One basketball game changed my entire life.
It wasn’t even a championship game or a game that anybody else would remember. When it happened, I had no idea what it would mean for my future.
It was my sophomore year, and I was on the JV team at Southmont. I was a skinny late-bloomer kind of kid, and didn’t have much confidence. When I was given the opportunity to start, I didn’t take advantage of it. And then came the one night that changed it all.
I was trying to guard the other team’s best player. Try is the key word. I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn on offense and couldn’t guard anybody on defense, which isn’t a great combination. Shout-out to Coach (Dan) Chadd who was the JV coach at the time. Coach Chadd took me out of the game, and naturally, wasn’t pleased with how I was playing. And because I was one of those 15-year-olds who thought I knew everything, I ran my mouth at the coach and only made things worse.
I sat down at the end of the bench and thought, “My basketball career is not looking great.” I couldn’t have predicted what happened next. Not even two minutes later, Coach Chadd came back over to me and put me back in the game. I thought, “Seriously? You want me back in the game? I’m playing like trash, and I just mouthed off to you. Were you trying to point to somebody else?”
Adrenaline can be a wonderful thing. My blood was boiling from what had just happened. I was mad at the whole situation. As it turns out, this emotional intensity was exactly what I needed.
I ended up playing the best half of basketball I had ever played up until then. From that point on and for the rest of the season, I had a newfound confidence. I started playing up to my capabilities. I started playing with aggression. I played so well that by the end of my sophomore year, I started dressing for varsity. I then played varsity my junior and senior years and then had a chance to play in college.
But this story is not about any basketball accomplishments. It’s about what happened next.
When I finished high school, my plan was to go into sports broadcasting and major in mass communication. I went to Indiana State my first year but felt like God was calling me elsewhere. I was really missing basketball, and Lincoln Christian University had some interest in me as a student-athlete. I decided to visit and try out for the team.
Lincoln had a communication studies degree program, so it seemed like the perfect fit. I decided to transfer so I could lace ‘em up once again. After one year at Lincoln, I got a phone call from a local church (Whitesville) asking if I would consider starting a youth group for them. It was supposed to just be a summer job in the summer of 2005. Here we are in 2023.. and I haven’t stopped doing youth ministry ever since.
Let me break it down like this: The only reason I got into youth ministry was because I went to Lincoln. The only reason I went to that college was because of basketball. And the only reason I was good enough in basketball was because of what started one night as a 15-year-old JV basketball player. I still tell people to this day: if it wasn’t for that one game, I have no idea where I would be today. No basketball = No Christian college. No Christian college = No youth ministry career.
Maybe the best part of this story is what God taught me years later. Looking back, I realized that what my coach did that night is exactly what God does in our lives. When we’ve screwed up in life, when things aren’t going as planned, when we “talk back” to Him like a bunch of know-it-alls, He doesn’t just leave us on the bench. He comes right back over to us and puts us back in the game.
I don’t believe sports should be anyone’s entire life. But I do believe sports can be a massive part of your life. For me, this is just one of many stories of how sports have taught me, shaped me, or brought me to new places. You never know what even one game can mean.
(Read more about this story and other in Tyler’s book “Searching for Seven.” For more, check out SearchingForSeven.com)
Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosiers for IndySportsLegends and is a frequent contributor to the Journal Review and is the sports director at New Hope Christian Church.
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