8th Grade Basketball Team
8th Grade Basketball Team

As all eyes in Michigan are focused on basketball tonight, I thought about my brief encounter with the sport of basketball and the lessons learned that I still draw upon as CEO of United Way.

My longest-standing friend in life, Eric Leidlein, and I made the decision to go out for the basketball team in 8th grade.  At the time, I was nearly the shortest kid in the class.  But being on the team sounded good, so I went for it.

After the rounds of tryouts took place, the coach posted up on the board those that made the squad.  I felt pretty good with how the tryouts went, considering the only basketball I ever played was in the neighborhood.  As I walked up to the board and scrolled down the list, I saw many of my friends names, butI didn’t make the team.  The fact was, I just wasn’t good enough with the ball.

I remember turning to my friend Eric and saying, “I didn’t make it.  But you did.  Congrats.”

That day was a teachable moment for me.  I was down, envious, wishing I was taller and more gifted athletically, and was really hoping to be part of something my friends were doing.  I went to the coach and talked to him about the decision.  There wasn’t much to say to a 13-year-old about not making the cut, but he had one helpful invitation.  Instead of closing all the doors, he said, “We need someone who can be a manager on the bench.  You know, help keep stats, help with practices and such.  You would go to all the games and be part of the team; you just won’t play.”

Despite never getting a chance to shoot a basket, I ended up learning a great deal about how you organize a team and structure preparation for a game day.  It gave me a different lens at a young age that taught me a few lessons:

  • Everything happens for a reason, even if it isn’t obvious at the time.
  • There are different ways to reach your goals and be a contributor; sometimes you need to change your frame of what success really means.
  • Life is much better having tried than never giving it a go.

I also learned from my coach that taking basketball statistics requires accuracy and honesty.  “Mike, Eric Leidlein was in the game for only six minutes and you have marked him down for 15 assists.  You might not want to record every time he comes near  the ball, ” he said to me with a stern look and a slight crack of a smile.  I replied, “Got it coach, got it.”

In case you are wondering, I am standing up on the far right.

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