Have you ever watched nine-year-old boys play basketball? Five little guys get up off the bench and head out onto the floor in union with one another. They eye each other and perfectly align themselves to support their teammates and play the game together. Trying so hard to remember everything their coaches taught them, their fingers twitch with anticipation as the referee hoists the ball in the air, the whistle blows, and the game begins.
One boy catches the ball as it descends through the air. He grabs it in tight. All the instruction from his coaches, the encouragement from the stands, and the pleas from his teammates go unanswered as he looks around, not for the teammates he moments ago winked at in camaraderie, rather for an open spot through which he will dash. He will ignore every other player on the court, friend or foe, put his legs in motion, tongue hanging to one corner of his mouth as he concentrates feverishly on dribbling the ball while running. Striving to outrace everyone, he pushes on towards his opponent’s basket where, with arms flaying, legs lumbering along, he will reach out through his whole body and force the ball from his hands as if propelled from the very center of his being…all in hopes of scoring a basket.
There is no passing in basketball when you are nine years old. Each player simply runs with the ball, not out of selfishness, but driven to bring back what they believe is the greatest gift for the coach – two or maybe even three points in the game! It’s not for lack of skill. Every day, they practice passing, they move through rounds and rounds of defensive and offensive plays, and they work collaboratively with grace and perfection as a team. But, when it all comes down to the moment, in the heat of the game, the only thing that seems to matter is the race to score.
Perhaps there is a feeling that time will be wasted on passing or the other guy just doesn’t have what it takes, a fear that passing the ball will allow a steal, or perhaps it’s the child’s determination to please his coach, to prove himself. But, the reality is that with more passing and collaboration, the team stands a better chance at scoring more points, a better chance at winning, than they do with a single, lanky kid running straight down the court to the basket with the swarm of opponents and teammates closing in from behind.
The same goes in life. How often do we take off in a mad dash on our own, trying to get away from the crowd, ignoring any assistance that may be there for us, wanting to score that basket all on our own? Sometimes, that swarm can look really scary, resembling more a cluster of serpentine arms randomly reaching out to snag us than the generous hands of our teamates trying to help. Within that dark cloud buzzing behind us is more often the help we need to not just score one basket, but to win the game. It is by enlisting the help of others that the true richness and quality of the game begins to emerge, the true talent can be seen, and the winning really happens.
Certainly, the guy who races to make the layup right under the buzzer is impressive — some might say Hall-of-Fame worthy. But the real champions find a way to tap into the talents of their teammates and to soar to new heights together, bringing even more value to the team. If all you do is focus on the score and ignore the play within each moment, you may never improve your own game. You may never really feel your greatness. Strength is built on collaboration.
Whether on our off the court, success comes through finding your teammates out there, passing to them, receiving from them, making great plays together, and celebrating your successes as one. When truly played in the moment with all players bringing their best to the game, victory is certain, maybe not always as reflected on the scoreboard above the basketball hoop, but most definitely in the joy and quality you find in life.
So, what about that little nine-year old and his lanky drive to the basket? He’s got the passion, he may even have the skill, and one day he might just realize that perhaps his biggest asset is his teammates waiting along the three-point line to help him win the game.