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Short Story: Play by Play

Andy raced down the field, reaching up after the basketball. He knew exactly what he was doing–or so he thought. He had read that cutting to the right like this was the right move to make. Yet to his surprise, he saw the basketball sail past him to the left. He had missed the opportunity he’d been waiting for…again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The other players had all filed out of the locker room long ago. Only Andy sat, his head buried in his hands, defeat written in his posture, even if he hid the despair in his eyes and face.

Andy heard his name called–he recognized that voice. It was the voice of a fellow player–Tony. “Hey, Tony,” Andy mumbled, struggling to collect himself. “I thought you’d left with the others.”

Tony gave one of his broad grins. “And so I did–but I realized you weren’t with us and came back. You okay?”

Andy started to nod, then shook his head. “Not really. I just don’t understand. I keep messing up. I just wish I knew where to be when.”

“Sounds to me like you need to talk with the coach,” Tony replied with a knowing smile. “He’ll fix you up right quick. Say, I think he’s in there.”

Andy followed Tony’s finger, which pointed to their coach’s office, located just off the locker room. “Now?” he whispered.

Tony grinned again. “There’s no time like the present.” With that, Tony patted Andy good-naturedly on the shoulder and headed back outside.

Andy knew his friend was right. He needed to talk with the coach. It had been too long since they’d had a really good talk.

To Andy’s surprise, the coach guessed his frustrations and articulated them clearer than even he could. “Andy,” he explained, “you want to know what you’re supposed to do all the time. You want me to lay out for you a game plan for the rest of your career–a rule you can follow about where to be when. Today, for instance, you copied what you had seen another player do in a game, and thought you’d be able to catch the ball.”

“But the game doesn’t work that way. I call the plays one at a time, play by play. Our strategy against one team will be entirely different than against another. And what I want you to do will be different too, although never outside of the bounds of the rulebook. Andy,” the coach paused and looked straight into Andy’s eyes, “it’s your job to read and know what is in the playbook; more importantly, though, you need to listen. The entire game tonight, I was calling out directions–I told you the plays we were running as you needed to know–but your mind was too filled with trying to figure out what to do on your own, and looking at your mistakes, to  listen. There’s no formula you can follow out there on the court–you just need to listen play by play.”

As the coach’s words sank in, a weight fell of Andy’s shoulders. It was the coach’s job to figure out who needed to be where! It was his job just to listen–and obey.

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