EliAbout 8 years ago, when I was coaching our son’s 13 year old rec basketball team, we had a kid, Jessup, on the team who had obviously never played basketball. Worse, his body language told me that he had no interest in playing basketball. I judged the kid quickly, and harshly. As a coach, I was required to play everyone a minimum of two full, uninterrupted quarters (at least half the game). So, every game, in the first and third quarter, I would put Jessup in and hold my breath. We played an aggressive, press defense, and it required that all five of our players relentlessly chase the guys they were guarding around the court. Their goal was simple — don’t let your guy catch the ball.

Jessup had no real shot at completing this task. He didn’t have the physical ability or stamina to keep up with his peers in sports that required running. In addition, he didn’t seem all that interested. As the season went along, I was able to “hide” Jessup effectively, so as not to disrupt the momentum of our otherwise pretty good little team. A few times, late in the game, when we were blowing out the other team, I even put Jessup back in to get him a shot at the basket. I think he may have even made one. I’m such a nice guy.

I was quick to notice Jessup’s lack of talent and (apparent) lack of desire. However, I was slow to notice some other things about Jessup. He was “trying” to do everything that I asked him to. There wasn’t much observable energy attached to the effort, but he was making an attempt. You know what else? He didn’t complain. He didn’t move with urgency at all, but he didn’t really sulk either. It also took me a while to notice something about Jessup’s mom. She was our biggest fan. She was cheerful and shouted praise and encouragement to all of our kids throughout every game — even when her kid wasn’t out there. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice that early on. That’s a pretty rare attribute in the parents of the Jessups out there.

After the last game of the season, Jessup’s mother came to me to hand me a nice thank you note and to tell me how much Jessup loved playing and how much their whole family enjoyed the season. Huh? She went on to tell me that Jessup had Childhood Leukemia since birth. Just before that season started, Jessup had been in remission long enough for his doctor to pronounce him fit to play organized sports for the first time in his life. She told me through tears that she did not want me or anyone else associated with the team to know that about Jessup until after the season was over.  She wanted him to be coached and treated like everyone else, even if his lack of energy was seen as laziness.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so impressed and so crushed at the same time. I had completely misinterpreted Jessup’s body language. I was mean to that kid. In response, I received nothing but grace and love in return. All that said, I still find myself harshly judging (what I perceive to be) bad body language. Case and point — Ryan Mallett last night on NFL Thursday Night Football. The Houston Texan QB had some ugly body language when taken out of the game in the 2nd quarter. “What a baby,” I thought to myself. Mallett’s sideline posture was written about and talked about all over SportsCenter last night. Some speculated that Mallett will probably never start another game for the Texans — and not based on how bad he played, or something he said, but strictly based on his countenance on the sideline.

I get it. It wasn’t a good look, at all. Most folks observing probably judged it as quickly and as harshly as I did. I didn’t give it a second thought, until I thought about Jessup this morning. I wonder now if maybe Mallett’s observable self-absorption might (at least in part) be something else. Maybe part of the “pouty-face” was influenced by how bad he felt for letting down his team. Heck, maybe there was too much MSG in his Thai food before the game. I’m thankful for the Jessups and their moms out there, not just for helping me think about withholding judgement, but even more so for giving me a picture of what it looks like when deserved judgement is met with grace and forgiveness.