Winter = basketball for Christ’s Children and this year it is basketball and then some. Chris is working with two teams—both a middle school AAU group and a high school group. This year we had a group of high schoolers who wanted to stay together and play, most of whom were not playing ball at their high schools, so we are fielding our first team in the Park and Rec 16+ league. It has been basketball Monday-Thursday and Saturdays with a couple of Fridays and Sundays thrown in.
Basketball is king when it comes to inner city sports among our crowd, but our approach to basketball and sport is very different from the typical around here. In the AAU basketball world, there is a lot of talk about youth and character development and lots of coaches out there looking for talent who are interested in coaching kids that look like they have potential. Most of these programs are expensive and require parents who will pay for, transport and be very active in their children’s participation. Consequently, teams and programs are filled by certain types of kids and families.
Recently in a conversation Chris had with an AAU coaching leader, he was criticized for having a team that played at the less competitive level. The coach pointed out several kids that were on Chris’s team who “should be competing on an A-level team.” Of course, Chris pointed out to this coach that the reason those very kids are competing on his mixed ability team at all is because each and every practice night he drives around to their houses and picks them up, takes them to practice and then drives across town again to bring them home.
Chris didn’t mention that the parents of our players enjoy having their kids play basketball, but don’t always have the time and resources to devote to something extra like traveling sports.He didn’t point out that our player’s “character development” isn’t limited to a quick on court devotional lesson, but involves hours of in-the-car conversations about life and conduct and trips to retreat and camps where teaching about what it means to be a man of God occur. Or that players often spend the night at our house just so they can come to church in the morning.
Chris also did not mention that we don’t choose only the kids that look like the best athletes, the ones who might have sports potential. He didn’t explain that, to us, basketball is not what is important. Basketball is not king. It is only a vehicle for relationships, team building and life lessons.
Chris did not explain to this leader of another youth serving organization that we are not interested in kids only during the basketball season. We spend time with them year around and in fact, will stay in relationship with them through adulthood, if that is something that they desire. We might not just see you at basketball, but when you compete in a spoken word contest, or graduate from high school or act as a reference for your job or help you with your college application. We might attend your wedding or see your children grow up.
Chris may not win any awards in the AAU coaching world, but thanks be to God, he is winning at coaching for life, not basketball. I am enjoying all the extra guys at the dinner table and breakfast table and the fun of basketball season as our house is filled with boys. Boys, who by the grace of God, will not just play basketball, but who will learn more about the things that matter most and about the God who came to be God with us. Boys , we pray, that will become men of God and followers of Jesus who will come to know the fullness of life that is so much bigger than winning or losing basketball. Please pray for the baker’s dozen of basketball players heading off today on our winter retreat up north.