In chapter 25 of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Arnold “Junior” Spirit finds himself in the unenviable position of playing basketball for his new school, Reardan, in a game against his old school, Wellpinit. The Wellpinit players are his friends and co-residents of the Native American reservation, and he does not look forward to competing against them. In particular, he will be opposing his closest friend, Rowdy, who already resents him for desertion in transferring to the almost all-white school.
As Junior’s new team quietly prepares for the game, while hearing the loud fans in the stands, Junior is reasonably confident of his skills as an offensive player, which he thinks of as “sort of warrior stuff.”
To his surprise, Coach wants him to take an important defensive role. Coach recognizes that Rowdy is the key to Wellpinit success, and that to win, they must stop him. He assigns Junior to guard Rowdy for the entire game.
He’s your man. You have to stop him. If you stop him, we win this game.
Stunned, Junior considers the weapons he would need to succeed at this, including “a bulldozer ... a man-eating lion, a vial of bubonic plague.” Otherwise, by guarding Rowdy, he believes he will guarantee his friend scores seventy points. Telling Coach he is “honored,” he says, “I don’t think I can do it.”
Coach gets close to the seated boy, kneels down, and matter-of-factly states, “You can do it.” As Junior thinks how this attitude reminds him of his father’s friend, Eugene, Coach repeats it.
He whispered it, like a prayer. And he kept whispering again, until the prayer turned into a song.
Once Junior believes him, he says “I can do it.” He is amazed both at an adult having confidence in him and at the power of the words.
It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.
You can do it.
I can do it.
Let’s do it.