Monday, February 23, 2009

Small moments

My oldest son's basketball season is winding down. As the coach, I will miss my little athletes but I am also ready for the end. It's been a long season.

The first time I met my players I was a tad concerned. One of the kids was too young to be in the league but the organizers had placed him on my team because they knew me. I took it in stride. As for the rest of the players, it seemed that most of them were in a perpetual state of withdrawal from a massive dose of Ritalin. Weeknight practices certainly didn't help any.

One of the athletes really caught my attention. His parents never came out and told me that he had an attention deficit, but it was quite obvious. I never needed an explanation from them. I just dosed up on some extra patience before each practice and game.

I've come to love this slim, strawberry blond bundle of frenetic energy. At first, if he found the ball in his hands, he would turn into one of those wind-up toys and frantically tap dance down the court, forgetting to dribble. He entertained the entire gym with his earnest, forgetful attempts. He still has a hard time with remembering to dribble, but he has improved.

He struggles to focus on my instruction and I need to constantly redirect him. At times I have to physically turn his head toward me so that he will hear me. His eye contact is fleeting, but I am used to that. I can tell that he is eager to please and really loves to play.

I spend much of my vocal energy on reminding the players to stick with the person they are guarding. This young man is no different; in fact, every time he runs down the court, I need to remind him. He tries so hard and during a recent game it was no different.

We were in the thick of play when suddenly I saw him launch his body at a rebound. Little people were everywhere as the rest of the players did the same. He emerged triumphant and passed it to a teammate. He knew immediately, as did I, that he had done something great. I saw his head pop up out of the crowd, searching. Not for the referees, not even for his parents. For me. He stood rooted to the spot while the others ran past. Finally we made eye contact and he beamed at me.

I'll never forget that joyful expression on his face as he searched for validation. And I hope he always remembers how I celebrated that small moment with him.