Tag Archives: free throws

time to learn again

I stood at the free throw line, close to tears. All it was going to take was a couple dribbles and then a shot. And for a moment, I just couldn’t do it.

I wish that I was talking about some grades school experience. But I’m not. That little experience happened this week. I was standing in a gym, one other person in the room. Absolutely no pressure, no risk, nothing to fear. Nothing but my own fear of messing up.

Deliberate Practice in practice

I’ve written about deliberate practice before. It’s one of my words for the year. Let’s see if I can explain it simply. Assume that there is something that you are good at. If practice is repeated activity in what you are good at, deliberate practice is focusing those repetitions on the weakest part of what you are good at.

If you are  a great golfer, practice is playing extra rounds. Deliberate practice is working on the most difficult shots. If you are a writer, practice is writing a lot. Deliberate practice is writing sonnets if you regularly do prose so that you work on maximum impact from minimum syllables.

My challenge is to bring that level of intentional learning into spiritual formation, helping people learn how to follow Jesus.

So what does this have to do with basketball?

Last night, Greg wanted to talk with me. He’s working with a new group at church and we’re talking about how to approach it best. I had to take care of a few things and he waited for me in the gym. Shooting baskets. I walked in, took a couple shots, and realized that I needed to learn from Greg.

(A year ago I tried shooting baskets. It was a miserable experience. It was time to try it a different way.)

So here’s what I learned last night.

1. I had to decide to learn to learn. I could have continued not knowing how to shoot baskets. However, for some reason, I decided that now was the time to change that. It was tough. There were a million other things to do. But I decided.

2. I had to let Greg be smarter than me. I’ve known Greg for more than twenty years. When we met, he was a college student and I was a faculty member. We went different ways and now we are at the same church. He’s working on a teaching degree. I’ve taught, one way or another, for years. Neither of us are smarter than each other. However, last night I had to acknowledge that this former student knew more than I did about shooting baskets.

There is a humility that is necessary for learning. First, there is a vague sense of “I need to learn.” After that, however, comes “you know more than me.” The first can happen in my head. The second involves my body.

3. I had to look foolish. When Greg watched my shooting, he quickly diagnosed the problem. I was doing a shot put. I was shoving the ball toward the basket. Instead, Greg said, use your wrist.

In order to find out what that felt like, I had to stand in the gym holding my arm in the air, practicing the motion. I had to stand near the wall, practicing the motion with a ball. I had to stand at the free throw line, practicing the motion and then practicing with a ball.

For someone who is not an athlete, trying to train my arm was hilarious.

4. It’s hard to learn. Now we’re back to the beginning of this story. After we had been shooting for awhile, after a lot of coaching and demonstrating, I stood at the line. I dribbled. I lifted the ball to shoot. I put it down. I practiced the motion. I lifted the ball again. I wanted to walk away. I couldn’t.

I realized standing there that this wasn’t about shooting a basket. This was about whether I was willing to try something that I couldn’t do. This was about whether I was willing to commit to learning how to shoot, no matter what.

This was about whether I was ready to learn a new lesson about learning.

And I was feeling tears of frustration and tears of joy. I don’t remember the last time that I said, “I just have to learn this.” And it was hard.


Deliberate practice is about improving process, about how we go about doing what we are doing. I only made a couple baskets last night. In fact, my percentage of completion was worse than it had been last year when I was shooting 50 baskets.  However, I made a significant change in the process of shooting.

I’ll let you know more about how much I improve at making baskets. I think I just let you know how I’m improving at learning.


Good intentions.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about shooting free throws. I talked about how I had shot free throws for the first time in several years. I talked about how my little fingers hurt. I revealed that I had made about 3 of the 25 shots I took.

I’ve been back to the gym several times. I decided that shooting free throws was an important thing to do. It would make me a better person. It would strengthen me. It would help me accomplish something. So I set a goal of shooting 50 free throws a day.

I’ve shot 50 free throws at a time eight times in the past three weeks. That’s pretty good for starting out, right? I mean, I know I should be there every day, but I figure I need to start somewhere.

I’ve ranged from 3 out of fifty to 12 out of fifty. I was doing better early, but for the past two days I’ve been making three. I’m not trying to miss. Every shot I try to hit. But I seem to be doing worse.

I know that I could ask for help. I know that there are tremendous resources available, that there are people around here that I could ask. But there is something about asking for help to do something that I could do when I was ten that just seems, well, humiliating.

Besides, I should be able to just do this. It’s a simple shot (why do you think they call them free?). Oh wait. Even good players have a hard time with this. I mean, Shaq. So why should I bother? If someone really good can’t do well, why should I spend any time on this at all?

But I know that the routine is good for me. I know that I ought to be able to follow through on a commitment. I know that someday this might make sense. Someday I might figure out the right combination of hands and eyes and feet. In fact, if I took notes on what works, if I thought through what happened each time it worked, I might learn something.

But for now, I’ll just keep tossing the ball toward the basket fifty times a day and feeling frustrated.

And someone reading this post will offer me a suggestion of how to understand how that effort can be more effective. And I’ll say, “that’s okay, I’m living out a spiritual metaphor.”

little fingers.

My little fingers hurt.

It is a completely unexpected pain.  All I did was walk into an empty gym and pick up a basketball and start shooting from the free throw line. I took about 25 shots. I made about 3 shots. And…

my little fingers hurt.

It’s been many years since I took that many shots in a row. I’m not an athlete. And I don’t like to look like a failure. As a result, although I’ve had access to a gym every day for the past, well, for most of the past forty-five years, I haven’t walked in and taken 25 shots in a row for a long time.

Why did I try it today? I think it was because I wanted to find out what it would feel like to decide to do something outside my normal routine, something that other people have worked to make routine. (Okay, truth in advertising. I walked in, and then decided to try shooting, and then, when I missed the first 4 shots, decided to try several in a row. So it was an emerging decision.) There are people who have decided to work on free throws as an important part of their lives. Some are kids wanting to find a niche in the game. Some are pros who are tired of failing when they get to the free throw line. Some are people who just want to set some record for the most free throws in a row.

(My little fingers still hurt.)

Consistency is one of my three words for this year. And I don’t think of myself as a very consistent person. In truth this means that I’m not consistent about the things I would like to be consistent about. I’d love to be consistent about a to do list, or about a morning routine that is productive or about following through on tasks. I’d love to be consistent about reading my Bible or about emailing friends and family encouraging words or about eating wisely.

On the other hand, I realize that I am probably consistent about showing grace and about checking email and about laughing. I am consistent about walking with Nancy. And I realize that being consistent about some of the other things means remembering and believing that they are important. Important enough to keep doing even when…

my little fingers hurt.