We were up one with eight seconds left on the clock. Our small forward had just knocked down two free throws to take the lead. The other team inbounded the ball, advanced it to half-court, and called time out. As the opposing coach drew up her desired play, our staff decided to stay in man-to-man defense, but to switch every screen. We emphasized over and over during that sixty second time out for our players to TALK and make sure they knew who they were guarding and to TALK through switching every screen. I even asked each player to say the number of the player they were guarding before we broke the huddle. Every player identified an opponent she would defend. As our players walked out to half court, I felt hopeful. If we could defend for one more possession, we would win a hard fought game.
I watched as the official handed the inbounder the ball and quickly turned to watch the opponent’s offensive play develop. It was a “screen the screener” play, one which we had reviewed the day before in practice. We should have been ok, but, two of our players failed to TALK through a switch that should have occurred on a screen. As a result of not TALKING through the switch and to my disappointment, a girl on the opposing team curled towards the corner of the floor and got off a wide open seventeen foot jump shot. Nothing but net.
We lost because we did not TALK through the play.
I was attending the practice of a Division One women's basketball program when I heard a very irate head coach abruptly stop a drill. She shouted, “Ladies! I am going to tell our staff to not recruit anyone who doesn’t TALK on the floor! I’m tired of you all NOT TALKING. We cannot win if we do not TALK to one another.”
“We cannot win if we do not TALK to one another.”
Most of the time when I am on the practice floor instructing my team to talk, I think about prayer because prayer is simply talking to God. I agree with the coach who said, “We cannot win if we do not talk to one another.” I would paraphrase her words this way, “We cannot win in life if we do not talk to God.” James, the brother of Jesus, said, “You have not because you ask not.” Jesus said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Jesus, the creator of the Cosmos, has given us an open invitation to TALK to him and tell him what we need.
I once had a parishioner tell me, “I feel like God doesn’t exist and if he did, he wouldn’t listen to me.” I asked the parishioner, “Well, have you tried talking to him lately?” His reply was, “No.” (I immediately went back to that last second play when my team did not talk through the switch. We won not, because we talked not.) I looked at him and said, “You have not because you ask not. Give God a chance and TALK to him again. You never know what his response might be.”
Sometimes God answers our prayers with a “yes,” sometimes with a “no,” and sometimes with a “not yet.” I often grow frustrated when I feel as if his timing is off. When I pray or TALK to God, I sometimes focus on the answer over God. It doesn’t matter. No matter how often I pray or TALK to God, no matter my level of frustration or faith, and even when I struggle with focus, God still calls out to me, “Come. Pray. TALK to me.”
We have not because we ask not.
We have not because we pray not.
We have not because we talk not.
Ask, pray, and talk to the one who cries out, “Come to me.”
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15
I was a young high school assistant coach tasked with creating the scouting report against the best team in the region. Our program was on the rise, but we still needed to notch a marque win verses a higher ranked opponent. Our next game was our first chance to show area teams that we were for real and it was my job to let our team know how to stop and attack the best team in the region. So, I set about watching film and looking for tendencies.
I also received a certain gift as I developed my scouting report. Another coach contacted me and said, "I have a gift for you." And then they sent me our opponent's FULL PLAYBOOK. "Where'd you get this," I asked. He replied, "From no one. I've been scouting them all year and this is what I've discovered." I was amazed that he had put in that much work, excited that there was so much detail in the scouting report, and thankful that he'd made my job easier.
I still watched tape on our upcoming team to make sure that I agreed with what the other coach had given me. I did agree with that coach, made a few slight adjustments, and set out creating a practice plan that would prepare our team to exploit the other team's tendencies. We had a great two days of practice leading up to the game and our team spent a significant amount of team studying the other team's playbook. Our staff was both nervous and excited. We felt we had a chance to beat the best team in the region.
Every time the opposing team's coach called a play, our girls were extremely prepared. They were so prepared that they would beat the opposing team's players to their offensive spots. I will always remember one play where a girl from the opposing team made a basket cut, but our power forward jumped to the exact spot of the cut, and stole the pass as if she was the offensive player who was supposed to receive it. She "beat the player to the spot" and disrupted the offense. We scored off that turnover and went on to beat the best team in the region by 15. It was a great night for our program!
Scripture tells us to study to show ourselves approved by correctly handling the word of truth. The only way we can correctly handle the word of truth is by studying God's playbook like our team and the other coach studied our opponent's playbook. When we study God's playbook, we know how to attack the opponent.
I think of how Jesus confronted his opponent, Satan, in the wilderness. Every time Satan tried to tempt Jesus, Jesus quoted Scriptural truth back to Satan. How different would our lives be if every time we were confronted by evil and temptation, we were able to "correctly handle the word of truth" in that moment of temptation? What if God's playbook truly became the lamp to our feet and a light to our path, guiding our way through life?
"You missed her! She was wide open! Pass the ball!" The incensed father yelled from the stands at what I assumed was his daughter. At the same time the father was yelling at his daughter, the coach was trying to get her attention. The coach was waving his arms wildly, shouting her name. I felt bad for the girl. She was a very talented high school point guard, but the competing voices were keeping her from playing within the rhythm of the game. There was a look of confusion and frustration on her face. She couldn't get a break. Her dad was embarrassing her.
I wish I could say that I've only seen such an incident once. Sadly, I've seen it multiple times as an athletic director, coach, parent, and pastor; a parent or family member yelling at their child to do something better, whether it be pass, shoot, dribble, or play defense. And, almost always, I see a look of confusion and embarrassment on the face of the athlete. They're confused because there are competing voices vying for their attention and they feel torn. "Should I listen to my dad or my coach?" And, they're embarrassed because it feels like everyone is looking at them as their parent or family member yells at them.
My dad was both to me; a father and a coach. Ironically, he was never my coach because he coached girls basketball at another school. Yet, he was my coach in the fact that he would always attend my games when his team wasn't playing and he would always provide critiques after watching me play. (Sometimes very difficult critiques that made me wish he hadn't seen me play.) But, it's what he didn't do that I still remember and hold dear to this day; my dad, the coach, never ever spoke while watching me play. Never. Not once. My dad never yelled from the stands, never criticized, never encouraged. He simply sat there and watched. When I asked him why he was so quiet in the stands, he replied, "I want to give you space to play the game. I'm not your coach. You need to be listening to him."
I want to give you space to play.
I'm not your coach.
You need to be listening to him.
Dad knew that it was important for me to focus on playing and listening to my coach. He didn't want to be another competing voice in the midst of a game. His silence empowered me and simplified my responsibilities on the court.
Play the game. Listen to your coach.
Play the game.
Listen to your coach.
Now that I have a daughter who is a competitive gymnast, I find myself attending her competitions and being tempted to coach her through critique and praise. But you know what I do? I simply sit and watch. Don't get me wrong. I'm squirming inside with excitement and trepidation. But I do not speak because I want my daughter to focus on two things...
Play the game. Listen to your coach.
My daughter and I debrief her competitions, but I want to continue to practice the discipline of being quite while she is competing. I don't want to be a source of confusion or shame for her. I want to give her the space to play and listen to her coach.
My goal is the same for my children when it comes to the game of life. I want to give them the space to be who God created them to be and so that they can listen to Him, their true coach. Yes, God has placed parents on this earth to raise children in the proper way, but doing so means that we train them to ultimately listen to Him. That means that we sometimes must remain quiet and encourage our kids to listen to God when they are faced with a tough decision or circumstance.
I am not saying we abandon our kids during difficult moments. Are you kidding me? It would take the U.S. Army to take me away from my children in crisis. Nor am I saying that we withhold praise. I've always believed people, especially kids, respond better to praise than criticism. However, the sobering reality is that we, as parents, will not always be around when our children face crisis. We prepare them for those crisis by teaching them now how to listen to and spend time with God. So, please be teaching your children how to take a break from the world, pray to God, and listen to him. Teach them how to simply live life while listening to God. In essence, teach them to...
Play the game.
Listen to your coach.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.