The clock struck 00:00. This was a debilitating and disheartening loss against a team that my oldest son Jadon’s High School Basketball Team should have beaten if they had played together and played the right way. They needed this win in order to have any hope of competing for a spot in the postseason. In an already shortened season due to the COVID pandemic, the postseason would be limited to far less teams than normal. The stakes were high all season, and in particular for this game. It was not to be.
As I made my exit through the gym doors with my wife, the cold air greeted us with a clashing chill that sent shivers from head to toe. As cold as the air was, my irritation and acrimony with how the game played out, was enough to meet it with force and stifle it into suppression. I was ready to have a deadpanned talk with Jadon about all the things he should have done and should not have done in this game, which were critical in a game like this one. I was ready to have a sober talk with him about not stepping up to the moment and leading his team to stay within the margins of discipline they needed in order to win this game.
Before I go any further, this much context must be understood. Being a former college scholarship athlete, I am way more competitive for my own good at times. I’ll admit that, and anyone who knows me well, will tell you that. So much of my identity as a kid, through High School, through College, and for a while after College, came through sports, and my success or failure on a field or a court. Some of that is good, some of that is bad. It’s all in how you process it. The key is recognizing that and keeping it in the proper perspective.
When my firstborn son Jadon came along, I began teaching him to play basketball at the age of four, in our driveway. Since that time, we have journeyed together, through success and failure, through ups and downs, both on and off the court. Late nights, long drives, much sweat, and a few tears, all on this journey. It’s the same journey with all three of my boys. Jadon’s primary issue has never been lack of talent, but too much timidity on the court. But I do believe he is a gifted leader, both on and off the court.
I am blessed enough to have a relationship with him that is very close. After every game, he comes to me seeking advice and affirmation. He doesn’t withhold his life from me, nor do I withhold my life from him. I even helped him craft the text he sent the first time he ever asked a girl out. We journey together, at least to the degree that we can, without it being unhealthy, and in that it allows him to have his own freedom and learn on his own.
So, as we were leaving the gym after this loss, my wife turned to me and said, “If you lay into him about this game, you will crush the confidence you’re trying to build in him.” I knew she was right. Just as she finished her statement, another parent of one of the other boys on the team, who was also a former teacher of Jadon’s, came up to us and said, “I loved having Jadon as a student in Middle School.” While I thought the timing of all this to be strange, I was glad she took the initiative to say this to us.
Then, to my astonishment, she paused, and as tears welled up in her eyes, she said, “Jadon is such a leader to those boys.” Wow, I always thought that. I just never knew anyone else ever thought it. And why would she say this to us in the very game where I thought Jadon exhibited the least amount of leadership? But she wasn’t just talking about the basketball court. In that moment, I knew she was a divine appointment that God sent to level me off and remind me of what was most important.
Conversations and accolades about how great you or your kid is or was on the court at one time are nice and fun. But in the end, they are only temporary. I can teach my kid to be a great basketball player all day long. But if that is all I ever give him, I’ve given him little in this life.
My son is still a boy, and a boy is the only thing God chooses to use in order to make a man. Along the way, God will use parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and other influences to be part of that process. I can produce an athlete, but that window is very small. But if I can be part of the process that produces a man of character, influence, integrity, a man who loves the Lord first, then loves his wife and children, and a man who leads and makes a difference, then that is eternal. A man like that will change the course of history and change lives.
Don’t get me wrong. The journey continues, and I understand that sports can be an important part of that teaching and building process. But I have to remember that what God has ultimately called me to build is a disciple of Jesus, a man of character, a man who will love his family, and a leader of others in life beyond the court. The court is only temporary. The court is only a tool for something greater. The lessons that go beyond it are eternal.
Fittingly, I was reminded of what really matters most, from a fellow parent after a disheartening loss, outside of a basketball gym, beyond the court. Sometimes the greatest losses lead to the greatest wins.