The power of a memory

Published 9:31 pm Thursday, January 23, 2020

Memory is a powerful tool, and what we remember and how we remember it can be fascinating.

Of course, just like most, I’d like to have the ability to forget certain things of which I have a vivid memory, and remember the things I tend to forget. “Did you remember to take out the trash?” — that’s one that comes to mind.

I was reminded of a memory of my own that, for whatever reason, is never too far from the surface of my mind.

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During a conversation at the S. Delois Mayes Scholarship Foundation’s sixth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Benefit Brunch Monday, the subject drifted into an area of interest — youth sports.

Several talked about their own kids and efforts to either make their respective teams or get more playing time, and how parents interacted with those coaches.

I didn’t, and won’t, speak to whether the parents I spoke with were right or wrong about the issues involving their kids. The conversation wasn’t long enough to get enough information from their point of view, and any judgment on my part would be incomplete without more information from all the relevant parties — namely the kids and their coaches.

But it reminded me of an incident I had playing sports when I played — or rather, tried to play — basketball competitively for the first time.

My parents signed me up for my local recreation basketball league, and I was placed on a team whose coach had a son on the team. That’s not an uncommon occurrence.

But I can still recall how many shots I took for the entire season, and how many I made, and even how many games my team played.

I went 0-for-13 in 13 games. I averaged one shot per game.

I wasn’t the most skilled player on the court, but I thought I would have an equal chance to play like the other kids on the team. I showed up early for every practice and game, and I can remember doing layup drills in the coach’s garage when a court wasn’t available.

It wasn’t enough. I spent a lot of time on the bench in the old middle school gym where my team’s games were played. I remember rarely having anyone pass the ball to me when I was in, and I felt like I only got to touch the ball by accident.

When I did get the ball, not a lot of good things happened, but then again, I didn’t get it a lot either. I have memories of the coach’s son being one foul away from fouling out well before the game was over, and instead of subbing him out to put me or my other teammate who I kept company with on the bench, he kept him in the game.

While I certainly liked to win, and still do, as much as anyone else, I thought that level was more about skill and character development even more than winning.

I still think that way. However, my own observations of youth sports, and the conversation I had with the parents earlier this week, show me that what I experienced then is what many kids are still experiencing now. But many coaches don’t coach that way, and they do build up all the kids on their teams.

As we noted in our conversation, the number of people who play a particular sport as they get older drops. It’s not easy to get a scholarship, or an opportunity, to play a sport in college, and professional opportunities, while there, are much fewer. A lot of sweat equity is involved by kids and coaches in getting there.

I didn’t let it deter me from enjoying basketball or other sports. I played on the dirt patch in my backyard, and I tried out for my middle school team in seventh and eighth grade, though I got cut both times. I did choose to run track both of those years, and I tried out for tennis, not basketball in high school. I even got to run cross country — a sport I never thought I’d try — for a season in college. I never envisioned myself a college athlete, and yet I got that opportunity.

My hope for kids today is that they don’t end up with a strong, negative experience of participating in an activity, that I still have, and that their memories are more joyful and, in a positive way, impactful to them.