Today’s guest post comes from Cami Kesler.
When I started playing basketball in third grade, my father taught me that sports are not always about the “game.” Sports, and life, are about doing your best. As basketball became my sport of choice through middle school and high school, it wasn’t always easy to understand that relationship between life and sports. Sometimes I wanted to quit. I wanted to hang out with my friends, do what I wanted to do, and just enjoy being a teenager, rather than running a couple of miles or lifting weights.
One evening in particular, I remember the cool polished floor of the basketball gym at my stake center. I remember it was cool because I had collapsed and was throwing my arms and legs against it in a two-year-old-like tantrum outburst. “I can’t do it anymore! I want to go home!” I was yelling at my father. I spent many late evenings at the stake center with my father shooting hundreds, if not thousands, of baskets. I did this after I had already had two-hour practices after school. I did it on Friday nights and early Saturday mornings. I did it on Christmas Eve and other holidays as well.
“Finish what you started. You said you were going to make fifteen free-throws in a row.” I can still hear my father’s voice echo in the silence of that gym. I always got up. Not always happily, but somewhere deep inside me, I knew my father believed in me and I did want to finish what I started. He believed that being involved with sports would help me throughout my life.
When I made the final two free-throws to solidify our win in my high school state championship game my senior year, my first thoughts were of my dad. As I floated to the center of the court to jump into the air and arms of my fellow teammates, my mind flashed to the stake center gym, and I started to cry. Pure exhilaration overcame me. I truly had a dream fulfilled. I had followed through. Oh, how I had wanted to give up at times, but at that moment, I understood a different level of joy in my life. Joy that comes from enduring and accomplishing a goal.
Yet, it really took me twelve years to understand what my father was trying to teach me all those years. After high school, my college basketball career continued at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado and I started to understand more how being involved with sports was helping to prepare me for life. Taking directions from my coaches. Getting along with the different personalities of my teammates. Balancing my schoolwork with my athletic commitments. Receiving criticism and developing communication skills.
My freshman and sophomore years were filled with a lot of victories on the court. As I built friendships in my teammates and worked to become a leader in my coaches’ eyes, I entered my junior year and took on another dream of mine: becoming a nurse. I was the first athlete to be accepted into the school’s nursing program, and, with the support of the nursing department, I decided I could do both. My coach, although passively supportive, was pessimistic. While the school year started in August and so did my basketball training, I got a good jump into my studies before we started our season and traveling on the road. Once November hit and we were in full swing with basketball, the frustration began. Our team was struggling and I seemed to be the team’s scapegoat. Even when I was on the bench, somehow our team’s turnovers during the game would be my fault. It became a joke amongst us teammates, but behind closed doors I was tight lipped.
With my school workload piled up on that small oak desk in my apartment, I wanted to give up on my basketball. It didn’t matter anyways. My education was the most important thing in my life, I assured myself. After a particularly tough loss on the road, I headed to practice that following Monday. My basketball shoes felt like lead but as I walked through the gym doors, I jogged around lightly, bouncing that orange leather and greeting my teammates. As we shot around for warm-ups, my coach approached me. I had ended up on the far corner basket, shooting by myself. He made some references to the weekend’s game. Then, with my arms interlocked around the basketball against my stomach, I heard him say, “And, I am pulling you from the starting line-up. You really aren’t even athletic…but you hustle and that’s how you have made it this far.” Just as slyly as the words had rolled off his tongue, he drifted to the middle of the court. The vibration of the buzzer ringing for practice to begin seemed miles away. As I removed the ball from my stomach, it felt more like removing a boxing glove that had just freshly punched my gut. No time to fall to the floor and cry “unfair.” Then words, fresh and smooth, flooded my mind. Words shared to me by my father when he quoted a legendary basketball coach, John Wooden:
“It isn’t just basketball. It’s life. And life is a game. A serious one. But that is what you do with serious things. You do your best. You take what comes and run with it. Winning is fun, sure. But winning is not the point. Never letting up is the point. Never letting anyone down is the point. The game is never over. No matter what the scoreboard reads or what the referee says. It doesn’t end when you come off the floor. The secret of the game is in doing your best. To persist. To endure…as someone once said, to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. “
I was a four-year collegiate basketball player. I re-gained my starting spot my senior year and went on to have a successful basketball career, at least in my eyes. I was the first college athlete to graduate from the Mesa State Nursing Program, and fifteen athletes have followed suit since. Life continues to challenge me in ways that, at times, has me wanting to throw my body against the floor. Yet, a guiding force and strength in my life continues to be the wisdom shared to me by a loving father: “Do your best.”
What is a lasting principle that your father has instilled in you? How do we teach our children not to give up, without being overzealous? What do you do to motivate yourself to set and reach goals among the chaos of your daily demands?