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“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” - Stephen Hawking

A true basketball fan will know the name Kenny Sailors. I like basketball, but I am not a true fan. So I didn’t recognize the name. Turns out, his contribution to basketball revolutionized the way players shot the ball.

Sailors, born in 1921, grew up in Wyoming loving the game of basketball. Maybe one of his most formidable opponents in his teen years was his brother Bud. Bud had a distinct advantage over Kenny. A six inch height advantage to be specific. The two brothers would spend hours on their farm playing basketball. The problem was when Kenny came to a stop to get set for a shot, Bud was in his face. Blocked shot after blocked shot led Kenny to improvise. One day, Kenny jumped.

It wasn’t an unplanned jump. He went through the same regular motions as he had with taking a set shot. The only difference was that instead of remaining flat-footed, he jumped to give himself some height advantage. The name of the shot did not fall far from the tree where the set shot was named for getting set to take a shot. They called Kenny’s newfound shot where he jumped, the jump shot.

Sailor went on to play for the University of Wyoming Cowboys. In 1943, Sailors led the Cowboys to a 31-2 season with their final victory of the season being over Georgetown to claim the National Championship. Sailors earned Most Outstanding Player of the tournament that year. 

There are a lot of reasons we may have to adapt or change. In Kenny Sailor’s situation, it was a must-need change if he wanted to even the odds against Bud. The pandemic has found us adapting in ways we never even fathomed before. Yet, so many of us are still finding ourselves being resistant to change. Consider Covid-19 our 6’4” defender blocking our shot—and even view—to the hoop.

Consider the Options

We learn at a young age that when an obstacle is in our way we must try a different route. I think back to still one of my favorite restaurants in the midwest: Monical’s Pizza. When you are seated at a table there is a paper placemat that contains all kinds of puzzles, mazes, and other brainteasers. Of course it is for kids, but that doesn’t stop me from giving it my best shot anyways. When doing a maze on my placemat, when I hit a solid line, I have to go a different way. Not adapting means to run that same path and hit that same wall over and over.

I know you are thinking that if it were that simple then of course you would adapt. The thing is, adapting and altering courses really is that easy. The reason it doesn’t happen is because we are too stubborn. Maybe we keep hitting that wall over and over thinking that next time you’ll break through. How is that going for you?

When we consider our options, we often see that staying in the same spot will never yield the changes we need. On a piece of paper write down the goal you want. Maybe it is to read more books, start a podcast, or change a practice in your classroom. Now, list everything you have tried. Put a star next to each item you’ve tried more than once. If you see the stars adding up then it might be time to alter course and try something new.

I think one of the best examples I can use from my experience in the classroom revolves around behavior and classroom management. I think this is where many of us spend too many minutes of our lives hitting our head against the wall trying to figure out how to get through to some students. We often think we are trying different things, but really we’re just rearranging the seats on the Titanic. Same practices, ordered differently, produce similar results. This is probably one of the best things to make a list of what has been tried. Don’t forget the stars. 

Adaptability is a crucial skill. I’ll leave you with the most inspirational thing I learned about Kenny Sailors in my research. It has nothing to do with his jumpshot. After winning the national championship in 1943 and being named the college basketball player of the year, Sailors left college and enlisted in the military to assist in the World War II efforts. 

He spent nearly two years fighting for his country. At the conclusion of the war in 1945, Sailors returned to the University of Wyoming. He still had a year of eligibility left so he rejoined the Cowboy basketball squad. And while the Cowboys fell short of a tournament bid in 1946, Sailors was once again named college basketball player of the year. How is that for adaptability?