Slam Dunked

In the fifth grade, our school’s head basketball coach brought in a motivational speaker. I don’t remember hearing the term ‘motivational speaker’ in those days—but that’s what he was. His job was to inspire my teammates and me to be winners.

He pulled out the very best quotes:
“The ones who say ‘you can’t’ and ‘you won’t’ are probably the ones scared that ‘you will.’
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
“Dream it. Believe it. Achieve it.”
By the time he was finished inspiring us, we were either ready to win a basketball game—or be Amway representatives.

The next day our guys were slated to play a team from a school across town. We were generally believed to have no chance against them. Their starting center was a giant—perhaps 5 foot 8. But the motivational speaker had said, “You can still prevail. After all, what chance does one think a head louse has against an entire head? “ It was a brilliant and relatable analogy—far better than the clichéd David and Goliath comparison—because, let’s face it, David had a weapon in that fight.

I was a starter for our team—usually starting for the third team at the far end of the bench.
Our first team was really up for the game that day. Me? I got up twice—once to use the restroom.
The motivational speaker had said, “Limits exist only in the mind.” Maybe. Meanwhile, our coach had also said, “Reality exists only on the scoreboard”—and somehow, in spite of the previous day’s motivational speech, our team was clobbered, creamed, crushed and routed—86-to-11. (The score was closer than it looks.)

The worst part was not the loss—it was that I did not even get to participate in it. And it was also because I was expected to hit the showers afterwards, even though my brow was not even damp. Being obligated to take a shower under those circumstances is a waste of water, soap, fresh towels and dignity.
Perhaps it would have been nice to hear my coach say at the end of a game, “Well, I guess we all know that we lost because Cashman played so lousy.” In fact, I might have taken defeat harder—and showered more proudly—if I had actually had a hand in the game.

But when a kid resides on the third team—sitting uncomfortably—his mind is on other things: “What kind of wood is the gym floor made of? What’s for dinner? How’d I get that creepy-looking mole on the end of my knee? When’s this game gonna be over?”

It helped that my parents kept things in perspective. My dad would say, “It’s just sports, it’s not the end of the world.” (When the end of the world happened, I wondered if they’d still make me shower.)

Still, armadas of minivans are dragging kids to soccer matches and other sports even as you may read this (yes, even 2am)—many fueled with the dreams that college and pro sports lie in the near future. Some of the same parents who hate the odds of winning at pull-tabs—still think it is more than possible that with hard work, determination and deep belief their kid will surpass millions of others to land in the big-time.
“Dream it. Believe it. Achieve it.”
The only rub may lie in the first part: “Dream it.” Whose dream?
The Seahawks have nary a player who came out of high school as a highly recruited sports prospect. Maybe that’s why so many of us relate to them. Those guys might have been on the wrong end of some 86 to 11 games when they were kids too.
Of course, most of us never become sports stars—but that doesn’t mean we do not secretly harbor the notion that we could be late bloomers:


The best parents want their kids to play sports for pure fun, exercise and social activity—with no unshakeable, personal dream that those kids are going to achieve what dad or mom didn’t: Full-ride athletic scholarships and rich pro contracts—along with lucrative endorsements for insurance companies and sandwich places.

But if those kids wind up working for—or eventually even owning—their own insurance companies and sandwich places—job well done.
That’s why the older I get, the righter I think my old man was: “It’s just sports, it’s not the end of the world.”
Although it probably would not be a bad idea to start training for that.