Risk-taking & Art, Part 2: Birds in the Woods

When my husband Tim coached middle school girls basketball, one of his players ran the wrong way down the court and made a basket for the other team.

Sure, this kind of mishap happens regularly with inexperienced players, but Tim can recite foibles from teams of various calibers.

His coaching experience brought both highlights and disappointments, laughter and tears. Sometimes he worked with excellent teams. Other times they just managed to squeak by.

He coached some strong players who took their talent for granted and didn’t work hard. He also coached mediocre players who gave it their all and still flubbed.

I can’t even count how many times Tim and I watched our sons play Park & Rec baseball games where pitchers couldn’t throw strikes, infielders overthrew first base, and outfielders couldn’t aim the ball back home, allowing run after painstaking run.

Sometimes, these were the experienced kids. Even semi-skilled ones. Not just the newbies.

So what happens when you like doing something but you’re not good at it? Even when you try hard?

Some say we must strive for excellence in all things, or why bother? There are enough slipshod things out there. Why add to them?

Consider this quote by Henry Van Dyke, American author, educator, and clergyman. He was appointed as Minister to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913. He wrote “The Other Wise Man,” a Christmas story. He also wrote the hymn lyrics “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” sung to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” He said:


Use what talents you possess:
the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there
except those that sang best.
–Henry Van Dyke


Since he was a clergyman, I’m going to take 3 points from this quote, as I would from a sermon:

1) Don’t compare yourself to others.

2) Don’t be intimidated by superior artists.

3) It’s okay to be average.

I don’t mean we shouldn’t strive for excellence. Strive for the best, but you have to start somewhere. Some endeavors are a springboard for exploring something new. For developing a new skill. There’d be no excellence without those who started out with far less ability yet pushed forward with hard work and determination.

And we ought to applaud the efforts of those who at least try. I don’t mean unnecessarily flatter them about the product, but appreciate their journey. Whatever the age. Describe, don’t judge.

This is what we do for our children when they start out in violin lessons or Little League.

That’s why my husband Tim and I insisted that our kids play team sports and learn an instrument in middle school, whether gifted or not. Our philosophy is that middle school is too early to specialize. It’s a time of gaining experience, testing the waters in a variety of activities. Learning skills, figuring out what they liked. Whether volleyball or soccer, saxophone or trumpet.

The same goes for artistic endeavors. Not everyone in art class has the same level of skill, but each student needs the experience of going through the creative process: gaining familiarity with materials, making decisions, experimenting with ideas, becoming proficient, gaining confidence, completing a project. The process matters more than the product.

Every student needs these creative encounters,
even if he isn’t as “good” as his classmate.
Hopefully, these problem-solving steps spill over
into the rest of the curriculum
and into life outside school.

Some students will go on to master the skills and become artists. Others will apply their knowledge to science or business. Still others will enjoy various creative outlets, just for fun.

And what about those who love sports but remain mediocre even after years of playing? Thank goodness for recreational leagues!

Next time I’ll share a story about Art that didn’t quite measure up.

What do you enjoy making or doing that you’re only average in?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


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7 thoughts on “Risk-taking & Art, Part 2: Birds in the Woods

  1. I love this! It’s encouraging to push ourselves and remember that only a few people can be extraordinary.
    It’s all right to be second best, or seventy-second best.
    It’s fine to do things for pleasure and not accolades, to be part of a team, to learn the humility that lets others shine.
    I feel guilty that I’m not better at photography, because I can’t master the technical aspects no matter how long I’ve tried.
    But there are photos that I love, and that have blessed others. And I enjoy doing it. AND I enjoy looking at the photos of those who really excel at this craft!

    1. Anita, I hope you keep taking pictures anyhow. If you enjoy it and even manage to get some good ones now and then–for yourself or to bless others–that’s great! And there’s nothing to feel “guilty” about by being tech-challenged. Join the club. 🙂 It probably just means you shine in other areas.

  2. I remember a middle school basketball game where the ref finally had to stop the game. First one player dribbled down the court the wrong way and made a basket. Then a member of the opposing team dribbled down the court the wrong way and made a basket. Then someone from the first team dribbled down the wrong way… After three cycles of each team making baskets for the other team while the audience yelled “Wrong Way!” the ref finally called a time out and reminded both teams which way they should be going.
    A lot of those students went on to play high school basketball, winning plenty of games and championships– and I bet that day of making mistakes in such a fabulous way helped them remember not to make those mistakes again.
    In the past few years, I’ve been trying running. I’m definitely mediocre at it! But I enjoy the small successes– like just getting out there and doing it–even if I don’t enjoy the actual running very much 😉

    1. Glad to hear that the middle school basketball team learned from their mistakes and went on to better seasons!

      Kudos for picking up running so recently. There’s something to be said for trying new things and enjoying the “little” successes, even if you don’t enjoy the whole process.

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