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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Basketball and Family: The Little Things

I take never-ending delight in the fact that Stacey and I both love the game of basketball. We both played on accomplished high school teams, and each of us even got to play in a high school state basketball tournament championship game. Only one of us is a state champion, though, and whenever I get the chance to rub it in, I do.

Truth be told, however, Stacey played in Florida and I played in South Dakota, so her rejoinder that there is a qualitative difference in the competition level does ring true. And, I have to admit, my team won when I was a junior—I played in garbage time in only one game in the tournament, and we did not even make the tournament my senior year. Stacey started for her state tournament team.

Nonetheless. There is only one state champion in our family.

We both had good coaches in high school, and we both have a high appreciation for the fundamentals and technical skill that it takes to play the game well. Such skill and heart are on full display this time of year during the Final Four, and our house grinds to a halt for three weeks in March and early April as we take in as much basketball as we can. It is really fun to enjoy games together.

Teams do well when they attend to the little things—the details that it takes to execute well. Everyone who has played basketball has been taught to set a screen, but it makes a real difference when you do it well instead of going through the motions. Good bounce passes. Backdoor cuts. Helping on defense. Closing out. Boxing out. ESPN commentator Jay Bilas put together a list of “little things” such as these that has been passed around in basketball circles for years because these are the skills that make basketball teams successful, and they are often overlooked in favor of scoring. In the teams that are still playing at this stage in the NCAA tournament, you can see all of these little things on display.

George Will said that sport plays an important function in modern life: it gives us an example of excellence. Even though my competitive days are over (beyond pickup games), observing the excellence on display in a good basketball game is inspiring. It makes me want to be just as excellent in my work as an editor—just as attentive to the “little things” as the players and coaches are on TV.

This got me to thinking about what those “little things” are in marriage and family life. Here is an impartial list to complement Jay Bilas’ list:

  • Say “I love you,” and mean it. It is easy to say at big moments, but it is all the little times that these words are exchanged that make them ring true. It makes a difference to say these words out loud, and it makes even more of a difference to mean it. I try to say it to Stacey at least once a day, even if it is just before falling asleep. She tries to say it to each child, each day.
  • Tell people where you are and what you are doing. Being in a family means that other people have a claim on you; your time is never just your own. Tell others what you are doing and where, if is not obvious.
  • Eat meals together. There is a reason meals have been a cornerstone of a shared life together since humanity crawled out of the cave. You feed more than just your body at the table.
  • When eating together, share something about your day. Daily experience is the “stuff” of life—share that with your family. I want to hear what my first grader played at recess, and I make a point of sharing about my struggles at work with the kids in a way that they can understand. These conversations—in greater depth and nuance—are indispensable with a spouse.
  • Respect each others’ bodies. Family life is a reality that is fundamentally lived out in a physical way. We care for children’s bodies until they can care for themselves. We physically express love in a meaningful way with sexuality. Rough-housing is an important playful interaction between children and fathers. Live the physicality of family life to the fullest, and hold lines with yourselves and with children when emotions run high.
  • Manage the clock well. Children thrive on routine and can survive anything if they know what to expect. Parents who manage the clock well and give their children the time they need are really managing emotions. Spouses who manage the clock well with each other are respecting each other in a profound way. Often managing time well comes down to communication.
  • Make time to play together. Playtime builds relationship. If parent-child or spousal relationship is always about setting limits and boundaries, they become stale. Make room for fun and playful interactions.
  • Limit screen time. Screens of all kinds—TV, computers, smart phones, tablets, video games—are black holes that suck attention. Because they grasp our senses so firmly, they also powerfully shape values and attitudes. Good families attend to how much time is spent in front of a screen, and ensure that a given day leaves much more room for imaginative play and substantive conversation than time sitting on a couch watching artificial light.
  • Work hard together. Children learn habits of working hard and attending to detail by working alongside parents, and under their supervision. Involve children in daily chores and in meal preparation and cleanup. Spouses who work together increase their bond with a shared project.

Good basketball teams practice the little things with focused attention, and it is the same in the home life. If families do not work on these small virtues, the opportunity to put them into practice is swept away in the rush of the day. Strong marriages and families do all of these things and more with intentionality.