Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson 


     The year was 1962.  I was fifteen years old and hopelessly in love with Betty Sue Daniels.  On the first day of our freshman math class we had been assigned as seatmates and so far, she seemed unaware we lived on the same planet.  Can you imagine the thrill that shot through me when she reached over and tapped me on the arm?
     Mrs. Thalia K. Crosley was droning on about some algebra problem that was light years beyond me, and Betty Sue reached over and actually touched me.  My spirits soared, but then fell as I realized it wasn’t love that moved her to do so.
     “Coach Youngblood wants you,” she whispered, pointing past me toward the door.
     I turned to see the new junior high coach standing just outside the room.
     “Can I talk to Michael for a moment, Mrs. Crosley?” he asked.
     Mrs. Crosley quickly consented, only too happy to excuse her worst student, and I followed him down the hall.  Once in his office, he invited me to take a seat. 
     “I want to ask you to help me,” he said.
     “Me?” I asked.
     “Yes, you are the key.  I want you to help me this year.  I’ve reviewed all the eighth-grade game films, and I’ve decided we can win most of our games if you will help me.”
     “Win most of our games?  How can we do that?  We were five and five last year.  How could we improve that much?”
     “Because,” he said, “You are your father’s son.  I played with your dad, and if you are half as good as him, we can win most, if not all, of our games.”
     I left that room that day with a spring in my step and hope in my heart.  What I didn’t know was the young coach would tell every player on the team something similar.  He didn’t tell anyone a lie.  He didn’t tell any player he was fast if he wasn’t, but rather he picked some skill, talent, or ability that person had to offer, and made them aware of the value of the particular thing they could do - and he asked each player to give that gift to the team.
     We didn’t win all our games, but far more than we expected.  And somewhere along the way, we changed.  We began to believe in ourselves. 
     At season’s end, the young coach told his players, “You are young lions with great hearts!”  Had he asked us to jump through a window at that moment, there would have been broken glass everywhere.  And the next year, we moved up to the varsity.
     On the first day of my sophomore year, the high school coach called me in his office.
     “I want you to know something,” he began, with a scowl on his face.  “Just because your father was a famous athlete at this school… that doesn’t mean you can rest on his laurels.”
     So many years later, I can remember how I felt when he said that.  For several seconds, I was unable to take a breath.  Did he really think that our success in junior high was because of my father?  Unable to think of anything to say, I said, “What is a laurel?”
     He rose from his chair and said, “Don’t you get smart with me!”
     “I’m not,” I stammered.  “I just don’t know what a laurel is.”
     “Listen,” he snarled.  “I don’t think you have what is takes to play at this level.  You are going to have to prove to me that you do.  Now get out!”
      I didn’t know the high school coach would tell every player on the team something similar.  How this was the big time, how he wasn’t sure any of us “had what it takes,” and how we would be required to “prove” to him that we did.
     We went 0 and 10.  And somewhere along the way, we lost faith in ourselves.
     So here’s a question for you.  Which team were we?  Were we a group of young lions with huge hearts who could play at a level far surpassing our real ability?  Or were we a group of lightweight cowards who “didn’t have what it takes?”     The answer is…we were both.
     Which team we were depended on two keys.  Two keys resting in the minds of two men. One man held a key in his mind that unlocked the potential inside ours freeing us to become more than we dreamed.  The other man’s key kept that potential locked tightly away.
     I am aware that we should do a good job regardless of the leader in our lives at the time. We should be responsible and do our best.  That’s easy to do if you are a well-rounded, mentally healthy person.  I am however, a weak, whiny, immature person most of the time, and one strongly influenced by those around me.  So, I am not justified in placing blame on the high school coach for our poor performance.  It’s just so much easier for your light to shine if someone believes you have light in you. 
     You can take your horse to the greatest trainer in the world, and what you tell the trainer when you unload your horse is of vital importance.  If you say, “This is my partner. He’s a good one, and I want you to help him all you can,” chances are that trainer will give the horse every opportunity.  If, on the other hand, you say, “I hope you can do something with this fool ‘cause I sure can’t,” chances are the trainer will call a couple of months later and tell you how right you were.
     For years, I wondered about a great mystery.  And that was, how can some people seem to find the stardust in a child?  How can some men and women reach inside the horse to create such a special and willing partner?  I sought the answer in classrooms, in universities, and in scores of books.  I never found it.
     Now – because I’ve become so old I suppose – I can see something in the mist.  It’s out there on the edges of my mind, and sometimes I can almost see it from the corner of my eye.  Those who truly help us have faith.  Faith in themselves to help and faith in us.  They communicate an expectation that we are more than we know…and they really believe that. When we encounter one of those, we are never the same. 

“The thing always happens you really believe in.  It is the belief in a thing that makes it happen.”

                                                                                         --Frank Lloyd Wright



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