Confessions From The Calmest Guy In The Gym

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It’s probably a good time to reveal my secret. Not many people can pull it off. To remain calm as a cucumber while coaching basketball games. To demonstrate a feeling of total peace while watching your kids compete in sports at any level. Yeah, I can do it. Or at least I could, up until the past couple of weeks. It’s slipping away now.

I’ve been there. Zeroing in on my own kid. Wanting them to kick the soccer ball into the net every chance they get. Wanting every basketball shot to go in. Squirming in my seat every time the ball is stolen from them. Heart racing ridiculously fast at the end of tight games. Finding that urge to tell them, at the end of the game, exactly how they can perform better the next time.

Some of those things get better after you’ve sat through a thousand or more games. Most of those things go away pretty quickly if you start coaching at any level. The picture, and your vision, automatically expands to something much larger; the whole game and everyone involved in it. And if you coach enough games in youth and middle school leagues, you should eventually learn to expand your vision once again. To see kids and their development beyond sport and beyond the next game or practice. The urgency to win every game gives way to a consistent desire to make sure that every action has a purpose, and to find purpose in every temporary setback.

So I’ve calmly watched four years of my son’s high school basketball career unfold.  Armed with just a little more patience and calm than I possessed when his older sisters passed through similar battles (soccer, cross country, and track). Celebrating with them in their wins. Never freaking out about losses, and knowing that they would do the same.

At some point over the last couple of years, I came to realize what an escape the basketball gyms had become for me. In a life sometimes overburdened with responsibilities, the gym became the lone place that my anxieties left me. Whether coaching middle schoolers or watching high school games, I could feel peace and calm when I entered the gym. When your days are filled with broken down trucks, computer network problems, upset customers, and the constant planning of your next difficult conversation with an employee, it’s good to find an escape. I’m not a guy that carries his work home but I do still struggle to find complete calm even at home or even at church. At those places the struggle is different; whatever you’re doing, you feel that you need to be doing something else, and however much you’re doing, you’re hit with the truth that you need to do more. No, I’m not entitled to comfort, but I certainly do enjoy mental vacations. The basketball gym is where mine happen.

Meanwhile back at the gym. It’s easy to watch basketball games unfold when you can see purpose in every frustrating temporary setback. Every blowout loss, every bad decision, every close loss, every poor showing; they’re all motivators, teaching moments, learning moments. They initiate necessary change. It’s pretty easy to watch heavy doses of crap unfold on the basketball court when you’re able to envision the positive changes that will come from them. And it’s loads easier when have complete trust in the coaches to bring about those changes (along with trusting your own kid to simply be coached).

The world doesn’t end when a game is lost at the buzzer. The sun will most likely rise again tomorrow if your kid goes 1-10 from the field or spends 3/4’s of the game on the bench in foul trouble after questionable calls. “They’ll be alright”. “They’ll learn from it.” “They’ll get better”.

“It’s a long season.”

But it’s not. Not anymore. Just 2 weeks of regular season games before postseason tournaments start.

And this is his last season.

My wife and I don’t talk about it. But we’re both probably a little more on edge with each passing game. We don’t sit together anymore. We don’t talk much to people around us. We just watch intently, every second of every game. I find myself uncharacteristically lashing out at referees. Coaches and players from opposing teams are much more irritating to me. Every bad decision or bad play finds me squirming in my seat, more so than the guys that are actually coaching the game.

The timeline is short now. The perspective of “they’ll get better from it”, just doesn’t chase away the feelings of parental anxiety anymore. I realize some basketball shortcomings mostly likely will remain until next year. And darnit, our boy won’t be there next year. Yeah, I hope our son’s senior basketball season ends well for him and his teammates.

But beyond that, I honestly just don’t want to stop watching him play. As I sit through his final few games, I know the irritability and the anxiety won’t go away. The peace and calm probably won’t return until I’m back in the gym again teaching younger kids to play. My wife and I probably still won’t sit together, and we most likely won’t even talk much about it. But my goodness, we sure will enjoy watching his last few games.

For Macy and Maddie, you probably never understood just how much your mother and I loved watching you compete. And Karrick Ryne, we’ve probably been able to enjoy watching your games even more, simply because we have gotten older and wiser on the subject. For our son Kal, even though you probably don’t have any desire to play varsity sports in the future, I love watching you play just as much in your Upward basketball games. I love the way Kal reacts when he makes a shot, but also the way he reacts when he has the ball stolen. I love the way Karrick Ryne shows leadership and the way he reacts and moves forward when games don’t turn out as hoped. I loved the way Maddie was a spiritual leader and role model for younger players on her team and the way she responded to competitive heartbreaks.  And I loved the way Macy could always leave it all on the field, knowing that it was always good enough, keeping the successes and setbacks of sports and competition in their proper places.

We love to see our kids win. But mostly we find joy in just watching them play. Because the unfolding of their sports contests reveals who they are. As child number 3 of 4 wraps up his varsity career, I’m powerfully reminded just how much I like who he is.  A competitor, coachable, a great teammate, a leader.

I love to watch you play. I’ve said it before but I never say it enough. Watching our kids play is one of my favorite things in the world to do……….and I’m just not ready for this chapter to end.

5 thoughts on “Confessions From The Calmest Guy In The Gym

  1. Unfortunately for some parents, the gym is not a place of refuge; it’s a place that causes a lot of anxiety and heartache. Watching your son squirm on the bench wondering if he will get to play tonight is heart wrenching for any parent. You tell them to keep playing hard and it’ll pay off, but it doesn’t necessarily work out that way. As a parent and especially as a parent who has coached, you fear that people will call your son a quitter, but you know better. You know his heart and you know his drive and his competitiveness which is part of the reason he couldn’t sit any longer. I know my son will be ok because he puts his faith in Christ and not people. I try to learn from him because he’s already a better and more faithful person than me. I have enjoyed watching Karrick Ryne and the other seniors play; they are great kids and have represented well! This message is in no way meant to take away from them; maybe it’s jut therapy for me or maybe it’s just to call attention to the parents whose child’s playing days ended unexpectedly and too soon no matter what the circumstances. It’s tough to see that last chapter end, but it’s better than not getting a chance to finish the book, even if your child was the one who decided it was better for them to stop reading.

  2. SOUNDS LIKE A WONDERFUL DAD. I LOVE TO WATCH MY KIDS AND GRANDCHILDREN , AND GREAT GREAT GRANDCHILDREN PLAY . MAKES YOU HAPPY AND PROUD INSIDE.

  3. Love this post! I can totally relate. I have a junior and a freshman and I’m already getting sentimental about it ending soon.

    “The days are long but the years are short”

  4. Both of my children weren’t gifted to play varsity sports, but I was blessed to be able to coach them in elementary and middle school. Being “dad” and “coach” is one thing I will forever love and forever miss. It’s one of the reasons, as my youngest is a senior, that I still coach 8th grade girls basketball. I’m asked, “Your daughter is about to graduate, why are you still doing this?” Because, like yourself, the gym is my escape. I love the sport, I love the teaching, and I love that idea that my impact goes well beyond a ball and a hoop.

    Thank you for sharing this piece with us. Enjoy those moments at the end of the season, they’ll mean a lot to your wife, yourself, and your son. And remember, when it ends, the sun comes up and a new day, a new chapter opens up! 🙂

  5. I know. It touches your heart so deeply to watch them develop, and you feel elated for them when they succeed. You share the down times. My heart hurts for you, reading this. However, I survived. I haven’t watched my son play baseball for two years –already. Two years… and life is still good. I’m watching him succeed in other ways. Those baseball games though… wow.

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