BY TOMMY DRUEN
Like most Kentuckians, I love basketball. To the chagrin of my family, I not only follow my favorite teams, but will watch a game whenever the ball is bouncing. NBA, college . . . heck, I would watch little league teams if they were televised. In all honesty though, high school is my favorite level. The rivalries and the school spirit draw me to it. But it is also the style of play.
The average team may have a really good athlete or two, but after that it is the grit and work ethic that make winning teams.
I think that is the reason that the idea of tryouts bothers me. I get it. I know that some schools are so big that there is no way they could have enough slots for everyone who wants to play. However, speaking as the kid who would not have benefited from a tryout system, I know I would have been disheartened to not be a part of my team. And, at that age, it is not always obvious who will develop into good players.
Recently, a friend shared with me a story about his 12-year-old son. After not making his middle school team, the boy, without his parents’ knowledge, sent the coach an email. At 12 years old, you might expect him to make an excuse, ask for a second chance, or at least explain how heartbroken he was. Not this kid. His email led off with explaining how he respected the decision, but also asked where he most needed improvement because he was going to work on those areas before next year and try out again.
Wow. That kid showed more maturity at 12 than most adults will at any point in their lives. But it was more than just how he took the bad news. I am as impressed with the fact that he had the willingness to try, the ability to accept failure, and the gumption to work towards his goal of trying again.
I think we now live in a society where failure has been demonized. We all were raised hearing the adage of “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” But is that really the message our current climate puts forth? We live in a broadcast culture where public failures are ridiculed and mocked. Whether it be actors, athletes, or politicians, it is as though we practically celebrate when one has a fall from grace, and it is only exponentially worse if it is one we already did not like.
I can sheepishly admit that there are many things I have never tried simply out of fear of failure, especially public failure. In my mind, I realize that has prevented me from potentially wonderful experiences, but my dreadful pride always stands in the way.
Fear of failure may be the greatest obstacle in our lives. No one wants to be called a loser, and we would rather never try than risk that embarrassment. It makes us choose the easy routes, when we know the real rewards come from the tough ones. We become critics of the ones who put themselves forward, when often we harbor inner jealousies that they have overcome their fears.
Michael Jordan is arguably the best player in the history of the National Basketball Association. There is not enough room in this column to begin to list all of his records and achievements. However, many people would be surprised to learn that he was cut from his high school basketball team during tryouts. He only played two years on the varsity team. His potential was overlooked, but his work ethic kept him improving and fighting for his chance. Michael Jordan understood failure should be a motivator, not a roadblock. Asked about it once, he explained that he could accept failure because everyone fails occasionally. It was not trying that he couldn’t accept.
Perhaps more eloquently, Winston Churchill put it as, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
Maybe it is time we all put our pride on a shelf and have the courage of a 12-year-old.
Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, a graduate of Centre College, and currently resides in Georgetown.