Thanks to Facebook, some of my old Austrian teammates have gotten word that we are headed back to Austria. This summer I started reaching out to some clubs there to see what could come of me coaching and being a part of a team once we arrived. Because of our experiences there before, we knew that this is a way to more easily connect to the community and to build a bridge. So when my friends recently contacted me to elicit my help on the basketball court either as a player or a coach I was excited.
We’ve always hoped that basketball would play a role in our ministry by building relationships and ultimately learning the language of people’s hearts, but we really assumed it would be through coaching…not playing. Last week, I officially signed an “Anmeldeformular” which allows me to officially play with my old friends. What they are proposing is nothing too serious, probably once or twice a week of playing in the evenings, but it is really a great opportunity for our ministry and an honor that they want me. There is one problem however. They are thinking and remembering the Ian who was 25 years old, newly married and without a child much less three children!!!
Now, in the past 3-4 years I have done various activities such as soccer or flag football but not much basketball. In an attempt to somewhat de-rust the knee and ankle joints I decided that it might be good to get into decent shape and actually pick up a basketball before we arrive.
I woke up early the other morning and went to the YMCA in east Cobb County. Initially I was going to lift a few weights, then shoot a little in the gym (like 15-20 minutes) and finish with a little cardiovascular. I went to the gym and to my surprise there were 20 or so men playing pick up. I could tell they had just started to play so my inner competitive spirit came out and I decided to join them.
Let me pause for a second and paint a picture for you. First of all you need to know the area in which this YMCA is located. Well, let me just say this specific 10-15 mile radius is made of quite a few white-collar professionals… if you get my drift. I’m just saying you will not expect to find any basketball superstars at this gym. Oh and it was a 40 and up crowd. So in my mind I’m thinking, “I can do this…no problem.”
Ok, now that you have some context and the mood is set let me get back to the story. I began talking to the men to see if I could join one of the FOUR teams! The first three said no and the fourth team gave me the once over and a slight frown and said “fine, we will take you.” Remember that I am 6’3” and in my mid-thirties. I wasn’t the shortest, the oldest or the whitest. What gives?
It was an awkward start, but eventually we started playing. As we were playing I was reminded of something else about sports. There is something unique that is found when men partake in this fun competitive environment together. A bond is built that sometimes can supersede years of investment otherwise. It can build or break a relationship like nothing else I’ve seen.
To me that is very interesting because it seems at some point in most great friendships there comes a point where emotions are up and stakes are higher. It is typically during that time when choices are made and a relationship either grows into something greater or begins to deteriorate into something less than special. That is the beauty of sports, and specifically the beauty of the opportunity I have to interact with Austrians through playing basketball.
Before I knew it, an hour had passed and I hung with them. By the end of our time together I was invited back and told all about the morning pick up schedule. I was “in” they wanted me.
As I think about this, I am praying for humility in my interaction and reactions so that a bond is built, not torn down. When the emotions run high I pray that the relationships would move towards greatness. I pray for authenticity through me and that something different is seen in me that leads to deeper relationships and deeper bonds. I pray for the opportunity to build a bridge that can eventually up the stake of our friendship and conversations.
All in all I had a great time and had a good workout but more importantly it was probably just what my ego needed to get a jumpstart back into the basketball world and to give my heart a little chuckle.