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An 8-year-old's guide to boldly embracing change

By Al Buczkowski, 08/13/15, 3:30PM CDT


What Zeke Ortiz's big decision on the basketball court teaches us all

As adults, we talk a lot about the lessons we can teach our kids through youth sports. But just as important are the lessons those kids can teach us.

Take Zeke Ortiz, an 8-year-old from Maryland featured on the NBC Nightly News earlier this summer.

Looking for a new challenge, the basketball-obsessed Ortiz decided to move from his rec league hoops team to the AAU Maryland Playmakers. The jump in competition would present Ortiz with a test, for sure.

But that challenge would be secondary.

You see, all his old teammates were deaf, just like him. Now, he would be the only deaf player on his team.

At first, communicating with his new teammates proved difficult, and the energetic grade schooler found himself overwhelmed.

"I didn't know what they were saying or what to do," Ortiz recounted during his interview with NBC's Jenna Wolfe. 

Eventually, though, Ortiz and his team broke through the communication barrier. His dad (also deaf, as is Ortiz’s mom) jumped in to translate during games and practices, while coaches took extra care to communicate clearly with the use of simple hand gestures and whiteboards.

“If anything, it makes you a better coach,” Playmakers coach Korey Cobb told The Frederick News-Post, explaining the benefit of having to focus more on the art of effective communication.

I didn't know what they were saying or what to do."

Meanwhile, with a little time, Zeke and his teammates developed their own language on the court as he became an important part of the team, confident and well-liked – and a long way from his first nervous practice that found him stumbling through plays and constantly looking to his parents for reassurance.

“He kept looking at us, saying I don’t understand,” said Ortiz's mom, Jennifer Yost Ortiz. “We said it’s OK, just watch. Just try to figure it out.”

And figure it out he did.

On top of helping the Playmakers reach the AAU national championship, Ortiz set an example – for people of all ages – of how to boldly embrace change.

In the face of major change, "Be Like Zeke":

Remember that big rewards usually only come from big risks.

Ortiz didn’t have to leave his old team. He was perfectly comfortable. Had plenty of friends. Communicating with them was no problem. Nothing to complain about.

Comfort is hard to leave behind. And doing so only gets harder the older you get. But Ortiz’s bold move is a nice reminder that meaningful growth rarely happens in the cozy confines of "The Comfort Zone".

Admit you're scared.

OK. You've taken the big risk. 99.9% of the time that will be immediately followed by one thought: "I've made a huge mistake". And 99.9% of those instances are based on one thing: fear. 

That's cool. 

Admitting, like Ortiz did, that you're lost, scared and generally clueless is the next step. Taking ownership of your fear and acknowledging that it's completely normal provides empowering perspective in any new situation. 

Figure out the source of your anxiety, then plan your attack.

Ortiz reminds us that the two most important questions to ask when change leads to anxiety are A) What’s really bothering me? and B) Can anything be done about it?

If the answer to B is "yes", figure out what and do it ASAP. Anxiety feeds on inaction. 

In Ortiz's case, an inability to communicate on even a basic level led to his stress. Instead of giving up, he pinpointed the issue and worked with his parents, coaches, and teammates to meet it head on and come up with strategies to overcome the communication barrier, after which he flourished.

Open up to your peers.

It’s easy to hide in your shell when things get overwhelming. Instead, Ortiz continued to put forth his best effort, not just on the court, but in building relationships with his teammates. In turn, his teammates went out of their way to help him become a valuable part of the team.

Whether it’s a changing schools, getting a new job, or joining a different basketball team, everybody’s been the new guy at some point. And that sort of empathy creates an eagerness for people to help if, like Ortiz, you’re open to it.

By seeking new challenges and boldly seeing them through, Ortiz shows us that often times in youth sports, it's the kids that do the coaching. 

What lessons have your young athletes taught you through the game? Sport Ngin Community would love to hear your stories, too.

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