Sweet, Sweet, Sweets…A Struggling Teenager on the Brink

By June 15, 2017 No Comments

My self-confidence is rooted in my success. My success has come from focused work and discipline. However, I am not always as confident nor disciplined as I appear.

When I was 14, I was neither confident nor disciplined, and I felt like a total failure.

At 6 years old I was in Sports Illustrated magazine . It was a unique and spectacular situation for a little kid. I was asked to do interviews with local publications, my pictures were taken, and my ego inflated.

I was fortunate to be born with natural athletic abilities. My father recognized my natural talents at an early age and pushed me to practice baseball, soccer and maintain fitness daily. Consistent practice, especially in my youth, elevated my status to a very good performer. I made all-star teams, the best soccer teams, and I played with boys older than me on a regular basis.

Although I was smart enough to get good grades, I always felt like the bad kid in school. At one point, my grandmother proudly (almost) remarked, “You are either going to be President or in prison!” While neither is true, her proclamation left a tattoo.

In school, I was active, impatient, and did not listen or follow directions. I did not try to be “bad,” but my impatience and energy showed with my teachers. I was quickly labeled an athlete, not a scholar.

Fast forward to 8th grade at Earl Warren Junior High. I was 13, and just 5 feet tall. My voice still resembled Mickey Mouse, and I weighed just 85 pounds. **To put this in perspective, my 9 year old daughter weighs nearly 85 pounds and is 4 ft 11 inches tall.

While I had never been an excellent basketball player, I always made the local or school teams, because of my speed and quickness. 8th grade was different, and The Earl Warren basketball team tryouts proved to be a pivotal moment in my personal development.

I had made the 7th grade team the year before, and I expected to be on the 8th grade team. On the day of the tryouts, 80 boys showed up to try out for 12 spots. There was no “B” team, and I was either going to make the team or I would be cut. After three days of tryouts, the names of the boys who made the team were posted outside the cafeteria.

My name was not on the list. I had been cut. This felt like the biggest failure in my life.

I immediately searched for blame, and I blamed my failure on two things:

1. I was too small. Our starting five players in 8th grade were all over 6 feet tall. Our point guard was 6’1 and already shaving. The power forwards were both 6’3, and Earl Warren Jr. High had two twins playing center who were already 6’ 5 inches tall. I was still a little kid, and felt I could not adequately compete with these grown men.

2. I had not practiced enough, and frankly, I was not good enough.

I went home angry….really angry. The anger quickly turned to motivation. I grabbed the basketball from my garage, dribbled it across the street, dribbled it through the gate and over the grass. I dribbled the basketball on to the asphalt playground, and I did not stop dribbling until I took my first shot. I dribbled the basketball everywhere, and I shot baskets every free moment I had.

I was determined not to be embarrassed again. Slowly, I would play one on one with neighborhood kids, and I got better. I ended each basketball session with 100 free throws, and I got better. I tested myself against some of the better kids at school, and I got better.

My most proud moment came at the end of the school year.  The teachers were tired, and our PE (Physical Education) hour had turned into a free for all. I quickly grabbed a basketball and headed for the concrete courts. While shooting by myself, I was being teased by the point guard. I challenged him to a game of one on one. It was a very close game, but I beat him 15-13 (we played to 11, but you had to win by two points). I am certain he does not remember this game. I am doubtful that he remembers me. I don’t remember his name. I do remember his face. I remember the brown stubble and the frustration it wore.

But it wasn’t just basketball. I was slipping in my performance in baseball, soccer, and all other sports. At the end of 8th grade year, I was still tiny, so to earn strength, I went to the one thing I could control – food.

During my junior high years, I ate poorly. My mother made me healthy breakfasts and dinners, but I was a picky eater and rarely ate all the good stuff she prepared, and worse, I decided what to eat during the day. I rode my bike to school, and everyday my mom would give me $1.50 for lunch which included a $.15 cookie.

I took the money, skipped lunch, and bought three cookies. I drank water from the fountain, and I saved the rest of the money. I used the saved money to buy boxes of candy that I then took to school and sold for a small profit. However, I also ate a ton of the candy and, looking back, I was unhealthy.

As I watched my peers sprout all around me, I figured my diet of candy and cookies was probably not helping my basketball game. The day I got cut from 8th grade basketball was the last day I ever ate candy or drank any drinks with caffeine.

After that, I grew 5 inches in one year and 12 inches in 3 years. I put on 40 pounds the first year and nearly doubled my weight in two years. I made my high school varsity basketball team as a freshman. But sadly, those facts aren’t very important.

The valuable lesson was work ethic…the importance of practice. I won a new resolve to be different and not be embarrassed by it. I gained a ton of confidence in my ability to control myself and my performance. I am proud of my early decisions and successes; however, my “all or nothing” mentality produces a lack of balance. I see everything as bilateral, and I lack moderation.

I am in a constant struggle with the discipline of moderation. Black and white is easy for me, and it has provided many valuable life opportunities. However, the black and white (right or wrong) mentality has also hurt my ability to relate to some people. My lens has always been “do or don’t do,” but moderation was a slippery slope to the bad side of town.

Today, as I try to help my daughters learn to respect themselves, develop confidence, and grow into healthy and happy humans, I am opening my mind up to the possibility of moderation….but without being all in on moderation, I am afraid that I might not be very good at it.

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