A Lesson in Life and Basketball

We teach our kids life lessons, and, if we're lucky, they return the favour.

Recently, as I watched my son Nathan play basketball for his high school team, I was starting to feel sorry for myself and for him. His team was facing adversity on the court and he was playing in a hostile environment—it was the opponent’s home gym filled with their supporters, and Nathan’s team was trailing for three quarters of the game. As for me, I had been dismissed from my job earlier in the day. A career position that I held for 14 years was the victim of corporate restructuring. I had seen this coming and was prepared for it as I had experienced the same thing 14 years earlier, but, just like a punch in the mouth, the blow is never softened because you were expecting it.

As I watched the adversity on the court that my son was experiencing, I recalled the events earlier in the day. Packing up everything in a box and bidding an emotional farewell to a great group of colleagues with whom I’d had the pleasure of working. During the drive home, I kept telling myself that just like last time, I will find work again in a short time—I am confident in my experience and abilities and believe in myself. It was a mantra I repeated to myself during a trying day, but self-doubt was sticking its foot in the door. Then, it hit me. This is the same mantra that I tried to instill in my son and my daughters.

The basketball game entered the fourth quarter with Nathan’s team still trailing. I saw the determination on his, as well as his teammates, faces as they fought back to not only tie the game, but then go ahead by three points. Then, a player from the other team made an unbelievable shot to tie the game up again. With a tie game and seconds on the clock, Nathan found himself with the ball and with skill and confidence, he proceeded to make the basket with a defender hanging all over him. The other player was called for a foul. Nathan’s restrained celebration after making the basket, the joy on his face, the cheering from the crowd, the silence on the other side of the gym—it was a moment that would make any parent proud.

As Nathan stood at the foul line preparing for a shot that would put his team up by three points, I saw the focus and determination on his face, there was no room for self-doubt. Let me tell you, if you don’t play basketball, making a free throw in a hostile gym, is equivalent to making a 12-foot putt in golf with a foghorn in your ear. Nathan was able to tune out all the distractions and nail the free throw with such skill, it was as if he had done it a thousand times. Later he told me he didn’t know how he did it because he had lost all feeling in his right arm from being thrown to the floor earlier in the game. After he made the free throw, his team was able to hang on and stop the other team from scoring, winning the game and moving on to the tournament finals.

As I sat there, my heart bursting with pride, it dawned on me. I had taught him perseverance in the face of adversity, and he had just taught me the same lesson. That brief moment of self-doubt and feeling sorry for myself was blown away by the actions of my son on the basketball court. He will play in the finals, but it doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, at this moment, we both won.

Next, read the inspiring story of the 71-year-old woman who shared the Canadian kayaking adventure of a lifetime with her son.

Originally Published in Our Canada