Sept. 26, 2011
|The Write Space and Time|
Sept. 26, 2011 -- She stood at the free-throw line, her big brown eyes glued on the rim. She spun the ball twice, puffed her cheeks full of air and exhaled as she shot it. The ball couldn't have landed any more in the middle of the net. As her 12 teammates applauded and cajoled from the baseline, her mouth denied the smile that grew there but her eyes could not. The green one on the line was a freshman, and this random day in September was her introduction to the cliff.
It was fun to watch her fly.
The free throw was just a little test. Just something our strength coach threw out there at the start of a conditioning workout, one little shot that meant...I'm not even sure what it meant. (He's Hungarian and, half the time, I can't for the life of me figure out what he says when he says it.) But the fact of the matter is that whatever was laid on the line for the free throw meant very, very little. What mattered was that a new heart had been led to the ledge. And we got a glimpse of who we might be by how she flapped her wings.
That's what pre-season is. It's the business of drawing lines in the sand and daring talented, hungry athletes to cross over them. It's teaching to see who will learn and testing to see who's willing to. It's pushing to reveal barriers and pulling to expose fears. And as any good strength coach (or any coach for that matter) will tell you, the list of physical attributes for which we train pales in comparison to the window we are given to the insides of our guys.
I had a déjà vu moment today as I watched our young and green stand alone there at the line. Streams of former student athletes flooded my brain. And I wondered how many would be able to recall their first appearance there, on the edge. I wondered if they knew, while staring at a shot they'd made thousands of times, all that making it now, at this particular moment in time, could do. My guess is, probably not.
Because becoming mostly sneaks up on you. Most freshmen live with their heads on a swivel trying to be ready for anything and everything that's flying at them. They want to catch the challenges coming, even if it is out of the corner of their eye. But the stuff that changes them usually comes in the side door unannounced. And they don't even know what it did to them until miles down the road.
The confident floor that was laid in the belly of our 18 year old today won't necessarily always be there. But making that one shot with 12 sets of sister eyes on her was a start. Had she missed, I doubt she would have cratered, but because she didn't, she's miles ahead. It's like she was playing Monopoly and she just drew the "Pass Go, Collect $200" card. Except it wasn't lucky, she made it happen. And she won't forget the way it feels.
I love watching kids on the cliff. It's merciless there, though because they don't get to prepare or strategize, they just get revealed. Those who plummet usually catch themselves or they get rescued by their teammates, many of whom have been there themselves before. So there's no irrevocable doom. But those who stay airborne, they have a head start. And it changes everything. Not for those of us standing around the gym. That one shot doesn't amount to a hill of beans for any of us. But it changes everything for her, the athlete on the line. That ball landing in the middle of the net says "I can do this". I belong here". And believing that is more than half the battle.