Blog Archives

The Art of the Jump Shot: what’s God got to do with it?

We kinesthetics do a lot by feel.

We move in the space to “see” how big it is. We step outside to test whether we need a jacket today. When asked how long the table is, we spread our arms to demonstrate the size. How heavy is it? Oh, about like picking up _______ (something we have lifted before). No quantities for us. Our measure of a quality is its physical comparison with a previous interaction. We have this knowledge stored as a physical sensation. It is a memory retrieved from the body we bring.

So it just makes sense then that when it comes to deciding whether to put our faith in something or someone, we scan our physical recollection concerning this one or this thing. How does it “feel” to us? What do our “Spidey senses” tell us? Trust or distrust? Like or dislike? Engage or disengage?

Yep, Spidey senses aren’t just for comic book characters; they are for our character. We begin developing an internal sense of our outer world from the day we’re born. The more we interact with it — touch it, try it, and test it — the better sense of it we have. Not just by sampling, mind you, but by diligently applying ourselves to experience how things work and how we work with them. Not just with our minds but with our whole bodies.

Since it’s Final Four season and we’re feeling inspired, let’s work on our jump shot. Here is our process:

  1. Aim at the basket
  2. set the ball in our hands
  3. gauge distance and force required
  4. jump and shoot
  5. miss to the right.
  6. (retrieve the ball)
  7. Re-aim at the basket (with direction correction)
  8. Re-set the ball in our hands
  9. Re-gauge distance and force, if necessary
  10. jump and shoot again. (repeat)

Each time we shoot, the ball’s path provides feedback about our efforts, and the basket tells us whether they have been successful. Each miss gives us opportunity for correction. Each make gives us positive reinforcement. Our objective with practice is to bring our shot closer to our target until we make every shot. A natural by-product of our practice is a closer connection to our body’s physical sensation. We develop better feel. We become a better shooter.

But only if we have a target. Simply tossing a ball any which way against a backboard may provide ample exercise but it won’t improve our technique or our shooting percentage. To develop a “feel” we need an object of our effort and a measured intention. We need a goal and a reason to strive toward it.

No wonder the apostle Paul declared, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14) 

If this is a random running, we have little hope of success. We may put in a valiant effort, sweating hard with heaving chest and gasping breath, but effort for effort’s sake doesn’t win us the prize. We need to be focused on our target, the specific goal set before us. It is in the shooting, missing, correcting our aim and shooting again that we draw closer.

We kinesthetics do this, like we do most things, by feel. It’s how we’re made. But the process is part of all of us. Thank goodness, God is patient.

The curious thing is, if I really want to be my very best, solo practice won’t do it: I need an opponent. The one who wants to deny me actually makes me into the best player I can be — the one who can take it confidently to the hoop, no matter the score, the shot clock or the game situation.

What if we considered everyone and everything that stands between us and our goal God’s gift of perfecting us?

Advertisements

Competitive Nearsightedness: it’s Treatable

CIMG4384Both teams were there. Both coaches. Lots and lots of parents. The only thing missing was the referee. No one wanted to reschedule this last game of the season, which didn’t determine anything in the standings. We just needed to get it played.

As it happened, there was a parent on each team who was certified as a referee. Both sides agreed to play the game under the officiation of these two dads and abide by the outcome. They each would take a half of the field. At half time, when the teams switched sides, the dads would stay: even exposure to both pairs of eyes, one half on offense, one half on defense.

Man, that dad from the other team, he was BLIND! He called everything against us. But our dad, he was exceedingly fair, giving their team every benefit of the doubt. Really. Not kidding. That’s the way I saw it. But actually, in the end, the fouls called were about the same. If they had been somewhat partial, it went both ways. Season over.

I discovered something that day: my eye bends what I see. If I have a team favorite or a preferred outcome, if I want things to go a particular way, if I want a certain team to win, I tend to see things that way. And think I’m right. In my spectating life, the foul is always on the other team. And even if you point out the transgression committed by my player, I am quick to argue: she pushed first, he was just defending himself, it was inadvertent…. Apparently, I am biased. I see things with my jersey color overlaid.

What a great lesson our sports experience teaches. If I’ve made up my mind what the outcome should be, I’ll see myself as right and act accordingly. Point out my error, and I will swiftly find ways of justifying myself. That doesn’t make me right; it just makes me feel right, and a bit indignant that you can’t see it my way.

Watching those two dad-refs do their best and then watching both teams shake their hands and thank them for the game, improved my vision. I suffer from competitive nearsightedness; I am biased when looking out for my own best interests. Life lived faithfully looks out for the interests of the other, even my opponents, to ensure that they haven’t been wronged.

Developing an unbiased perspective? That requires surrender in service to the game. It requires us actually to embrace and accept the wisdom of “may the best team win.” No, actually. And that’s not easy. It’s unnatural. Gonna take some time, and practice. Everybody gets better with practice.

As one who seeks to live a life which follows Christ, the evidence of my practice is a growing expression of the fruit of the Spirit in my life.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,  goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. ~ Galatians 5:22

Am I growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Are you? Are we?

If we’re not getting better, we’re not practicing.

Putting Practice into Play is Easier and Harder than We Think

2012-07-15_14-37-05_775I was told “Practice makes perfect,” so my defiant younger self quipped, “Practice makes perfect, but no one’s perfect, so why practice?” That was a) to hide my fear of being imperfect, b) to distract people from seeing all the practicing I was doing and c) to excuse myself in case that practice didn’t work. (and maybe d) to discourage my competition from practicing too much)

Later I was told, “Practice makes permanent,” so my capable young adult self thought, “Watch what you practice because you’ll be stuck with it.” That set me on course to a) get things right, b) do them a lot and c) not enter any contests until I was good and ready.

Lately I have been learning that “Practice makes patterned.” The more we do something, the more likely we are to do it again the same way. Now to those of us in the sports skills business, that’s a no-brainer. Muscle memory has been gospel for forever, as far as I know. Brain science is now showing us how that happens: electrical signaling sensitizes the pathways encouraging it to happen again the same way.

So, since practice doesn’t make you perfect, nor does it strand you in permanent but instead creates patterns, then if we could just practice perfectly, we would be all set. Put us on autopilot and off we’d go to perfection. But that’s not the way it goes. My practice doesn’t achieve perfect. In fact often it makes me more aware of my imperfections and my inability to conquer them.

Here’s where Lent comes in: Lent is the season to practice denial. Not just giving up sweets or cutting down on Starbucks beverages, but actually denying myself something for the good of another. Giving up something good, in honor of something better. Leaving a space where I had been crammed full.

And here’s what I learned. It’s not the denial that matters, it’s practicing the denial. Actually telling myself, “No, you may not do that. No, you may not say that. You may not even think that, about yourself or others. You may have gotten used to that, but it’s a bad habit. Quit it!” It seems that I had gotten out of practice of denying what didn’t belong.

Though practicing denial, like practicing other skills, makes it neither perfect nor permanent, it does help us create a pattern. And patterns, well designed and well worn, are there when we need them. They’re worth the practice. In fact they may be the reason to practice, so that when the pressure is on, the opponents are jeering, and everything is on the line, we can swing freely and send that beautifully arching nine iron shot sailing straight toward the pin. Because we have denied our need to perform, our desire to perfect and our demand for admiration.

Hoping and imagining it won’t achieve it, and even practicing it perfectly won’t guarantee it, but we have to perform when it counts. That happens best when we deny ourselves and let ‘er rip. A good reason to practice. A good reason to discipline our practice. A good reason to practice the discipline of denial.

What we practice, we pattern. And ultimately, that’s what we put into play.

%d bloggers like this: