It’s an exercise that came up with my family – a question that you have to really think about before you offer an answer.
What do you know?
It was a question asked in search of something more in depth than “Well, I know it’s Thursday.” Besides, until I have my second cup of coffee, I’m not even certain of that.
Certainty is a high bar, and while there are things in life that I know, what is more important to the way I interact with the world is a slightly different version of that question. What do you believe? Really believe – believe without a shadow of a doubt?
That’s a list that takes you into more territory.
The list says a lot about who we are.
Me? I believe in deadlines. I especially believe in the painful, whizzing sound they make as they go flying past.
I keep thinking about watching Gonzaga playing Duke in the final game of the Maui Invitational and watching Zach Norvell Jr. fire in a clutch 3-pointer. Every fiber of his being said, from the moment the pass started his way, screamed that this shot was going down. His shot went up in one fluid motion and his shooting hand remained at the apex, a flag he planted on the court that announced that “this spot is mine!”
I wish I could know what that feels like, to put up a shot and know it’s destined for the bottom of the net at a time when the team needs it more than anything in the world. What does it feel like to come through in the clutch on a stage of that magnitude? What is it like to believe in yourself so strongly that you cross over from belief to dead-certain knowledge?
You see confidence brimming out of shooters all the time. They need it to survive outside the 3-point line, where the game hinges on their ability to stretch a defense.
Sometimes it’s just wry smile that says “I got this.” Other times it’s just in the way a player carries themselves.
I still remember Almira scoring great Kari McKay in one of her first State B games at Spokane Falls Community College. She was a youngster and came off the bench to knock down shot after shot. She wore her hair short in a cut that reminded me then of the face on the Peter Pan peanut butter jar, and the way she ran up and down the court, so full of confidence, that she reminded me of Errol Flynn playing Robin Hood in the movies.
Confident? Absolutely. Stylish? Definitely. Cocky? Not in the slightest.
You often see the great shooters knock down trey after trey – growing more and more confident with each made basket. You also see them launch brick after brick, but with the great ones, it never erodes their confidence. Extreme confidence can survive a little negative feedback.
Confidence often lends itself to cockiness, but they are not the same thing.
There are times when you must act as if you are confident because the people around you are counting on you. That’s where the adage “fake it until you make it” comes into the picture.
One of the things I have come to know, having seen it in action many times, is the incredible gift having confidence in the people around you can have.
I often think that, in addition to those three little words that work amazing magic in our lives, “I love you,” there are four words that can make all the difference, too: “I believe in you.”
That’s the secret of great coaches and mentors.
Yes, they teach. But where they find a fertile place, they plant the seeds of self-confidence that you can watch grow.
One of the best at that was the late boxing coach, Dan Vassar.
Dan coached at the highest levels of his sport, taking teams representing the United States around the world. But what I loved most was watching him work with youngsters at the Spokane Eagles boxing club.
I cannot tell you how many times I saw this big man get down on his knees to look one of his boxers in the eye. He never seemed to yell or be overly forceful in what he would tell them during a match. Instead, he used a quiet voice to nurture and grow what his charges needed to find inside themselves.
And I saw it pay immediate dividends.
Gonzaga Prep point guard Jake Parola talked about what it was like to go into the halftime locker room of the state championship basketball game down by nine points.
The Bullpups had finished third the previous two state tournaments, meaning they had lost one game shy of reaching the title game. They came into the game, he explained, determined to win it all if they got to that game.
But trailing by nine points had muddied the waters of that sea of self-confidence.
And then coach Matty McIntyre walked in.
“He said, ‘Believe me. We are going to go out there in the second half, and we’re going to win this game.’” Parola recalled. “Oh, man. That just fired us all up. It was exactly what we needed to hear.”
Prep wasted little time taking control of the game and completed a 27-0 season, bringing home the big gold ball that goes with winning a state championship.
It’s a fascinating phenomenon.
There is an exact moment when a deep-seeded belief begins to falter and a simple act can, not just reinforce it, but unleash it.
The words “I believe in you” are powerful. They’re not just a balm for a wounded soul, but a magic potion that can change us for the better.
It’s a gift.
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