Sharing Uncomfortable Truths
I wasn’t sure if I should say anything. It didn’t really bother me that much. Not really. On the other hand, it had been going on for months, and I still noticed it every time. Maybe it really was bothering me at some level more than I thought.
These are some of the thoughts I had as I was playing basketball recently. I play Tuesday and Friday morning for about 90 minutes. I’m one of the old guys. There’s a core group who show up week in and week out, and we get visitors occasionally.
The method for picking teams is as old as basketball itself. We shoot free throws. The first five to make it are on one team and the second five are on the second team. None of us are quite good enough that we can make it on purpose. Meaning it’s kind of luck of the draw which team you end up on. One team is “darks” and the other is “lights.” We each bring two jerseys to every game. The players recently staged an intervention. This is the shirt I have been bringing for when I’m on the “light” team.
The guys hated it. That made me enjoy wearing it all the more. I can understand them objecting to the color, which really does look like it’s a safety-vest. . .or worse. But, I never understood why anyone would confuse it for being on the “dark” team. Anyway, today, Nelson gave me this jersey.
Just because we play together often, doesn’t mean there aren’t issues. They are rarely serious. Dirk broke his nose running into Evan’s shoulder. Evan felt worse than anyone. . .except Dirk. A hard foul is often met with an apology. And that is what made my conversation with Nelson so challenging.
We’ve all played together enough that we know each other’s style of play. Daryl is a deadly outside shooter. Don’t leave him alone at the three point line. David, has a great 12 foot shot, but can’t hit the broadside of a barn from the 3-point line. Let him shoot all day. Cedric runs like a gazelle. Look for him on the fast break every play.
The book on me is that I’m pretty much a non-entity on offense. An occasional 3-point threat, but zero ability to drive to the hoop. Tenacious defender. I play about three inches taller than my six foot tall frame. And I always run back on defense. I’ve never really been much of a shooter and I really enjoy my role as a defensive specialist.
I don’t enjoy being on Nelson’s team. He’s a great player. He’s fast. He plays “big.” He plays good defensive. And he passes well. . .just not to me. Virtually ever. We played three games this morning over 90 minutes and Nelson passed me the ball once. It was an inbound play and I was literally standing two feet away from him as he went to throw the ball in. That was the only pass he sent my way.
Should it bother me? I don’t like to think so. After all, I don’t really care about my own personal scoring opportunities. And it’s not like Nelson is a black hole. He works a beautiful give-and-go with Cedric. He looks for the open man. Well, the other open man. It really is just me. So, I let it go. For months I didn’t say anything.
There is a fantastic business book that I enjoy called Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high. I considered the techniques that the book promotes as I considered approaching Nelson. Much of the point of their message is validating the person you are talking to.
How could I even broach the subject without sounding like I was complaining? And I honestly don’t care about scoring. But I had to admit that I honestly get annoyed that Nelson won’t pass to me. So, today, as the players filed out of the gym after our third game, I noticed that Nelson and I were going to be the last to leave.
Did you realize that you never pass me the ball?
It’s not that it even bothers me. I’m not the #1 scoring threat, but today you passed it to me once in three games. If it’s something you’re doing on purpose, that’s fine. I honestly am not interested in scoring, but if it was something that you were doing unconsciously, I just thought you might like to be aware.
Nelson got very quite on the way out to the parking lot. did I offend him? I hope not. Was he simply replaying the morning’s games in his head and examining his play? Maybe. To try to change the subject I asked if he wanted the jersey back. I got a very terse “Nope.”
If Nelson feels bad, I will have missed my effort to talk about the issue dispassionately. I hope he doesn’t. Should I have stayed quiet and simply tried to miss my free throw if he made his during the team picking? That seemed like a dishonest approach, although it’s easier.
It was definitely an uncomfortable conversation. I hope I did it right.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
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