Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Basketball Perseverance

Editor's Note: I have returned safely from vacation, and had a great time with family! After digging out from a pile of emails, I hope to settle back in refreshed and invigorated.

One of the things I am most proud of myself for doing in grad school is, oddly enough, playing basketball once a week with a group of labmates/friends. My family does tend toward basketball as the sport of choice, but I've never been very good (home schooling doesn't afford much chance for team sports...). And since I get frustrated when I can't immediately excel at something, particularly sports, I was hesitant to play with the group. The rest of them are all pretty good, and I just knew I wasn't going to enjoy it.

But I played anyway. Even though I wasn't good. Even though everybody else played circles around me. Even though yes, I did get frustrated because I couldn't make the plays or hit the shots I wanted to (that mind-body coordination is a little tenuous when you spend all your time hitting the books!). I kept playing even though I didn't enjoy it at all at first.

But I was determined to live the lesson that you don't have to be perfect. And that dedication and practice can indeed lead to improvement. So I kept at it, and eventually I got better.

I've been playing once a week, or close to it, for maybe two and a half or three years now. And you know what? I'm pretty good now.

I went to a BBQ last weekend, at a lovely spot on Cape Cod with a beach and sports areas. A bunch of kids started a kickball game, and a few guys were tossing around basketballs on the court. I didn't know anybody, but I walked up and introduced myself, and asked if I could play.

Standing there in my flip flops and sun dress (it was a BBQ at the beach, after all), I'm sure I didn't look like much. But they were short a player to make it five on five, so they took me anyway.

I had the foresight to bring my water shoes, so I quickly changed into my sneakers, grabbed a water bottle, wedged my sunglasses firmly onto my nose, and joined the game.

We were playing man-to-man, and the other team put their weakest player on me. It quickly became apparent that most of these guys were really good (better than me), but not all. No indeed, not all - they had underestimated me with the choice to guard me with a guy six inches shorter. I used the height advantage to post up on the defender, grab rebounds, and surprised even myself by getting several good cuts in a row, with lay-ups to finish.

When the game reached a pause, the captain for the other team stood at the top of the key, ball clamped under one arm, and pointed with a sweaty finger at his teammates - "You there, switch with him." The defense obligingly switched up who was guarding me. Now I faced a guy four inches taller than me, and a much better shot than the defender who just left.

"And watch that girl," the captain called out, "she's FEISTY."

Yes, dear readers, I moved myself up the totem pole. For the homeschooled nerdy kid, I'll take "feisty". :)

After that game was over, we lined up to shoot for new teams. Now, when I play with my normal group, we shoot for teams from the free-throw line. But these guys? They shoot from the three-point line.

Now, sometimes when my normal group shoots for teams, we have to go through the lineup several times before enough people make their shot to fill out the teams. I guarantee if we shot from the three-point line, we'd be there all day!

So I thought to myself, "Oh gees... there is no way I can make a three point shot." I never even try during games. I figure if my shooting percentage is as low as it is from close to the basket, why attempt from so far away?

So I steeled myself to try a three-point shot, just praying I got close enough to not be embarrassed. And you know what? I hit the rim. "Well hey! Not bad", I thought.

We had to go around once more to get enough people for each team, so I had a second chance to shoot. I hiked up my skirt, bounced the ball twice, and...

SWISH.

I made my shot.

Feisty girl with a three point shot.

I smiled to myself and walked proudly to the "make" team, and I was so grateful that three years ago I stuck with the weekly frustrating game. You don't have to be perfect, you just have to keep at it.

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