Just To Spite the Seinfelds

frank constanza

In one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, both Jerry and George’s parents are considering moving to a Florida to the retirement community of Del Boca Vista.  Frank Costanza gets the impression that the Seinfelds don’t want them to live there.

“You think you can keep us out of Del Boca Vista…we’re moving in lock stock and barrel.  We’re gonna be in the pool, we’re gonna be in the clubhouse, we’re gonna be all over that shuffleboard court…AND I DARE YOU TO KEEP ME OUT!!!”

Just to spite the Seinfelds?  And he yells in reply, “JUST TO SPITE THE SEINFELDS!”

Do you ever find yourself reaching that point (or living for years at that point) where you’re constantly puzzled by finding the truth of being where God truly wants you to be and doing the things that He wants you to do?  Feeling like perhaps you’re doing the right things but doing them poorly?  Thoughts of scaling back and simplifying your life creep in or sometimes come over you like an avalanche.   Tired of making excuses and wallowing in mediocrity.  “MAN, I SUCK AT______.”  God desires excellence and I give him excuses and half-done………everything.

I recently told my middle school basketball players that this would be one of the most important quotes/lessons they would every hear from me:

“Your confidence on the court cannot be based on your performance or your ability level.  Your confidence must come from your level of effort and determination.  When this happens, there is no failure.”

Practice what you preach, coach.  Performance, results, people-pleasing, excess of self-reliance or self-confidence………they all cloud our vision of simply doing what is right by God’s standards.  Obedience rarely equals comfort and popularity.   In a life of Christian faith, I suppose we could substitute the word “peace” for “confidence”.  A peace that comes from maintaining a high standard of effort toward pleasing and obeying God.

What God desires for us to do, he also equips us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

He desires excellence in all things from His children.  Discouragement, stress, overload, fear of failure……these are lies of Satan.

Don’t scale back.  Don’t retreat.  Know that you are where God wants you to be.  Stay there.  Try harder.  Trust more,

JUST TO SPITE THE DEVIL (but truthfully, just to please our Heavenly Father).

DETERMINATION= “I am gonna do this.”  +  FAITH= “My strength is not enough, but my Lord will become greater in my weakness.”  EQUALS…….Satan loses every time

What the ______ Are You Looking At?

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.

bob knight

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!

I’m Not a Freaking Idiot

we're not babies

Napoleon Dynamite gets offended when his grandma tells him that’s she sending a relative over to look after him and his 32 year-old brother while she is away.

I find myself getting irritated in much the same manner, getting fired up because I’m fooled into believing that I’m entitled to be treated or spoken to in a certain manner.

“Nobody talks to me the way!  Who do you think you are?”

When I was younger, I found myself in constant conflict, especially in the workplace because I thought somebody was insulting me, trying to push me around, or talking down to me.  Those conflicts have mostly disappeared over time because of two main reasons:

1) Consistent improvement in the basic ability to do the right thing.  One tends to get pretty defensive when one is challenged about something that you knowingly did wrong or failed to do at all.  It becomes much easier to stand your ground without becoming confrontational (and to let insults and challenges roll off your back) as you progress toward being a person who does what they’re supposed to do as well as doing exactly what you say you will do.

2) Learning (slowly) to recognize the times when my own pride leads me to react in ways that simply aren’t righteous or healthy in relationships.

Proverbs 14:3   A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them.

“I’m not an idiot.  I deserve a little respect.”

Respect is earned, not commanded……over time.  Obeying God’s commands consistently over time and serving others instead of self accomplishes this……over time, as long as we avoid the mentality of “hey, look at me” and “don’t they know what I have done, don’t they know who I am”.   I will concede that it does sometimes become necessary when dealing with our own children to paint them a little picture of sacrifices that are made for them in order to help them discover the concept of respect and gratitude.  But in general terms, if you are doing the things that earn respect, it shouldn’t be necessary to demand that someone show you respect.

Proverbs 13:10  Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

So as pride diminishes, so does strife, conflict.  But pride never quietly fades away.  We must always be aware of its presence, aware of the times when it falsely guides our thoughts, actions and reactions:
“Karrick, I’m going out the door, don’t fall back asleep and make Kal late for school.”  And PRIDE answers in my head, “yeah, I know, I’m not a freaking idiot.  I’ve been doing this for a while you know.  I deserve to be treated like a responsible adult here!”  But TRUTH says 1) I need to get my tail out of bed  2) I failed to earn respect because I have a history of fouling up little matters like this.
What about coaching basketball games, engaging in conflict with referees?  Not because of bad calls, that comes with the territory.   I say it often, but it’s a poor excuse for poor behavior, “I don’t mind bad officiating, I just can’t stand it when they’re jerks about it.”  Translation= they challenged me or took actions that tried to show me who was in control.  PRIDE on my part answered “I’m not looking for a fight, but I’m not taking a step back either”.  And……even though I tell my players to take care of the things that they control and the things that are important, I fail in that very area.  PRIDE tells me to keep taking steps forward.  Conflict escalates.  The things that are truly important in a basketball game, in life…….are pushed aside.  Derailed by pride.  Losing sight of things that are truly important: people, relationships, the direction of my influence, and my representation of my faith and my Savior.
It’s a dangerous thing to be distracted in life in instances where we allow ourselves to be controlled by feelings of “what we deserve”.  I’m certain that I don’t want to dig and fight too hard in this life for what I truly deserve.

Can’t We All Just Match?

Great exchange from Airplane,

“Maybe we oughta turn on the search lights now?”  Rex Kramer’s response, “No, that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.”

rex kramer

Who knew this classic line could have such real life applications.  I find myself quoting it often.  It serves as a great reminder: do the right thing instead of simply doing what you think others are expecting you to do.  The key there is that God provides the definition of what is the right thing and I cannot take it upon myself to alter it.  Otherwise, it’s a healthy exercise to always ask why and to figure out who you’re trying to please: self, others, or God.

Maybe I see myself as a poster boy for “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, refusing to conform to superficial expectations.  Living for God does not require that we look or sound a certain way.  I dress like a bum, talk like a hillbilly, and rarely shave (and I’m probably guilty of intentionally making it too easy for others to misjudge me by appearances).   Maybe in the same way we judge our youth by their appearances?

You can’t see someones heart by looking at their hair, clothes, tattoos, or nose rings.

clown car

Or in this case, by their loud shoes and socks.  First impression as a coach:  you’re not wearing those loud colors that scream “look at me!” like a Chad Johnson touchdown celebration.  Teams should match (why?……ok, just because Bobby Knight is rolling over in his grave and he’s not dead yet……ok not a good reason).  OK, these are acceptable, because I do know these young men, and I do get a glimpse of their heart each time we’re together to practice or play.

Character, integrity, and intelligence cannot be measured by outward appearance.

And life is just too short to worry about matching.

Daddy, I Did It!

KR Macy Disney

Take a small child to a putt-putt golf course. Play 18 holes, don’t use a score card. See what happens each time they sink a putt, even if it takes 12 tries? They look back at mom or dad to see if you are watching. You may not hear the incessant “daddy, watch!”, but they look for you after each accomplishment, each small victory. Approval. Encouragement. Don’t be distracted by scorecards and schedules to the point that you miss countless opportunities each day to cheer them on. Teach them to believe in themselves.

Take a step back from the line of fire.  Don’t get so caught up in their actions that you miss their reactions.  At a Disney parade when a small child sees a favorite character up close for the first time, don’t watch the character.  Treasure the look of wonder on your childs face.  When they catch their first fish, don’t let your attention be taken by the darn fish.   Enjoy the look of accomplishment that glows in their smile.  First time they swing the bat and make contact with a ball, shut up about how they can do it better the next time.   Look on their face for a new look of confidence and triumph.

My three oldest kids have played three and four sports each.  My youngest son, even though he has been encouraged many times to try a sport, has never tried to compete in any sport.  Why had he never tried, in a sports-crazy family?  An overheard conversation with another boy, “because I’m just not good at any sports.”

Ouch!  And double ouch!  Lesson learned.  Encouraging someone to do something IS NOT the same thing as encouraging them to believe they can do it, to believe in themselves.  I’m not a child pschologist by any means (but I’ve seen every episode of Leave It To Beaver and Andy Griffith), but I assume that kids are always looking to their parents for their response, for their approval, for their encouragement……….because they doubt.  When we fail to chase away the doubt, it becomes fear, fear of failure I suppose.  Fear leads adults to be frozen in place.  Fear cannot lead our children to a life of “inaction”.

kal 5k

Recently, Kal finished a 5K race (his first, obviously).  I was caught behind him encouraging him along the route, so I didn’t get to see his face when he crossed the finish line.  Thankfully a dear friend captured a real treasure of a picture.  The look on his face,

“Mom, Dad, I did it!”

Take care to notice and celebrate each small victory with your kids.  Watch the looks on their faces.  Look for daily opportunities to teach them to conquer their fears.  It’s ok to fail………it’s not ok to be controlled by a fear of failure.

No, I won’t be one of THOSE dads!

Age 4.  That first time your son or daughter takes the dive into the world of sports.  Soccer, T-Ball, Basketball, Flag Football, anything.  You may think you know what you’re doing as a parent as this journey starts.  But really, you haven’t a clue.  Not only do you have no clue how you’re going to guide your children through this journey, you can’t even begin to guess how they are going to react and perform as they enter the world of competition.  Ten years ago, my timid, daisy-picking child took the soccer field for the first time and hyperventilated from the excitement and exertion of competition.  Rushing back to the present, it’s easy to see the trial & error, missed steps, overreactions, and lessons learned along the journey.  And like so many other things in life, when you finally have a grip on it (what is beneficial, what is healthy, what has value vs what is worthless), you discover that you are no longer doing it anymore.  It is too late to put into practice all that you have learned on your journey.  Hopefully this list will provide at least some value to some of those people in the opening stages of the crazy world of youth sports….before it’s too late.

will ferrell soccer

1)  Never pass up a chance at home to pass baseball or football, shoot baskets, or kick a soccer ball with your kids.  And don’t wait for them to ask.  They will rarely turn down your offer as long as you “play” with them instead of “coaching” them.
2)  Don’t speak critically of coaches in the presence of children.  Kids’ prospects of having fun and improving are crippled when they are convinced that their coach is clueless.
3)  Our kids aren’t gonna be the next Lebron James or Peyton Manning.  Lighten up.  When we cultivate a fun experience and a love of the game at younger ages, they have a greater chance of developing their own high level of dedication as they grow older.
4)  Coaches aren’t perfect or brilliant or perfectly brilliant.  If they were, they wouldn’t be coaching our kids.  Usually they are volunteering for a job that nobody else wanted.  If they’re paid, they’re making about a $1 an hour for their time and effort.  Be patient and forgiving of their mistakes.  Set realistic expectations.
5)  Look for opportunities to teach your kids the importance of effort, attitude, and good practice habits, as well as being responsible for their own success/fun/outcomes.  As kids progress through middle school and high school years, the main thing that separates one player (or team) from another is A) how much time they spent developing skills on their own time and   B) how much effort they choose to put into organized practice time.
6)  Bite your tongue until it bleeds.  Don’t tell your kids what they did wrong or what they could do better…..unless they ask.  This rule applies especially to the car ride after a game.  Tell them what they did well.  Tell them how you love to watch them play.
7)  Never forget how much your approval means to them.  Cheer and encourage every chance you get.  It’s a miserable experience for kids who seem to play to please their parents…..when they begin to feel they can’t possibly please them no matter what they do.  They will never have a perfect game or practice.  Don’t make them feel like they should.
 8)  Don’t coach from the sidelines or bleachers.  Kids’ minds are blown by trying to play a fast-paced game (that they possibly don’t understand yet)  while they are trying to sort out whether to listen to their coach or their dad or mom.  Kids learn best in game situations simply by playing, not by over-coaching.  Practice time is instruction time.
9)  Teach them to not make excuses. Never blame a referee.  Quality of refereeing is almost always better than the quality of play.  Critical talk of referees in front of children is quickly interpreted to mean that a loss is somebody else’s fault.  (So talk about the refs when the kids aren’t around and choose your outbursts wisely….we all have them)
10)  Winning isn’t the most important thing, but doing your best is.  Kids have to know that it’s never ok to half-way do anything.  It’s not a good idea to ever tell kids they played bad, but sometimes it’s necessary to find the right words to let them know that their level of effort could have been better.

Obviously, I have learned all these things the hard way (by screwing them up).  So if anybody has more to share, I would love to hear them since I am still learning.

macy 2003     DSC00132

Oh yeah, MOST IMPORTANT ONE- for extra points
11)  Every game isn’t the end of the world.  Watch, cheer, encourage…………..and enjoy the funnest years of your life.  It will be over too soon and then you’ll be back at home , bored and looking for the Beverly Hillbillies on Netflix.