In 1988 Ark City was the best team in Kansas 5A basketball. Of course, this could likely spark a spirited debate, one which I would most definitely lose since we only brought home the 3rd place hardware. Acknowledging this up front, several 80’s and 90’s Bulldog fans and I could sport a fair argument.
In the 2017 Gonzaga win over West Virginia in the NCAA “Sweet 16,” a reporter asked Zags coach, Mark Few if he thought he would finally get the monkey off of his back and make it to the Final Four. Coach Few looked at her and stated frankly, “ I’m not aware of any monkeys on my back. I haven’t talked to my wife about a monkey; she hasn’t said anything about it. I wasn’t aware there was a monkey on my back.”
Unlike Coach Few, I did feel as if I was carrying around a very hefty primate. Having played and lost the sub-state championship three years in a row at Greensburg, it was honestly starting to feel like a full grown gorilla. The 1988 Bulldogs helped me reach a personal milestone as a coach, a sub-state championship and a trip to the state tournament.
However, that’s not entirely what this story is about.
At the ’88 5A state tourney we had a slow start but eventually dispensed of Coffeyville in the first round, only to lose to Haysville-Campus in the semi-finals. It was a very frustrating loss and a dejected group of young men headed to the hotel afterward. Back at the hotel the coaches gave the players a choice of returning to the arena to watch the evening games or catching a movie. A few of our players asked if they could stay back at the hotel and do neither. We would typically reject such a request suspecting great potential for shenanigans. And, for just a few seconds, we entertained the request because the young men requesting to stay back were our leaders, our best players. It was at that moment I experienced a rare occasion as a coach. I realized these young men cared about the game as much as I did. Now don’t take this wrong. Most of the players I had the pleasure to coach cared a great deal. But coaches know, we carry it, wear it, live it, breathe it…it’s hard to describe. In fact, in that moment, I had to acknowledge an unthinkable realization; our players carried a higher expectation for the tournament that year than I did. I was simply content to get the monkey off my back and make it to the tournament. Our players realized that we were the best 5A team in Kansas. Their expectation was to win it.
In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author John Maxwell describes a leadership principal: an organization cannot exceed the abilities and expectations of its leader. He calls it “The Law of the Lid”. The team cannot rise above a level of its “lid”, its coach or leader. That year I determined this would never happen again to any team I coached, or subsequently, in a building I led.
The ’88 team taught me a lot about coaching but nothing greater than the concept of having lofty goals, setting expectations high enough to stretch every member of the team, and to never be satisfied with anything short of that.
Sharing this experience about the 1988 team inspired a devotional thought. There was an old song my mom listened to on the old turntable called “How Big is God” (Bill Cobb, Mid-America Nazarene College circa 1974). Writing this blog entry while looking out into the vastness over the airplane wing on a recent flight to Anaheim, CA the song popped into my head, “How big is God, how big and wide this vast domain. To try to tell, these lips could only start. He’s big enough to build this mighty universe, yet small enough to live within my heart”. I don’t know why I tied this to basketball and coaching, but here is the comparison. In 1988, as a coach, I learned I would never think too small, expect too little, I would constantly be raising my lid and pushing my kids to rise to that level. However, too often I have found myself as a Christ follower falling short of these very ideals in my relationship with God. How big is God? I can’t even begin to tell, but, I have such low expectations for Him and what he is going to do in my life, in my work, with my family. How big is God? I can’t even begin to tell, but I fail to trust Him in circumstances that are so easy for Him despite how overwhelming they seem for me. A familiar scripture, Romans 8:28 says, “For God is causing all things to work for good to those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.” Pause and think about that for just a minute. 7 billion humans, though not all love Him, the mathematical complexity and impossibility of His “causing all things to work for good” is mind boggling. How big is God?
Is He big enough to fulfill Romans 8:28? And, if so, He’s “got” every circumstance! We cannot rise beyond the “lid” of His mercy, grace, and leadership.