A Little Coach With Lots of Love

The basketball arced, hit the garage door, wobbled toward the hoop, and fell with a thud to the concrete. ''Way to go, Kathy!'' cheered my five-year-old friend Colin. ''You got real close that time.'' He retrieved the ball and graciously gave me another chance before skillfully sending a shot of his own through the basket.

Colin's dad can shoot hoops backward with his eyes closed. His sister, who is my daughter's best friend, makes most shots she tries. My own delicate daughter fearlessly and surely sends the ball spinning, her long hair flying as she runs back to catch the rebound.

In my childhood, I was always the last person chosen when sides were picked for any game. Time and again, it would come down to me and some other uncomfortable, unhappy child who was good at drawing or reading but impossibly awkward on the playing field. We tried not to mind as the team captains bargained, their voices annoyed and disgusted. ''Well, if you'll take Tommy, I guess we'll have to take Kathy.''

The games themselves were agony. ''Please, please,'' I'd say to myself, ''let the ball not come my way. Don't let me make everyone else lose.''

Today the ball comes back to me. My five-year-old friend, who comes up to just above my waist, grins at me. ''Okay, you can do it!'' he says. I throw the ball, and for a long moment it seems to hang in midair. And then, yes, it does go through the hoop. My young friend whoops and cheers, jumps and shouts. ''I knew it!'' he crows triumphantly. I smile back. ''You're a great coach,'' I tell him.

I'd already told him, before we came to this driveway court, how bad I am at games. No one ever wanted me on their team when I was a kid, I told him.

''That's okay,'' he told me. ''Be on my team. We'll just have fun. You don't need to be good.... Come on.''

All afternoon we shoot baskets. He makes a lot of his shots. I make few of mine. It doesn't matter. We are laughing. He cheers every shot I try; I display great admiration for his skill. When his dad comes out to check on things and shows off with a couple of backward, casual, perfect shots, Colin and I are impressed. I miss, again, when my turn comes. Colin cheers anyway, ''Way to go! You really threw it!''

I am still laughing when Colin very seriously tells his father, ''I'm her coach now.'' No one is likely to sign me up for another team; I still miss the easiest shots. I travel, drop the ball, and slip on the concrete. But my coach has taught me well.

There is delight in this game. We're not even keeping track of the score, being too busy laughing and cheering for each other. This team is built of love and friendship. There's no way to lose.

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