Gabriel recently joined an AAU basketball team.  Three nights per week he is eager to make the 30 minute trip south to 8 Mile Road for practice.  This is the first time Craig hasn’t coached one of Gabe’s teams.  He is learning how it feels to be just another player on the team.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.

This is the first team Gabe has been on without being one of the best players.  He is learning what it feels like to support his team from a hard seat on the bench.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.

Gabe is used to playing with confidence.  Now he is nervous and flustered when the ball comes to him.  He is learning to cope with the anxiety that goes along with being benched if he makes a mistake.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.

This is the first time we’ve had to fight with Gabe to prioritize his homework over basketball.  He is outside shooting and dribbling every chance he can get.  He is driven to get better – he wants off that bench.  He is learning to work hard to get to where he wants to go.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.  

Gabe is used to being the leader of a team.  Now he has no choice but to follow the examples set by the stronger players.  He has to prove his worth before they will accept him as a leader.  He is learning there is value in being a good follower.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.

Tonight there are 15 kids at practice.  Gabe is the only white boy on the court.  There are other white boys on the roster, but they are the minority by far.  Coach just called him Adam – another white boy on the team.  I chuckle as I wonder facetiously if all white people look alike?  Gabe is learning what it feels like to be different because of the way he looks.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.

A few weeks ago they participated in the LeBron James Shooting Stars tournament in Akron, Ohio.  Gabe was ecstatic when they won the opportunity to play on LeBron’s high school court  – the court where the dreams of his idol came true.  When his team got slaughtered by 30 points, his own dream of winning on the court King James made famous was shattered.   He is learning how devastating it feels to lose in the moments when only winning counts.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.

The team that beat them in their final game flew in from California.  He was intimidated by their fancy uniforms, full warm-ups and matching duffle bags.  His team wears mismatched uniforms straight from a sweaty duffle bag that Coach carries with him to be sure that none go missing.  Gabe is not used to having less than the other kids.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.

Every night after practice, we ask him if he’s still having fun.  He assures us that he is.  We hug him tightly and tell him we are proud of his work ethic and positive attitude.  He is learning that we love him because of his heart, not because of his statistics.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.

Gabe is becoming a better basketball player at each and every practice.  More importantly though, he is becoming a stronger, more well-rounded individual.  He is learning empathy.  He is learning patience.  He is learning the value of hard work, commitment and dedication.  All of this is happening because he is learning how to struggle.

The shoe is on the other foot.  It is good for him.