Monday, March 1, 2010

Champions

I play basketball for our home school group's team, the Red River Lady Rattlers. We just completed our sixth season. It was one of the bumpiest, rockiest, most emotional seasons of basketball I've ever experienced. But it was one of my best.
The Lady Rattlers didn't start out as the hottest team on the court. For the first few years, we played with any team that would play us. It was hard to schedule games, because no one wanted to play a brand-new home school team that wasn't very good.
But three years ago, our team underwent some big changes. We got a new coach. We joined a conference specifically for home school teams and small private school teams. And we improved tremendously! The Rattlers went from being the easy team that no one wanted to play, to the team that everyone wanted to beat - the team with the most wins in our conference.
For the next two years we discovered what it was like to WIN the majority of the season's games! What a great feeling. We realized we had potential - and we were good! Before long we forgot what it was like to be a "bad" team. We got used to being "the best team." And we expected winning to come naturally.
But guess what? This season, it didn't. While we were still high on our previous two victorious seasons, other teams had been improving! Winning didn't come as naturally as we thought it would, and we became frazzled. We had to work really hard for victories that "should have" been easy for us. We even lost to teams we never expected to lose to! And when we did win, our effort seemed half-hearted. We still weren't satisfied. Something was missing.
As the season progressed, the problem grew. No matter how hard we "tried," we couldn't seem to do better. There was a lack of energy and morale on the team.
After a shameful loss, we realized we could no longer dismiss the problem as "beginning of the season syndrome" or "middle of the season syndrome," or anything else...Now the season was nearing its end, and we knew we had to tackle this beast once and for all.
A team meeting was called expressly for the purpose of figuring the problem out together. And together we realized that we had all lost sight of the real reason we were even able to play - Christ. Because of that, we'd lost sight of what was necessary to win - the TEAM. Personally, I had become too focused on my own game. When I stopped to think about it, I admitted that I had become more concerned with improving my own skills than helping the team improve. While individual effort is crucial, it comes to nothing if that's all it ever is - individual effort.
Our coach shared this verse with us:
You know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. So run to win! All those who compete in the games use self-control so they can win a crown. That crown is an earthly thing that lasts only a short time, but our crown will never be destroyed. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Coach has always said that he doesn't care about the 'W' or the 'L' at the end of the game. All he asks is that we give it our all - run to get the prize. The prize isn't winning. It's not our individual stats. It's Jesus.
With Regionals and State only weeks away, our season truly started. We played like a team again. We won some games, and we lost some games! But we didn't feel bad about those losses, because we knew we had played our best.
This year, we approached the State tournament differently. Instead of expecting to win, we understood that we would have to fight hard for every victory, and we faced the fact that losing was possible. We also determined to have fun during every single game, since any of the games could be the season's last.
After a hard fight and lots of fun, we won our first game.
The next day, we faced the team that beat us in the championship game of 2009. We were ready to give it our all, but mentally prepared ourselves for defeat. Wrong decision. At half-time, we were down by fourteen. A few months before, we would have seen our fate as sealed. The talk at half-time would have been grim, and we would have probably played even worse in the second half.
But THIS time, we decided NOT to give up! Our coach encouraged us to stay motivated, stay pumped, and have fun! It took courage, but we did it. We walked on the court with smiles and determination. Maybe we weren't going to win, but we weren't going to give up that easily.
But the positive attitude paid off! We won by eleven points! We didn't do anything magical or extra-ordinary. We just remembered Who we were playing for. We gave it all we had. And the score reflected.
The next day we found ourselves in a familiar place - the Championship game! We knew this would definitely be our last game of the season. It would be our Seniors' last high school game ever. We wanted to make it a good game. So when we walked on the court, we weren't boastful. We weren't pessimistic. We were ready to play.
The first quarter started out horribly. Before we knew it, we were down by ten. Coach continued to encourage us. I think something clicked inside all of us right then. We didn't want to end the season wondering what would have happened if we had given everything. We wanted to find out what would happen if we gave everything.
Twice the opponents surpassed our score. Twice we caught up. Even with one minute left in the game, we didn't take our lead for granted. We played hard until the last second, and we came out State Champions!
The celebration was a tearful one. We had overcome some major trials through the year. We'd re-discovered our motivation for playing, and we had been blessed. We also cried for the seniors who had just played their last game. One of them had been with the team since the very beginning. (Love you Victoria!!!)
As Coach held our trophy, he reminded us that it wouldn't last forever. But the way we played that day would. We played as a team. We played for Christ.
A few months ago I expected to look back on the season of 2009-10 as a bad season. But now I think I'll remember this season as one of our best. Not for our season record - it wasn't that great. Not even for the State Championship - in ten years, who will care who won? This has been one of my best seasons of basketball because I re-learned what it means to be part of a team, to give my all, and to play for Jesus.
"But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us." Romans 8:37
Yes, this year we are the Champions of T-CAL. But for eternity, we are Champions in Christ. And that's what truly matters.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

From Daddy,

I will remember and treasure this season for the rest of my life, for all the reasons that you spoke of and because I saw you and so many of your teammates play through injuries and pain so courageously. Coach is right. All of you have gained something that will stand you in good stead through all that you will ever encounter the rest of your lives.
Go Rattlers!

nicki said...

I am so proud of you, Liberty, and the whole team. What a feat, to be the first homeschool team in Texas to take the title!