had an expression which he loved to use when talking about ability: learn
what you could do “on a continuing basis.” That is, what you could reliably
do over and over again. These were your strengths, and you could trust
them. They were the foundation on which you could build.
especially came home to me my senior year in high school. I was on the
basketball team, and I was a pretty good player. I was what you would call
a “hustle” player. I always hustled – during warm-ups, during scrimmages,
during sprints at the end of practice… I hustled at everything.
It was the way I could excel. I wasn’t a big guy, but I could out-work
anyone in the known universe.
senior season started out well. In fact, in my second game I scored a career-high
22 points. It was funny because Dad was at the game, but he walked out
to get a drink during a two minute stretch in which I scored 8 points.
In fact, I scored 6 points in less than 10 seconds on the game clock. I
drove to the basket and scored. I started back down the court, feigning
like I wasn’t looking, then suddenly came back, intercepted the in-bounds
pass and laid the ball in. Then I headed back down the court and said to
myself, “Heck, let’s try that again.” I did it again, and to my shock it
worked! I intercepted the pass, got fouled as I shot, and made the free
Dad happened to miss the whole thing. The next day the sports section of
the paper said “Pioneer Defeats Trenton – Ted Kennedy leads the way.” Dad
saw it and said, “You played okay, but it wasn’t that good.” I told him
it was probably because of the flurry of points I got right at the beginning
of the fourth quarter, to which he said, “What flurry?” We pieced together
the fact that he had missed my big moment and had a laugh together about
the whole thing.
Dad jumped right in to help me keep my sense of perspective. “You know,
you played a good game last night, but you’re not really that good. Don’t
expect to do that every game.” Well I was a bit offended at this. It seemed
to me like my Dad should be the one saying stuff like “Keep up the good
work – you can play like that all the time,” and here he was saying that
I shouldn’t expect to do it regularly.
talked this through, and he clarified what he wanted me to understand:
I was a good basketball player, and there were a lot of things I could
do, but I wasn’t a great player. I needed to have a realistic assessment
of my abilities. If I thought that the way I performed in my best game
was the way I could play all the time, I was setting myself up for failure.
If my best game was “normal,” then every other game was a failure.
wasn’t an easy thing for me to hear, especially after my best game. I wish
I had been more open to what Dad was trying to teach me right then. I did
learn the lesson, and it helped me play better, but I didn’t learn it right
away. I still had the lingering thought that I really was as good as my
best game – which made subsequent games not very satisfying.
that season, Dad pulled me aside. “You know,” he said, “you’re too concerned
about playing perfect basketball. Every time you make a mistake, you say
to yourself, ‘well, I won’t ever do that again.’ By the end of the
season, you’re only going to have one move left! Don’t expect yourself
to play perfectly, and don’t expect every game to be your best. When you
play great games, have fun, but don’t burden yourself by expecting that
you should do that all the time. If you do, everything short of your very
best will be a failure – and that means most of your life will be a failure.”
took the advice to heart. For the rest of the season I worried less about
my mistakes and stopped trying to play the perfect game. I learned to trust
the things I could do “on a continuing basis.” I accepted the occasional
great plays as something that happened from time to time, but didn’t get
down on myself when they didn’t happen consistently.
real payoff was in that spring during tennis season. I decided I would
incorporate Dad’s philosophy right from the start of the season. I knew
the things I could do well, and I trusted those. I modified my game to
not be as flashy, but to be steadier: a slower spin serve instead of a
smashing flat serve; rushing the net more often to take advantage of my
volleying ability, and so on. And I played the best tennis of my life.
Our team ended up second in the state, and I made it to the quarter-finals
in doubles. And through the whole thing I was much more relaxed and self-aware.
I knew what I could do consistently, and where I was weak. I played to
my strengths and built on them. I knew I wasn’t the greatest player out
there, but I was confident in what I could do, and I had a lot of fun with
the occasional great shot.
had taught me how to trust my strengths, know my limits, play my best,
and be content with the outcome.
2011 Ted Kennedy III
||Ted Kennedy is a member of the Servants
of the Word, an ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the
Lord. He is steward and trainer for the Servants of the Word international
formation house in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Ted is a vice president at
Service Brands International, a franchising company headquartered in Ann
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