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Game Changer

Run as fast and as far as you can, throw up your hands, and believe.

I like sports. Always have. One of my first childhood memories is sitting in front of the television in my Dallas Cowboys helmet and shoulder pads, tearing open a package of Ding Dongs, watching the Cowboys play the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. I was five.

In elementary school, every waking hour was spent playing a sport, pretending to play a sport, or dreaming of playing a sport. Football, basketball, baseball, tennis — you name it. I loved it all.

But I was not naturally athletic, and I was a shy, unconfident kid around my peers. I hung out with the “jocks” — Bailey and Preston and Greg and George — and was always a part of their pickup games, but only as a player to fill space. A needed extra, enabling them to have their game that belonged to them. I was one click above background noise. And I quietly wished to be so much more than that.

When I was in the third grade, our PE teacher was a gregarious New Yorker named Coach Fox. Think Tony Danza with a thick 1970’s mustache. He was loud, and always smiling. He had an accent I’d only heard from Vinnie Barbarino on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” One crisp fall day in PE, Coach Fox let us play touch football. No crab-walk relays or push-ups or mindless running. Football! Coach Fox divided us into teams, and took the ball as “all-time quarterback.” It was glorious.

Now, understand, each and every boy on that football field wanted to catch EVERY PASS that Coach Fox threw. When Coach Fox yelled “hike!” every kid — me included — would take four or five steps, stop, turn around, and wave their arms wildly, yelling, “I’M OPEN, I’M OPEN!” And then be disgusted when Coach Fox chose to throw to another, seemingly less-open kid on the other side of the field. We all did the same thing, because that’s what we thought good receivers did: take a few steps, stop, turn around, and wait for the ball to come our way. Coach Fox would look out on a group of kids who, instead of running free, stood staring back at him, flailing their arms and screaming.

As our time in PE was winding down, my team was losing. We needed to score. And I hadn’t caught a pass all day. More than winning, that’s what I wanted: to catch a pass. To contribute. To try, and succeed. To actually do the things on the field I saw myself doing inside my head.

I split out to the right, close to the sideline. I took my stance — leaning slightly forward, with my arms dangling, like Lynn Swann and Drew Pearson did. Coach Fox yelled “hike,” and I took off. I decided I would run a few extra steps this time, before stopping and yelling for the ball. But just before I could stop, I noticed an amazing thing happening: Coach Fox was throwing me the ball! A tight spiral, soaring, moving towards me, but well beyond my reach. I panicked. The ball was well over my head. But instead of stopping, I accelerated. I’d never run so fast in my life, trying desperately to keep my balance as I tracked the ball that seemed destined to land just out of my reach. I couldn’t feel my legs as they whirled beneath me. My heart pounded and my lungs burned. There was nothing else in the entire world I wanted more than to catch that football.

And I did catch it.

In stride, never slowing down. I reached my hands out at the last moment, and the football dropped into them. I tucked it into my elbow, and outraced 23 other third graders to the end zone. I was euphoric.

“Tim Scott!” Coach Fox screamed. “THAT’S how you run a pass route! That’s how it’s done! THAT, boys, is FOOTBALL!”

Coach Fox called everyone together. He explained that I had just demonstrated the perfect example of an NFL wide receiver: Running a route without stopping, believing the quarterback would have the ball in the exact spot at the precise time. Catching the pass, scoring the touchdown. Me. Not Bailey or Preston or Greg or George. Tim.

I remember that play as vividly as if it happened this morning. What I learned from Coach Fox is clearer still.

To spend more time running, and less time stopping and screaming.

To run as fast and as far as I can, throw up my hands, and believe.

To believe in myself.

Whether he realized it or not, Coach Fox recognized and affirmed what I wanted to believe about myself. He gave me new confidence, and hope.

Coach Fox was a game changer for me. He helped me see that I want to spend each day running as fast as I can, as far as I can, throw up my hands, and believe.

I want you to live that way, too. Be strong and courageous.

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