There is no question that life provides ample opportunities for introspection and growth if your eyes (as well as your heart and your mind) are open. Be patient with me as I paint a picture for you this morning and provide you with a story (and a lesson) that I hope enhances your life in some way…

Girls basketball gameLast Wednesday, I was watching my 10 year-old daughter’s basketball team play in the first round of their tournament. My daughter was ready – fired up, even! I found myself taking for granted that we would be making another appearance on Saturday, so I was mentally planning out how I was going to order a bunch of blue and white basketball cupcakes for the finals. We were playing a team we had never played before, but they had a great record (11-1), so I knew they would probably be tough. However, not much could have prepared me for the scene to follow — after all, I did mention this was 4th grade, right? The opposing team’s parents were completely adorned in team colors and face paint, waving boldly drawn signage and color-coordinated pom-poms. There was an undeniable intensity in the air, and I found myself a little anxious (in part, because I was pom-pom-less and was not carrying a sign or wearing team colors). I think the girls on our team became anxious, too. They aren’t used to being heckled from the sidelines.

I assumed my spot in the bleachers and waited for tip-off. All in all, it was a pretty close game for the first two quarters. The play was extremely fast-paced, intensely physical, and both teams were equally streaky. At one point, we were up by a couple, much of the time we were tied, and there was a lot of back and forth as both coaches worked their benches and gave their girls playing time. But, as we all know, momentum is a very delicate and fragile thing — and only one team can advance to the next round.

I got up in the middle of the 2nd quarter to go take some pictures and distance myself from the other team’s rabid parents. I cheered our girls on, and encouraged my daughter to be strong and go to the hoop. Halftime came and went, and so it appeared did our shot at a championship bid, for in the 3rd quarter we didn’t score a single point. We were flustered and off our game and in many routine plays we looked like deers in headlights. From my perch in the stands, camera in hand, I was standing next to a dad of one of our players. His wife is one of the assistant coaches, and he will occasionally mouth things to her from the sidelines. I watched him frequently get her attention and make a signal with his hands over and over again, but wasn’t sure what it meant (a closed fist and a high five) and I didn’t feel like prying. But, I watched him intently over the course of the 3rd quarter, when we had an immense amount of turnovers and the game was slowly slipping away — I was curious and secretly hoping that his hand signals would make a positive difference in the outcome of this game.

Girls basketball playersThe 3rd quarter came and went and we were now down by a lot with only eight minutes left. We were catering to the bench, striving for equal playing time, and not catering to the scoreboard. And, I know that you have to do that at this level of play because the ultimate goal of a 4th grade basketball program is to instill a love of the game in the girls and get them to come back. But, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t hoping we would play for a win. This father, more knowledgable about basketball than me, and also more frustrated with the turn of events, eventually yelled out what his hand signals meant: “STRONG FIVE!! PUT IN THE STRONG FIVE!!” He knew that it was time to mix up the lineup enough to make a difference — he wanted ALL FIVE of our strongest, quickest, most skillful girls on the floor — and he was right. It was time to close the gap and make a run for it.

So, that got me thinking about STRONG FIVE and what that means off of the court. Did you know that you are the average of the FIVE people you spend the most time with? Think about that for a second — the five people you align yourself with most closely have an impact on everything from your career, to your level of health, to your marriage, to your overall success. On my daughter’s basketball court, the STRONG FIVE understood the fundamentals. They are the ones the coach called upon to battle against tough opponents, to draw fouls, to make the big plays. They had strength, determination, an undeniable hunger to get better, and they left it all on the court each and every week. Those are the characteristics that set them apart and helped the excel and stand out. When they were on the court, the rest of the team played up to their level — they elevated the level of play of an entire team.

Now, back to your relationships. Who are your FIVE? Are they STRONG or are they weak? And, what do they bring to the table? Do they inspire you to be the best you can be? Or, are they psychic vampires who suck the life out of you? Do they take ownership for who they are, constantly working to be better? Or, do they blame the world for their problems? Are they successful? Or just muddling along in mediocrity? Are they striving to improve their lives and the lives of those around them? Or is their reality heavily rooted on cable television?




 Girls basketball team





Fourth grade basketball is not life, per se, but I would argue that it offers some parallels that we can all learn from:

  • As in a basketball game, there are only a finite number of minutes on your clock. I encourage you to to play “all-in-all-the-time” because you only get to be the star in one game, and your time is ticking.
  • If your life is likened to a basketball game, and you keep the weakest players on your court for too long, you are going to lose. In more ways than one.
  • Choose your team carefully — it is a definite representation of who you are and what you stand for. Go with the STRONG FIVE — in life, in business, and in relationships. If you don’t currently have a STRONG FIVE, go find them and welcome them into your life.
  • Sometimes in life, you are too close to the situation at hand and miss opportunities to make changes that could benefit you in the long run. In those situations, it is okay to take advice from the sidelines because there are people there who’ve got your back and want you to be better.
  • Don’t save the best for last, when the clock is running out of sand. Keep your STRONG FIVE around at all times, making a positive impact and keeping you in the game.
  • It’s always okay to take a time out. To pause the game for a few minutes so you can regroup and get back on track. You are the coach of your own destiny, and you never have to let your game slip out of reach.

So, for today, I encourage you to evaluate your relationships and pick the winningest team. It will take a lot of work, just as being a great athlete takes practice, but you will ultimately be a better person for it. Just as the STRONG FIVE elevates the play of those around them, the weak five will all too willingly bring you down to their level — so don’t even let them play in your game.

(*And, for those of you who are curious as to the outcome of my daughter’s tournament game, no Cinderella story here — they lost by 7 points. By the time the STRONG FIVE were on the court, they just didn’t have enough time on the clock to get ‘er done. It was a great season and we are looking forward to AAU ball, and more life lessons, in the spring!)