Christian Lavers | ECNL President | February 9, 2021

Sports are America’s favorite past-time. There is nothing more common on a weekend in our country than people watching their kids play at a local park, cheering the teams of the college they attended, supporting the professional team closest to them, or re-living their own glory days in an adult league.  

One of the most incredible things about sport is its ability to draw people together across so many different lines, from across so many different backgrounds, and with so many differing perspectives on life. Youth sports is even more powerful in this regard, as it combines the love of a child with the memories of your own experience – often in a very new environment.  

Youth sports recently played that connecting role again, when the ECNL National Event in Florida brought our league together with NBA Hall of Famer, college basketball legend, NBA commentator and owner, and ECNL father of two, Grant Hill.  In the most unique of ways, the connection was created through his willingness to work as a volunteer on-site managing traffic flow one early morning.  

We had the pleasure of speaking with Grant on this week’s “Breaking the Line” podcast, talking sports and much more. His insights and lessons from the top echelon of athletics reinforced how sport – regardless of the ball used – can transcend so much that otherwise divides our society.

A talented athlete from a young age and the son of an NFL player, one of Grant’s first sporting loves was soccer. A left-footed wide player, he enjoyed the game so much that when asked to play varsity basketball as a freshman in high school he almost refused because he didn’t want to miss the soccer season. Good news to basketball fans, he was persuaded to make the jump, and a story-book career at Duke, the Olympics, and the NBA was launched.  (But don’t think his soccer experience ended there – you’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear about the incredible pick-up soccer games he and other NBA players played in the offseason.)

One of the interesting stories Grant shared about his college basketball experience was the emphasis put on communication by his legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Coach K” valued communication so much that players who didn’t talk were removed from practice. The demand to constantly communicate with each other brought the team together as a whole, kept them in the moment, and helped win the game. As he stated, if you are talking about the present, you can’t also be thinking about the last play, worried about a future mistake, or concerned with other irrelevant information. When you talk, you are present, not in your head.  

The focus on the importance of even specific ways of communicating from a coaching perspective was also clear in his re-telling what many consider the best play in college basketball history – the Hill to Laettner three-quarter court connection in the NCAA Tournament to beat Kentucky at the buzzer. (Listen to the podcast for that one too.)

Grant also talked about helping an athlete through the challenges presented by COVID-19. He emphasized how sports give a sense of belonging and community, even more important when school and other social activities have been limited. He echoed what so many of us have noted, that “sports gives you the socialization and sense of belonging to something bigger.”  

While soccer was a small piece of Grant Hill’s athletic story, it was clear that much of the impact that basketball had on him as a young athlete is similar to the impact that other sports have on young athletes today. The impact of sport can clearly transcend the ball being used, and the experiences in sport can bridge many differences in other areas of life.