My favorite teenager started playing basketball in a local youth recreation program as a fourth grader. During her first game, she was a timid shadow on the court and I am pretty sure that she never touched the ball. Her fear of fouling and lack of confidence caused her to choose to not engage on the court.
I believe in the power of positive reinforcement and have a rule that after each one of my girls’ sporting activities, Matt and I always compliment them on something that they did well. I’ll never forget the look on Matt’s face as he visibly struggled to find something positive to say to Ashley Grace after that game.
Matt ended up placing a bet with our little 10 year old basketball protégé knowing that, given her personality, it would be an effective catalyst for positive change.
He bet that she couldn’t make a foul in the next game. When she proved us wrong (and made a foul) we went to Dairy Queen as a family after the game for ice cream. That first foul was the beginning of a new era as Ashley Grace learned that in order to be successful, you have to engage. Mistakes will surely be made, but in the end engagement is the key.
Over the years, we have watched our daughter turn into a very good defensive player. Today, she is often given the job of guarding players much larger than herself because her quickness and persistence make her incredibly effective at shutting them down. She has learned that no matter what obstacle is placed in her path, success is something that comes from within.
Her days of non-engagement on the basketball court are long behind her. That timid ghost has steadily been replaced with a confident contributor. Thursday evening I watched her sink two free throw shots in the last minute of the game to lead her team to victory. I have to admit that I was blinking back the tears as I watched the composure and strength of character shine through.
As a parent I often struggle with the balance of helping my daughters and letting them learn to do things on their own. Over the years, I have settled into a place where I try to always offer support and direction but at the same time step back enough to allow my girls to become strong and independent young women.
After all, when the buzzer sounds in the game of life, it will be up to them to make the ball drop into the hoop…