By Charlie Sacchetti
At the age of 14, he was just about the tallest of all of his buddies. This fact, combined with some natural athletic ability, made my son pretty tough to stop on the basketball court. He was one of the best performers in our town league and fully expected to carry that success into high school. In fact, he couldn’t wait to enroll in his new school and play for its highly respected, veteran basketball coach.
My son had little doubt that he’d make the freshman team. Let’s face it: He was one of the top scorers and rebounders in town, and surely the coach would see his skills up close and personal during the 1997 Thanksgiving-weekend tryouts.
Only my son didn’t take a few things into account.
First, most of the competitors played CYO ball, which is a league affiliated with Catholic grade schools. Since the high school was Catholic, their coach had history with many of those players because he watched them play in league games. Having attended a public grade school, my son was unknown to the coach and his assistants. He would have to be really impressive during the short, two-day tryout period to get a good look. Additionally, those Catholic-school kids had played together, many of them as grade-school teammates, which gave them a decided advantage in the scrimmage games during the tryouts. Most importantly, my son reported to the tryouts without doing any preparatory conditioning, thinking his ability would certainly compensate for the lack of hard work.
The kid exuded confidence as he left the house on that Friday morning for the first day of tryouts. If there is a fine line between confidence and cockiness, you might say that his toes may have crossed over into the cocky zone. When he came home, he reported that he had played well, but day two proved to be a challenge. By then, my son’s energy level wasn’t high enough to keep up with the rigors of the demanding workout. After practice was over, the coach announced that, on Monday, there would be a list posted on the bulletin board. The prospective players were told to check that list. If their names were on it, they were still “alive” and could continue practicing until the final cuts were announced on Wednesday.
The good news was that my son’s name was on Monday’s list; the bad news was that it wasn’t on Wednesday’s – he was cut. The poor kid arrived home almost in tears, ego shattered, and feeling somewhat ashamed that he had probably overestimated his own ability. As is the case with most kids his age, he wasn’t looking forward to school the next day, where his non-competing “buddies” would give him the business for not making the cut.
After dinner, my son and I had a chat. By then, he was composed and probably hoping for a little love, which is what he got, but not in the way he expected.
“Well,” I asked, “did you play your best?” “Yes, Dad.”
“Did you hustle?”
“As best I could. I got tired on the second day and had trouble keeping up. I wasn’t in good enough shape.”
“It’s good you realize that,” I assured him. “That issue is easily corrected if you want to. What’s next?”
“Play in the town league and try again next season. Is that OK?”
“Are you asking what I would do if I were you?”
“OK, if I were you, I would go in tomorrow and see the coach. I would look him in the eye, shake his hand, and say,
‘Coach, I’m sorry I didn’t impress you enough to make the team this year, but I’d like you to tell me what I have to do to improve so that I can make it next year.’”
The look on his face was somewhat like that of a guy about to take his first bungee jump, but he took my advice, went to school, and met with the coach to deliver the message.
The coach said, in all of his coaching years, no kid had ever come to him in such a manner, and he admired my son for having the character to do so. The coach told him to work on his ball handling, passing, and stamina. Taking this to heart, my son proceeded to work diligently, nearly every day, to improve his skills. He played well in the town league, and the coach suggested he attend “unofficial” workouts over the summer. He gained strength through weight training. The next year, my son made the JV team and was moved up to the varsity. Never the basketball star, his greatest achievements were in the classroom, where he excelled throughout high school and college. Recently, he told me that his basketball experience helped him, at that tender age, to realize the true value of hard work and not to take anything for granted.
My son is now a husband and the father of two young boys. I’m sure, at the appropriate time, they will hear how valuable it is to rise above life’s setbacks by turning disappointment into victory.