I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason and that every situation we experience is according to God’s timing and according to HIS plan.
I lost my father a week before I turned 8 years old. Anyone that has lost someone special will understand that this truly is a life-changing event that forces a new sense of reality into your life.
I was angry and mad about everything, why was it my dad’s time? Why did this have to happen to me? Why didn’t I spend more time with him when I was younger? Why did all of my friends have their dad’s and have the privilege of complaining about the normal petty things you think your parents do to ruin your life when you’re growing up.
I was bitter and at a loss for answers—to an extent I still am. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad and the legacy he left: he was a ‘man’s man’ who influenced so many lives around him.
My dad was a basketball coach, and to this day, people who met him or who were coached by him tell me stories that you rarely hear these days. I began my basketball career sort of as a way to chase after who he was and also to preserve a bond that is hard to explain to people who have not experienced such a loss. He was, and still is my hero, and to this day I strive to follow in his footsteps.
I thought being the best basketball player I could be and accumulating different awards would help me achieve this goal. After all, my dad still holds records to this day and everyone always mentioned basketball when talking about him.
From middle school all the way through college, I played the sport with a chip on my shoulder and made it a point to outwork every person I could. I became a pretty good player through the years: I set school records, won awards, earned titles and various other accolades, and I soon let all of that begin to affect my ego. Everything became about me and how I thought things should go when it came to basketball.
Sure, almost everyone has a drive to win and the desire to be told how great they are; that’s human nature. However, I was blinded by this mentality and I was still missing the heart of dad’s true legacy and gift to others. I also had set a goal to go overseas and play professional basketball. That goal came to a sudden end when I tore a bunch of ligaments and tendons in my foot during my senior year of college.
I simply couldn’t move, cut and elevate the way I had before—the way the sport requires at the professional level of play. For me to reach that lofty goal I would have to be at peak performance to even get an opportunity to play professionally. Again, I was crushed, angry and questioning everything—just as I had as a kid.
I was certain I wanted to stay in a sports-based career, and after completing my bachelor’s degree I was able to get into a Sport’s Management-Focused Master’s Program at the University of Georgia. During this time I was approached by one of my former coaches about assisting him in running a youth basketball training company he founded.
This was a great opportunity because it allowed me to stay around the sport I loved and make a little money while in graduate school. We ran camps and clinics and I soon began holding individual training sessions when time permitted. Little did I know at the time that these actions would open my eyes to my passion—the passion my dad had also held — that I had missed all along.
The Company opportunity was a huge blessing and still is! But it wasn’t until a few months in that I would truly understand how much of a blessing this could be. I had just finished training two brothers that I had grown attached to — I saw a lot of my younger self in them. They are both two of the hardest workers I have ever been blessed to train.
They’re competitors at everything, stubborn to an extent, but they are absolutely great young men who would run through a wall if you asked them to. They will be any coach’s dream. After training them for a few months I received a message from their mother asking if we could talk later that day. I was worried something was wrong or that they weren’t happy with the training. I anxiously called, but tried to sound positive; expecting something to be negative is never a favorable approach to anything.
This question took me back. I first thanked her for the compliment and then told her exactly what I thought: my mom’s influence was the reason I turned out to be half the person I am today. She sacrificed so much of her life to make sure I had everything I needed and more while growing up. It took me a long time to realize how much she had given up to make sure she could raise me the way she and my dad had planned. Simply and clearly put; if it had not been for my mom and her sacrifice, I am certain that I would not be the man I am and who I am trying to be to this day.
After telling the boy’s mother about my mom, I wanted to know why she had asked me that question. She proceeded to tell me that her boys’ biological father had passed away a few years before I had met the them. This moment in the conversation forever changed my life. It all made so much sense now: this connection I had with these two boys that I didn’t seem to have with others I trained was because of our common bond of the experience of loss.
I was floored. I knew then that I had a chance to use my hardship to help mentor to, empathize with, and encourage these young men to not only cope with loss, but also grow from it. I then began my quest to truly have a meaningful platform and to use it to help others. I also began meeting with youth leaders and other trusted men and women who I knew could help me learn and grow.
My mom called me one day to tell me about a young man, an elementary school student, who had approached her at school that day. His teacher walked him to my mom’s classroom where she then asked him to tell my mom what he had told her.The little boy asked if my mom knew that “Michael Ross guy who runs the basketball camps and all.” My mom replied yes, she did, and then asked why he asked, thinking it would be some basketball-related statement.
He proceeded to tell her: “His dad died when he was young, and I am about the same age as him when my dad died, and if he can be okay, then so can I.” Want to talk about pulling the car over and crying like a little kid?
These humbling words from this elementary school child made me lose it. This was not even a kid I had helped in any camp or training session. I had never met this young man and he had just changed my outlook forever.
Truthfully, all the material goals and recognition I sought after as a young man playing basketball and chasing after my dad’s legacy had left me blind to his true legacy: We are all given unique gifts and passions from God that we can use throughout our lives to impact others in a profound and positive way.
As found in Romans 12:8, “If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you the leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”
My dad had passed away at that point in my life so 18 years later I could help these young men and hopefully many others. I am thankful now more than ever for my mom refusing to let me use my dad’s death as a crutch or excuse to blame for my personal struggles in life.
Because of the efforts of my mom, these young men affecting my outlook, and lessons left behind for me to figure out on my own, I understand that each of us can positively impact others for the better. We must invest in people and their well-being instead of materialistic things; that will truly be a legacy left that anyone can be proud of.
As I move forward with Elite Level Training, I hope that no matter what comes along that I can use it to help those around me grow as a person, and that I can leave my own legacy—a legacy that would make a father proud of his son.