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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

The Right Piece of the Puzzle

Sometimes puzzle pieces don’t fit.  I try to jam them in where they don’t belong.  And they refuse to go.  Or they break.  Which means they refuse to go forever.

Sometimes we need to step back and look a bit before we jam the piece where it doesn’t belong.  Maybe learning the patience to find the right piece instead of spending all that time trying to force a piece that will never work is the way to go?

With the family’s permission and encouragement, I share this story (with different names and photos).

I stepped back last camp.  Laurence had a beautiful serve.  As gorgeous a motion as any nine-year-old I’ve seen, especially since he has hardly played tennis.  But he didn’t get one in.  Not one.  Ever, that I saw.  Yet, he smiled and forged on.  Every serve.  This was his routine:  Serve.  Beautiful motion. Miss. Smile.

What was wrong with this puzzle?  He was using the wrong puzzle piece.  His racket was little more than a racket ball racket. He didn’t know.  Neither did his mom.  But when we figured this out, we got him a new one appropriate for his age.

His eyes lit up.  He asked his mom where to pay.  His mom asked where to pay.  They would gladly do so, even though they were at camp on scholarship.  It would never occur to them they wouldn’t.  But this was something we could do because of people who have generously donated to TLC.  So we did.

Laurence and his mom first came last summer.  He had been traumatized before and during a difficult divorce.  His dad had a no contact order.  Yet, like any kid, he loves his dad.  His mom was amazing.  She never blamed, but merely shared these facts, and said Laurence would benefit greatly from TLC and the role models here.

We arranged it and they had a wonderful time, but no more wonderful a time than we had with them.  Because they brought with them gifts of enthusiasm, gratitude, and kindness which they gave to myself and our staff, and offers to help TLC any way they could in the future.

This year, his mom contacted us way in advance asking if she could make payments toward the camp – it had been that important – so they could figure out how to get here again.  TLC was one of two highlights of their entire year.  She did not ask for nor expect anything.  But, knowing the circumstances, we helped out.

And there was Laurence – phenomenal athletic ability with the wrong piece of the puzzle – hitting and smiling away.

When his mom approached me near the end of camp after we had switched rackets and asked who should she pay, my answer was no one.  We’re just happy to see him love the game so much and have a better chance to succeed.


Ten minutes later Laurence came up and said “Thank you so much for my racket.  I promise you I will continue playing.  I love it!  And guess what?  When I went out to the tournament to play with it, the first five serves I hit were aces!”

This was a kid with a phenomenal motion who I had not seen get one serve in.  Then he said, “Well, actually, they weren’t five aces.  On two of them, my opponent got his racket on the ball but couldn’t return it.”

And then, before he turned to go, he said, “This is going to really help me.  I play at the public courts sometimes.  I’m going to play a lot now.  And I get to see my dad once a week now (two supervised hours).  I’ve got him out to play tennis already.  But now I’m going to get him out every week for sure.  Thanks.”

The piece of the puzzle I thought was needing to fit was the new racket.  I didn’t realize the more important piece the racket provided:  a renewed relationship with his dad.  And a deep love and connection with his mom.

Take time, step back, and figure out what you’re trying to jam into the wrong space.  Find the right piece and you will be amazed how all the other pieces may fall into place.


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