Does God really expect me to like this guy? Love, yes. Like? Now that’s a different story.
This is not a tale of deep, well-crafted theological points. Nope. This is just a short story of male ego and pride rearing its ugly head in the interesting world of coaching middle school basketball.
Strike one comes when a coach pre-determines that the opposing coach is a jerk.
Strike two comes when a coach shows up at the gym pre-battle-worn from a day at work and thinks out loud that he just might snap on somebody. Strike three comes easily enough when an opposing player swings a violent elbow over the top of one of your player’s heads (coming nowhere close to connecting).
And here is where this tale becomes a story of my own shame……because people who do the right thing all the time are boring and provide so few learning and teaching moments.
Allow me to backtrack to my days of youth before my lovely wife and I were married (and also in our early years of marriage), when I was perhaps a little more hot-tempered and foul-mouthed. Countless times, some guy would gawk at Kristy, and my automatic male ego response was “what the ___ are you looking at?” Not sure when or why I finally stopped doing it. Perhaps a mild dose of maturity and a gradual disappearance of silly male pride/ego. Or maybe I just realized that if I wasn’t already married to her, I would probably gawk too…..well, maybe not gawk, just a respectful glance maybe? Anyway, my great phrase has always earned and eye-roll of reprimand from her, as far back as the mid-80’s.
Back to tonight’s story. Opposing player swings an elbow at my player. Frustrating game up to this point, so I’m way out of coach’s box, beyond halfcourt protesting to the refs about the violent nature of the elbow (would have been reviewed at “the monitor” in an NCAA game). And since I’m now 10 feet from the opponent’s bench, I can’t help noticing an assistant coach sitting on the end of the bench looking up at me with this awful smirk on his face. A taunting look that gave me the impression that he was ready to stick out his tongue and say “scoreboard”. And this wasn’t just any coach. This was a coach that I disliked nearly 30 years ago as a player when he was a high school coach.
So what is my classic response? Yeah, I’m a Christian. I understand that I’m a role model for kids. I understand that I set the tone even for the parents and the fans. When I lose my cool, many others are sure to follow suit. Does wisdom and calm take over and lead me quietly back to my bench at this point? Nope. I take another two steps toward him and yell loudly, in the most challenging tone, “What are you looking at?”. The profanity may be absent but the message is just as moronic. Yeah, good one, I know. Almost as good as the next couple of barbs that flew back and forth between us. I don’t think any of the players witnessed the exchange. Not sure if parents and fans caught onto what was taking place. Oddly enough, my dear wife was operating the clock within a few feet of me. She saw it. And apparently my poor mother who was across the gym also knew exactly what was going on. I remember thinking, at the time, I may actually find it in my heart to love this guy after the game, but right now I really don’t like him.
Coaching involves a high level of trial and error, learning from mistakes. Obviously, we all like to win. Over time, I have learned to guard against that lousy post-game feeling that keeps a coach awake at night on game nights, beyond the thoughts of what I should have done diferent and how to go about making a team better……”did I knock players down with my words and fail to build them back up? Who do I need to apologize to tomorrow? Did my actions honor God?”
Tonight, in my stupidity, my wife was gracious enough after the game to not tell me just how stupid I was. By now, she knows my tendency to admit to and learn from my mistakes (and she has a very good concept of TIMING as a coach’s wife).
What’s my takeaway lesson of the night? In those moments when we shy away from love, when we excuse ourselves from making any attempt to like or get along with another person because we have labeled them as a jerk……….then we become the jerk, and we contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t let someone else’s perceived shortcomings dictate your actions or the way you treat them. I’m sure Satan loves to see me bring out the jerk side of others. I’m sure God desires for me to bring out the best in others. That’s what coaches are supposed to do!