I hadn’t spoken to Loretta in what felt like ten years. I hadn’t played basketball with her…well let’s just say, in a very, very long time. So, when she called out of the blue and asked me to join a new women’s basketball league at a local park district in Chicago, I responded with a stammering “ok” that likely communicated equal amounts of excitement and terror.

On that first Wednesday night, my future teammates filed in, and we gently probed to find out if the other was playing for the local sports bar, Gio’s, who was sponsoring our team. Our team is called Gio’s Gals. We are women who range in age from our 20’s to our 50’s. We are a diverse group of professionals pursuing careers that range from forensics, restaurant management, executive consulting, sales to nursing. Some of us are moms and some of us are not. All of us have played the game at some time or another (mostly over 20 years ago!) and thought it would be fun to jump back in, get some exercise, meet new people and feel the competitive juices flowing again in our veins. We, of course, underestimated how sore, bruised and battered we would be.
We are rusty, but committed. We are older, but wiser. We are learning, growing and getting better with each game we play.
Because of the time constraints and responsibilities that come with being grown ups, we need to show up for games with no practice in between. We are playing women younger and more experienced. Not the best formula for a winning season yet it has afforded us all an opportunity to get back in touch with the athlete in us, challenge ourselves physically and be reminded of the lessons that accompany any well functioning team.
On Wednesday nights, whether before or after the games, my teammates – Katie, Loretta, Maggie, Misti, Bri, Michelle, Nikki, Jen, Cinnamon, Elizabeth and I – reflect on the game and life in general. I think we are all reminded of what we gained by playing on sports team in our youth. There were lessons then and we are reminded of them again. Here is the mid-season report:
·      Everyone has their strengths, everyone has a role
o   Learn to appreciate the talents each person contributes to the overall well-being and effectiveness of the team.
·      Nothing trumps how great it feels to be cheered on by your teammates
o   There is nothing so energizing and motivating as a high five from a teammate after a good pass or shot made – or simply words of encouragement after an effort made.
·      Challenging and learning from each other is key to growth
o   When you create a safe supportive team environment there is ease around direct feedback and suggestions as we all have the same goal.
·      Learning to accept defeat and still come back fighting
o   The final score is direct and unflinching. You either won or lost. Discovering how to graciously acknowledge a win is one thing…managing the “agony of defeat” is another. The ability to do that well comes from the collective will of the group to leapfrog over the defeat and immediately start focusing on how to improve for the next game. Katie reflected, “I like to win but what matters to me more today is the overall improvement of the team, rather than the individual win.”
·      Pass and Shoot – finding the balance
o   Discovering the balance between taking the lead and supporting is essential for any team. Recognizing the balance between strategic and generous passing and having the confidence and will to take the shot when you are open is crucial to success. As Misti shared, “with age comes the wisdom to play seeing the big picture offensively and knowing what matters is to get the ball in the hands of the most well positioned player.”
·      Play Hard, Have Fun…remember it’s a game
o   There is nothing so gratifying as giving the game all you’ve got and having fun doing it. We’ve found we need to remind each other when we are frustrated and down to find the joy even in that valley. After a recent loss, two of my teammates approached members of the opposing team who had been particularly aggressive on the court. Within minutes they were laughing together and had swapped stories. The tension lifted and new possibilities were presented. The found similarities rather than differences.
These lessons hold themes that apply not only to sports but to work and family as well. I am grateful to have the chance to revisit these lessons so vividly on the court with Gio’s Gals. During this season when we give thanks and appreciation – I say, “Thanks Team.”