This week’s blog is written by ‘local’ coach Patrick Harley. Patrick is a native of east Tennessee and recent graduate of Auburn University. He came to Belfast in September through the Young Adult Volunteer Program, a year-long program through the Presbyterian Church (USA). His primary placement is at Dundonald Methodist Church and with the Dundonald Family and Community Initiative in east Belfast. Patrick started coaching with PeacePlayers in February, and has gotten even more involved over the past few weeks in the office. At the end of July, Patrick will return to the states and begin studying for a Master’s Degree at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.
I’ve found that the feeling of excitement is often accompanied by a healthy dose of anxiety. When I think back to those times I’ve gone to a gym for some pickup basketball, I first recall walking into the gym quiet and apprehensive, so aware of my own insecurities that I can’t help but wonder if they’re listed on my hoodie, displayed for everyone to see. I scan the gym, sizing up potential teammates and competition, hoping that my skills don’t shove me to the bottom of the totem pole. Introductions are made, teams formed, hands shook, and suddenly the pickup game rolls to a start, gradually building momentum. I loosen up, but not just physically. I mean, sure, my legs are feeling better, I’m shooting fewer airballs, and my defense is tighter. But the real change is in the chemistry of the team. In a short time, we have learned each other’s tendencies and go-to moves, strengths and weaknesses. We’ve each only said a couple words to each other, but somehow this organic team connection has formed. At the end, win or loose, we shake hands, bump fists, or throw high-fives and say, “Good game.”
This phenomenon, the basketball-induced evolution from anxiety to chemistry, took place during my first PeacePlayers experience in February. It was the second session of a Twinning between P7s from St. Clare’s Primary and Carr’s Glen Primary, and most, if not all of these kids, had gone through PeacePlayers last year with the same class from the other school. However, there was still a bit of the excitement/anxiety bug at the beginning of the session. But the kids loosened up. Each week they started to come more and more out of their shells, being more and more comfortable in their athletic abilities, their role as a teammate, and themselves.
At the seventh and final session of this Twinning, I said goodbye to my team, the Dorito Dogs, thankful for the opportunity I had to be a coach. Then I looked around the gym as the kids filed out the double-doors, observing their interactions. So much growth had taken place. Just a couple months ago it was a task to get some of the kids to mingle with one another and to simply stand in a line between teammates from the other school. But now they’ve loosened up. They’ve spent several weeks making good shots, inside jokes, and friends.
The Carr’s Glen/St. Clare’s Twinning was a blast, full of fun and enthusiasm. And even more, there was growth, not just among the kids, but in me as well. Through my Dorito Dogs I learned about Northern Ireland’s culture, the dynamics of primary education in this context, and how to not sound “too American” when I ramble off some Belfast slang. Funny, that something as simple as basketball, can take a group of strangers and mold them into team. Of course, sometimes the team has a few too many tallies in the loss column, poor rebounding stats, and an odd name like “Hairy Hoop Babies” or “Gummy Zombies,” but they’re one team nonetheless.