March Madness is upon us and if you are a college basketball fan there is nothing better than the NCAA basketball tournament.  This year there have already been some “white knuckle” games decided by shots made with just a second or two left in the game and teams that statistically should not have won, but did.  Basketball, like most sports, has an abundance of statistics associated with the game, including field goal percentage, three point shot percentage plus statistics on blocked shots, steals, points in the paint, bench points, rebounds, and free throws..

One of my favorite statistics is for something called assists and I believe it has something to teach us about wellness.  In case you are not a fan of the game, a player receives credit for an assist when a pass is made that directly contributes to a made shot by another player.  Players that consistently have a high number of assists in a game are unselfish players because rather than always looking for the shot themselves, they pass the ball to a teammate so that he or she can score.  The parallel here is that one clear sign of spiritual and relational wellness is the willingness to assist others rather than needing to keep the focus on one’s self.
The players that score the most in basketball get the most attention, while the players who make the most assists often go unnoticed and unrecognized.  This is not just true in basketball, it’s true in life as well.   The nursery school teacher, the nurse’s aide, the person who serves as a caretaker for a friend or family member, the clergy person or social worker, the others who put in long days for little pay to care for those in need, the community organizer who works to create more housing for the poor, and the domestic violence hotline counselor are just a few examples of the “assist” leaders amongst us. These people unfortunately often go unnoticed and unrecognized.
I spent many years coaching youth soccer, a sport that also has assists..  After every game the other coaches and myself made it a practice to single out and celebrate the players that had made assists that day.  Those who had scored the goals had already received more than enough recognition.  In soccer when a player scores the entire team runs to surround and congratulate the player.  There is no such recognition if there is a  player who made the assist that helped the player to score.  This player usually goes unnoticed and unrecognized by the normal observer.
The lesson for me in all of this is two fold.  First, I need to always be looking around to see who I can pass the ball to.  In this case the “ball” may be a compliment, an expression of gratitude, or a hand up to someone in need.  Second, I need to make a special effort to appreciate and acknowledge others when I see them making an assist–whether that assist directly benefits me or someone else.  There is probably an assist maker in each of our lives who could use a little encouragement and appreciation right now.

So if you are a college basketball fan, enjoy the games the next few weeks.  Root hard for your favorite team.  Root hard for the underdogs along with the teams you picked to go far in your brackets.  And root hard for the assist leaders, too, because in the end, we can’t win without them.

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