by Drew Holmes
“Hey dad, guess what?”
Timothy, back in Colorado, was on the other end of the phone while I was on a brief trip to see my dad in Massachusetts.
“What’s that, buddy?”
“My team won!” came his excited response.
The cool weather and constant New England rain made it easy to forget that there were still places in the world with sunshine and soccer on this first day of fall.
“That’s great!” I replied. “But more importantly, were you a good teammate and did you listen to coach?”
For weeks I had been trying to drill that concept into Timothy. Since he could first play sports, he has always wanted to be the best. Growing up I was a competitive kid too, so I understand his desire to win.
When I was not much older than him, I was playing youth basketball in the town league and dad was my coach. We had a decent team but, on this night, we were getting completely blown out. Frustrated at the barrage of points piling up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, I was disheartened when the other team had yet another breakaway.
I was the nearest defender and putting my head down, sprinted to the basket ready to do what it took to prevent two more points. As the other boy slowed down to shoot, I ran full speed with both arms extended and pushed his back as hard as I could. He, predictably, crumbled to the floor and slid into the wall.
The ensuing technical foul and free throws were nothing compared to my father’s anger at me for doing such a thing. I’m not sure the referee officially ejected me from the game, but it was not necessary as dad would have played shorthanded before allowing me back in. I took my place against the wall on the stack of blue mats that served as our bench, dreading the inevitable conversation on the way home.
Dad, however, was a bit more evenhanded. After the expected “If-you-ever-do-anything-like-that-again-you’re-done-with-basketball” talk, he expressed not anger but disappointment.
“I don’t care what the score is,” he said. “If you’re out there giving your best effort that’s all I care about.”
While I didn’t fully comprehend the lesson at that age, what I now know is that you can only control what you can control. In the years after the basketball incident, I learned many things, like playing trumpet, driving a stick shift, and cooking. Not one of those activities were immediate successes, but over time they became less difficult. With each new skill the lesson was the same — doing my best and putting in the work was what I could control. The results always take care of themselves.
“I was a good listener and a good teammate!” came Timothy’s exuberant reply.
“Great, buddy. If you do that, I’m proud of you no matter what the score board says.”
I know Timothy has not yet fully internalized the lesson and that it will be learned over his lifetime. But just like my dad laid the foundation for me decades ago, someday Timothy will absorb the message and know that by any measure his best is always good enough.