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The Nitty-Gritty on 
Preparation Meets Opportunity

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

Of the six films in the #TrueGritTuesdays series, Preparation Meets Opportunity is the most lighthearted. That's by design.

In this film, we circle back to a point first made in Ice Cream and the Rocky Road Back, which led off the series. With kids, reinforcing the traits that develop grit--goal-setting, practice, hard work, determination--is much easier when they're working hard at something they want to do. And clearly, NiNi Davenport is a girl who's having fun doing what she's doing. You see it in her answers, and you see it in the b-roll. (By the way, I had no idea what b-roll was 18 months ago, but I'm an old hand at filmmaking now. B-roll is the extra footage used for cuts while the interview subjects are talking.)

"Each step along the way, we've come away with a new friend," says NiNi's father, Larry. Here, NiNi (left) and eventual champion Zoe Canfield look pretty relaxed at the Breakfast of Champions.

The Hoop Shoot has been developing gritty kids for more than 40 years. Why is the program so effective? There are a few factors in its favor.

  1. Basketball is a fun activity.
  2. The contest starts at an age when kids haven't yet been weeded out of the sport or chosen to specialize in another one.
  3. For the older kids, free throws are a level playing field that neutralizes the natural advantages of size, strength and speed.

The Hoop Shoot program's detractors will often question the benefits of an activity that takes less than an hour to complete. They miss the point. The contest isn't the thing. The contest is just a carrot. It's the perfect carrot for encouraging behavior that develops grit.

Mat Pentelute, the father of 2014 national champion Cole, nailed it in the Lessons Learned film. He said, "The thing I like about what Cole has done with this Elks Hoop Shoot is it's been Cole. He wants to go practice. He wants to put in the time. He sets his goals. He's worked super hard."

Mat's quote is at the 54-second mark if you'd like to hear the words in his voice.

Larry Davenport, NiNi's father, echoes the sentiment in Preparation Meets Opportunity. "When she first started [playing] basketball," he says, "I told her if you're willing to put the work in, I'll get behind you 100 percent."

NiNi has put the work in, only to her, it doesn't seem that much like work because see above.

NiNi hit 21 out of 25 in the Finals to finish in a four-way tie for third. In the shoot-off that followed, she fell to fifth place. Practice and hard work won't guarantee a national championship, but it will give competitors a better chance to win and advance.

That lesson is not lost on the participants. Win or lose, even the youngest competitors can connect the time spent in the gym with improved success at sinking free throws, and that reinforces gritty behavior. The lesson translates off the court as well.

There's nothing lighthearted about that.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's Preparation Meets Opportunity.

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