlete in there.
She’s still there, moving slower, and less gracefully, but in some way…full of grace.
It has less to do with the muscle memory that leads to flawless lay-ups, and more about the muscle memory of the heart.
I learned many lessons while playing sports. Research shows that girls and young women who play sports tend to have better self-esteem, better body image, and better mental health over all. They tend to delay sex longer and are better students.
Those physical lessons that led to championship seasons and excellence on the court were secondary to the moral lessons that influenced my character and directly affected the kind of girl I was, and the woman that I have become.
For every suicide that I ran, building stamina and speed, I learned that suffering and pain can sometimes be fleeting and often leads to strength.
For every monotonous dribbling or shooting drill that improved my skill, I learned about patience and commitment, and the rewards of hard work.
For every play that was repeated over and over until we operated in unison, I learned the value of working together and perhaps more importantly, that everyone on a team has unique skills. I learned to ask for help when in a pickle, and to selflessly jump into the fray to help when I can.
The coaches who taught me those important lessons were in my life for a season (ha, how do you like that unintended wordplay?) but their influence has been timeless.
I’ve passed along those same lessons to athletes I’ve coached, students I’ve taught, and adults I’ve advised. I’v passed those lessons along to my children.
I live those lessons, I hope, with humility but determination. To be my best. To do my best. To be a good sport. To enjoy the game. To laugh, and joke, and celebrate. To lose gracefully, and perhaps, too often forgotten, to win gracefully.
To remember to drink water.
And finally, to begin every endeavor, whether large or small, in prayer.
Our Lady of Victory, pray for us.