I used to play in all sorts of tournaments and such growing up. Basketball tounaments, football tournaments, softball tournaments, little league baseball, soccer, intermural volleyball…I like to consider myself very well-rounded. I always tried to be good enough in as many sports (but that caused me to not really excel in any sport). the only problem was that even though I played all the time, I had never won a tournament. There were a few times where we would get close or whatnot, but any team that I played on never made it all the way.
About 2 years ago I played in a basketball tournament with a few random guys…these are guys who I’ve never really played consistently with, but we just decided to form a team and play. There were obvious alot stronger groups of guys there, but we still decided to take a chance. And as expected, we were far from dominating. In reality, nobody really worried to much about our team. Normally in those situations, I simply try to do my best to make sure that I don’t look like a fool…I know we’re not getting far, but I’ll still prove that I can at least keep up individually.
What this all boils down to is 1 game. There wasn’t too much riding on the game for my team. We would have to win by about 20-ish point to advance in the playoffs, and seeing as how we weren’t that amazing, that didn’t seem too likely. But, we did have the opportunity of playing the spoiler, because if we won, then the team we played against wouldn’t advance either (for some reason, things like that bring people joy). The game was pretty close the whole time, neither team really pulling away in amazing fashion. As the game went on, most of the other games in the gym were finishing up, and people were slowly being drawn to watch our game, since it was the closest one. Even though it didn’t have extreme implications on the rest of the tournament, it brought a lot of excitement because of the closeness and intesity of it. As more and more people started to watch, the pressure mounted. Even though we were simply playing for just a win and nothing more, I felt like there was a lot more personal respect that I was playing for. I had to prove to everyone that my bad luck in never winning a tournament is not because I’m not good, but I just never play on really good teams.
As time got under 2 minutes, the teams kept trading baskets, staying within a couple points of each. By this time, there were crowds on both endlines cheering and shouting, all eyes fixed on our game. All the tension built up to one final play. With about 8 seconds left, my team had the ball and we were down by 2. Our initial plan was to inbound to me, who would pass to our most consistent shooter to try to at least tie the game up. After I got it, though, the defense cloaked our shooter, which took that option away. It seems like only yesterday…I dribbled left, crossed right, then drove down the left side of the lane, tossed up a floater…the ball clanged off the rim, but I WAS FOULED! About one second left on the clock, and I had 2 free throws to tie the game and bring it to overtime. A hush grew over the crowd as I toed the line. After a bit of encouragement I stepped up, dribbled twice, spun the ball, and released. All you could hear was the swish of the net. Down by 1, I had no worries. The first one is the toughest…that’s when all the pressure is there. Now I’ve been through it before. With confidence I stepped up again…dribbled twice, spun the ball and released. All you could hear was the clang off the front of the rim, and then the gasp and shouts from the crowd as time expired.
Pride -> KILLED. With every eye on me, I failed. When the ball was put in my hands, I choked.
I haven’t played in a tournament since then (…but I thinking about getting back into it…anyone got a good team in need of a PG?). But I did learn a couple lessons from that point. For one, I recognize one of the biggest problems with complacency. My first free-throw was taken with a bit of fear, a bit of humility, and bit of knowledge that I’m not perfect. But because of success, I took too much confidence in my own ability. I forgot that I was still human, still imperfect, still able to fall. There’s nothing wrong with healthy fear. We need to be able to recognize our own inability. With too much confidence in our own talents, we’re going to fail. Our imperfection will get the best of us.
The other thing that failure brought me to do was practice my basic skills. I spent my whole life working on my handles, getting better ball control. I would work on deep shooting and no-look passing. But since then, I recognized the need to go back to the basics. Whenever I go to the gym to shoot around, I’ll take 50-100 free throws. I’ll do sets of layup drills and strengthen my mid-range jumper. It returned me to the foundations of the game. Again, failure helps us see where we lack in our discipline. It shows holes in ourselves where we thought we were strong. And the thing it should lead us to is not sulking, but rather change.
Sometimes we can become very proud spiritually. We feel that we’re perfect, or that we’re good enough. Sometimes we try to shine in ways that others will notice, but we don’t strengthen the basic foundations of the faith. And sometimes we need to be knocked off our pedestal and hit the ground hard in order for God to take His place back on the throne in our lives. There’s always purpose for our struggles. Many times its too help us not get too dependent on ourselves, and put true depenence on the one in control of everything. Learn from every situation…its the fastest way to grow.