On our high school football kick off team we learned the meaning of the word “proximity”. Our coach looked at the eleven players spread from sideline to sideline and told us, “See where you are. As you run down the field stay together, but keep your proximity to each other. Stay in your lane. We will cover the whole field and not give the ball carrier anywhere to go. We will be successful by staying connected as a team, but keeping our distance.” Proximity is a good thing.
When I became a coach, I taught my youth soccer team the same concept. Spread the field. Keep your spacing. Don’t get too close to each other. Spacing is critical to success in basketball, as well – on both ends of the court.
For years we have been taught this principle. Play your position. Stay at home. This idea has helped us move the soccer ball down the pitch and to stop a bootleg on the football field.
Today this concept has become a matter of life and death. Doctors and scientists tell us to stay at home. Stay at least six feet apart. Keep your proximity to each other. That is how we will stop the spread of the coronavirus. That is how we will win together.
When Everyone Follows the Rules
But, like a football or soccer team, it only works when everyone plays by the rules. When one player on the kickoff team leaves his spot, a hole opens for the kick returner. When the defensive end doesn’t “stay at home” the speedy receiver runs past him on a reverse. Soccer defenders who leave their positions expose the goalie to potential scoring shots.
In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum reminded us of simple rules. He said, “Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile of Sunday school. Among his lessons were: play fair, clean up your own mess, wash your hands, when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, … and stick together. Follow the simple rules and we can solve most of life’s problems.
When I led a micro soccer team for the first time, I experienced first hand how following rules makes a difference. Focused on teaching soccer skills to young kids, I asked the players to line up. They all did and we learned about passing the ball. When it came time for our devotional, I asked them to sit in a circle. They all did and we talked about supporting each other. When I asked them to be quiet as I spoke, they all did; and they heard a bit of wisdom from their coach. They all followed the rules they had learned in kindergarten, so I was able to teach them how to play soccer. On game day, we were successful together.
Since then, I have been forever grateful to the kindergarten teachers who impart those basic rules and I marvel at the way they prepare us all to learn and play together the rest of our lives.
Today, we need to remember what those extraordinary kindergarten teachers taught us. Get in line when you are told. Stay in your place. Keep your hands to yourself.
As I have continued my daily run on the sidewalks near my home, I see walkers and runners recalling the rules they have known since childhood. Like approaching hikers on a narrow mountain trail, others look ahead for places to step aside, so everyone can pass safely. As we step aside, we look at each other, smile and even wave. Age old rules of courtesy, compassion and respect.
Stay Together While We Are Apart
In these unique circumstances, it is sometimes difficult to follow the rules. So we need to remember another principle of teamwork. Like good team mates, we need the assurance that we are still connected, even while others “stay at home”. We need to talk.
This week I talked with two good friends as they walked on the far side of our street.
I have called my mother every night as she sits alone in her apartment. I have sent emails to my brothers and “my” dads. We have “Facetimed” with our kids. We have worshipped on line. We have stayed connected despite the distance.
Encourage Each Other
I encourage us all to remember the simple rules we learned in kindergarten and encourage everyone to follow them, too. As dads, now is the time to teach those lessons to our children. Even when the virus fades away, those simple rules can benefit us all. On the football field, the basketball court or in our relationships with others, proximity is a good thing.
Wash your hands. Stay in your own space. Only take what you really need. Care about each other – even while we are apart.