“Tim, how did the game go?” Eric asked his brother about the church-league basketball game Tim played in earlier that Saturday afternoon. Eric had refereed a fourth-and-fifth-grader game earlier, but didn’t ref the one his brother played in.
“We lost, by a point.”
“That’s too bad. Still, it was a close game, not a wipe-out. How did you do?”
“Not good. I played OK except for missing all four of my foul shots. If I made a couple, we would have won.”
“That’s a shame. The neat thing about foul shots is that you can become pretty good just with practice, and nobody can block your shot. You figure to get to shoot a few in most league games with a ref.”
“Shall I show you what I was taught? I’m not as good as Tess, but I know how to do it.”
They got their ball and went to the small paved area with the basketball hoop that their dad had set up behind their house. The foul shot line was marked with a foot-long stripe of white paint. Rick took the ball and shot about ten foul shots, making more than he missed, but not a lot more.
“Tim, I’m only so-so at these, but I know what I am supposed to do. Put my feet an inch behind the line. Bounce the ball the same number of times every time. I do it three times. Take a deep breath. Bend my knees. Support the ball with my left hand. Keep my right arm with the elbow tucked in, pointing straight down. Exhale slowly. Unbend my knees, while pushing the ball toward the hoop with my fingers, not my palm. Like this.” Fortunately for Rick, this one went in.
“That’s a lot to remember.”
“Yes, and you have got to do the same set of things over and over, so it becomes like a habit. Our coach called it ‘muscle memory.’ Try it a few times.”
Tim worked with Rick for a dozen or so shots, making a few.
“Sure. That’s enough for now, Tim. You did make a few, and I think you will continue to improve. As you grow, you will get stronger and that will make it easier, too.”
Rick served as an assistant coach for Tim’s after-school soccer team. Tim was easily the best player on the team, and this was a good time to remind him of it.
“You and I and Tess all like to play basketball, but it is not my best sport and may not be yours. You’re the best player on your soccer team, better than either Tess or I was at your age, too. You may decide to focus more on your soccer skills when you get older. Some things just come more naturally to each of us than others.”
As time went on, Tim did become better at shooting free throws, though he did not become particularly good.
Tim continued to excel at soccer, though, and eventually became the star and captain of his high school soccer team. He took advantage his soccer-playing abilities, doing what came naturally.
One of our series of 50 short stories with messages.