“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” ~ Anonymous
One of my favorite quotes is stated above. I love that quote because it lays out a truth that I believe lies in all of us. We are all, in some form or fashion, exceptional at something. What I find that most exceptional people do is hide from their exception in order to fit in with their surroundings.
This past week my soon-to-be 10-year-old son and I were talking about the upcoming NBA draft. My son tells me all the time how much he wants to be drafted into the NBA right out of high school like Kobe and LeBron. I tell him that the current rules won’t allow for that to happen. He believes they will make an exception for him. I will use his desire to his advantage.
My son Tre is an exceptional young man. He has a name that he shares with only two other human beings. He is left-handed and is learning every day that he has a definite advantage over his peers on the field of play. He is smart as a whip and he has a great sense of humor but most of all he is a fierce competitor. In fact, he is an exceptional competitor.
We introduced Tre to sports at a very young age. He started his flag football career at age 4. He was not allowed to play on the team in actual games until age 5 but he worked out with the team regularly until the season began. Once the season started though, he couldn’t stand not being able to play in the actual competition so I ended his torture. The following season he played cornerback in a league that doesn’t really throw the football. They are just 5 and 6 after all.
So he was bored out of his mind in the defensive backfield most plays and really had an uneventful flag football season. After the last game, the coach approached me and told me something shocking. He wanted Tre to be the quarterback next season. I knew that he would be great at the quarterback position because he would be forced be engaged in the game throughout. The quarterback touches the ball every play so you can’t take any plays off.
Tre led his team to the Super Bowl that season. In order to get there though he had to bring his team back from 5 points down with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter. With time winding down from the continuous running clock, Tre took the snap and then promptly fumbled the ball onto the turf. Without a moment’s hesitation he scooped up the football and galloped sixty yards for the winning touchdown. To this day, everyone who watches the video clip wants to know how I managed to film his run while everyone around me was losing their minds. I don’t know I just kept the camera locked on him until he stopped in the end zone and then strutted…my boy.
The only thing that would have made his score more dramatic is if the clock had gone to zero. It didn’t so all Tre did was go out on defense and make another game saving stop to preserve the win. He was so cool at six and the game announcer fell in love with his name that evening. The feeling of being his father that night was amazing. Hearing other fans yelling your child’s name at a competitive event is indescribable. You tingle from head to toe and tears well up in your eyes. Other dads give you a pat on the shoulder for a job well done and you just kind of take credit in stride.
The following season Tre moved up to tackle football from the flag level. The coach’s son was the QB so Tre was back on defense and football kind of lost its shine with him. “No problem,” said Tre, “I will just play basketball.” We signed him up for a league at the Y in our neighborhood and it wasn’t long before our son was dominating his teammates as well as his opponents. The problem with the Y was the structure was loose, the baskets were lowered and stealing the basketball was not allowed.
After watching Tre run all over the court doing everything but dunk the ball, we were starting to get looks from the other parents instead of praise. Then one game Tre made up his mind he was going to score 20 points and he was well on his way when the coach yanked him from the game in the 3rd quarter. The coach was starting to feel the heat from the other parents. Tre pouted on the bench for the remainder and then did not shake hands with his opponents, as is customary, at the final buzzer. That day his AAU basketball career was born.
AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball was where Tre would hone his skills. The competition is top flight and almost every weekend there is a tournament somewhere that involves a shiny trophy. Tre was challenged at every turn in AAU because as a 2nd grader he was playing against 3rd, 4th and sometimes 5th graders in these tournaments. The coaches often schedule against older kids so they can toughen their own teams up. It works. If you get beat by 4th and 5th graders on a regular basis then when you play kids your own age you have a definite confidence edge.
Tre had a good first season with his team until his coach defected to another AAU club due to politics. Tre’s team was disbanded and he landed on a 4th grade team. He worked hard in practice and during his very limited game time minutes until one day, in a tournament championship, the coach decided to start Tre. They won the trophy that day and my son had his first taste of AAU victory. He was hooked.
Tre put us on notice soon after that baseball was out (to the dismay of the little league coaches that wanted to draft him 1st) and football was on life support. He moved up to a new grade level and with that a new coach. It is always a good sign when the “team mom” is the spouse of the coach. That demonstrates stability and the likelihood of a season without a lot of parental drama. Of course the coach’s son is on the team as well whether he’s the best or the worst. I love that dynamic.
Tre had an even better season with The Warriors that culminated in a national tournament at a huge sports complex in a North Dallas suburb. His little brother and I drove the four plus hours to the event and it was huge and intimidating. Tre saw first hand the big business that was competitive basketball. The clocks, the refs, the structure was all at the highest level we had ever seen and it was exciting.
The team easily won their first few games on the first day and everything was fine as the Warriors were rolling to getting a high seed in the single elimination phase of the tournament. Then the team ran up against a tough group from out-of-state and Tre found himself waiting at the scorer’s table to be subbed into the game. The coach was down on the scoreboard and decided to stay with his starters. For the first time in his young career, Tre didn’t play one minute of the game.
The Warriors lost their first non-elimination game and my boy had tears coming down his little cheeks. “Coach said he was going to put me in but he didn’t,” he said. I told him that the coach was more concerned with winning the game than giving him playing time. I told Tre that he had to stay engaged in the game and especially when he was on the bench. If he looks your way and sees you are not paying attention he may just leave you on the bench. Tre swore that day he would never be left at the scorer’s table again.
His next few games he played like a man on fire and then I heard some of the parents calling for Tre to get back in the game to get more steals and more blocks. See Tre is a tall kid who is an inconsistent shooter but his defense is the best. He is the guy you can put on the best player and Tre will shut him down. I told him the basket can be fickle sometimes but your defense always has to be present. You notice when he leaves the game and I told him that’s the mark of an exceptional player.
It was now Saturday night and the Warriors found themselves one win away from the Final 4. The tournament took the Final 4 honor so seriously that you could only buy a Final 4 t-shirt if your team made it…wow. The Warriors were up against this team from Arkansas that was loaded with talent. They had blown away everyone they played by at least 20 points and they had that look in their eye that the Warriors were next.
Unfortunately for us, our starting point guard and our starting shooting guard got stage fright. The point guard was scared to dribble after getting stripped a couple of times and the shooting guard was scared to shoot after getting blocked a couple of times. At the half we were only down by two points and the boys from Arkansas found themselves unable to blow us out. The two guards never fully recovered and we lost the game by just 4 points. Tre played well and didn’t express too much disappointment towards his frightened teammates.
He loved the experience and left the north Dallas suburb of Frisco knowing he could compete at the highest level. He thanked me for taking him on the best trip of his life, we hugged and I kissed him on his forehead. Of course I caught that one tear that ran out of my eye. We celebrated our accomplishments that night and made the long drive back home to Houston the next morning.
I remember growing up in school and having to cover my test scores and other grades so that I wouldn’t feel like some kind of freak. I was weird and a nerd until 5th grade. That’s when I was identified as being gifted and was entered into the best magnet school in our public school system. My life was different because I was now surrounded with kids that were just like me…exceptionally smart.
But now I had to function in two worlds. I had to get up before the sun, catch a bus and two trains to arrive at school on time. Then when I would come home in the afternoon the sun would be on its way down. I would go out and play with my friends and hear the ridicule from at least one person on a pretty regular basis. Luckily for me I was one of the better athletes on the block so even though I was a nerd I was one of the first guys picked.
No one could hit a baseball farther than I could and nobody had better hands when it came to catching the football. Wasn’t the best shooter on the court but I could block shots and rebound better that anybody. My exception was not my ability to play sports but the grey matter lodged between my two ears. I knew that because I was born with asthma and my single parent mother was not interested in seeing her only child laying on a football field gasping for air and losing his life.
It took me a long time to figure out that I was an exceptional person. I knew I was different and because of that I tried to fit in with my peer groups. Being exceptional is better than being different. It is a recognition of your God-given talents and maximizing them to their highest level.
I have tried so hard to bring others over to my different world not realizing that they were often times missing that much-needed ingredient of “being exceptional.” Why build a team with average players that you have to coach up when you can coach a team with great players and actually just enjoy coaching?
Ever wonder why only one out of every 100 people finds a way to earn $100,000/year or more? Is it because they are better? No, it is because they are exceptional. They make it because they believe that they can. Ask yourself what have you ever accomplished without belief in your ability. I believe that everyone has at least one exceptional ability and if they embraced it instead of running from it they could have the life that they really want to live instead of the life that they are “stuck with.”
Later this month, the NBA will add 60 players to their ranks. These 60 players will come from all over the world, not just these United States. The odds of making it to the highest level of exceptional basketball play are difficult to calculate but it is obvious that the 60 that get picked this month will believe in their exceptional abilities.
As long as my son Tre continues to embrace his exceptional talents and realizes that his dream to play at the NBA level is within his belief system, I am confident that I will one day hear his name called as a member of that very elite group of 60 exceptional athletes. I won’t bet against him…that’s for sure.