I am honored that Tami Matheny asked me to contribute a chapter to her “Basketball Compilation Resources” for basketball players and teams. Below is my contribution:
There are a lot of different factors that come into play if your goal is to become a great basketball player.
But whether you’re the best player on the team or you’re a bench warmer, basketball is an incredible teacher in life. The lessons we learn, the habits we develop, and the experiences we have can be carried throughout our lives.
Depending on how you look at it, there are so many different things you need to focus on to become your best. While you can pinpoint a lot of things specifically, most of them overlap and build on each other. Dedicated, intentional practice can help to improve your skill level, which in turn is one of the things that will develop your level of confidence. Visualization and powerful self-talk will help you to better understand your abilities and potential, and this too will help to build your confidence.
There are two things I want to address here that I know will help you to become a better basketball player and they are also skills that will help you to achieve your potential in anything you do throughout your life.
They are the ability and knowledge that you can do hard things, and the skill of letting go.
You Can Do Hard Things
The ability to do hard things will build character and develop confidence.
I was coaching a high school team that I wanted to teach this lesson to. I wanted them to really develop a belief in what they were capable of. When they were put in tough situations, I wanted them to be able to take the challenge head on with confidence because they knew they had faced hard things in the past and were successful. So they could do it again.
I had an opportunity to teach this lesson in a practice that many of them still talk about to this day when they see me.
I’m a coach that loves to fast break and I love to full court press. To do this well, you need to be in good physical condition. We kept our practices fast pace and intense, but we also did a lot of conditioning. When this particular practice began, we started with our regular warmup drills. After the team was warmed up, I told them to do five up-and-back’s. Starting on my go, they run from the baseline to the opposite baseline and back. That’s one. Each team has their fast players and those that are just average. Then there are also those who show all the facial expressions and make all the noises to show they are working hard, but their walk and sprint are about the exact same speed. My players know where they stand and the speed of finishing is less important than the effort they individually put in. So whether they are doing one up-and-back, or ten, I expect them to give their best effort.
After the five up-and-back’s we were back into our drills. Often, I was stopping them to do three up-and-backs, five up-and-backs, or seven up-and-backs. Then we’d just get right back into practice. As we approached the end of practice, I told my team, “Ok, we’ve got five up-and-back’s. If I think that every single one of you is going as hard as you can the entire time, we will be done.” Every single one of them gave their best effort and pushed through until they crossed the baseline for the final time. What a great practice.
I gathered them at center court and had them stretch while I talked.
“Great practice today!” I told them. “I loved the effort and how you gave 100% until the end. Does anyone want to guess how many up-and-backs we did today?”
Some players commented on how it felt like a great practice. Some of them made some comments about running a lot of up-and-backs, but none of them were close on their guesses of how many they had done.
What they didn’t know is that I started practice with a specific goal in mind, and they achieved it. I was keeping track of every single up-and-back. When they all got on the line for the final time and still dug down and pushed out the last five, they didn’t realize they had done 96 before that. They had done 101 up-and-back’s, sprinting each one of them.
Their jaws dropped when they realized how many they had done.
So why did I do that?
Well, there are actually a number of reasons.
First of all, as I said, we run a lot and we press a lot. If you don’t think it’s important to be in great shape to play that kind of game, just wait until you play in your first alumni game when you’re not in shape. It doesn’t matter what kind of skill you have when you’re too tired to get up and down the court. This was a great conditioning practice, but my intent was a lot more important than that.
I wanted every single one of those players to understand that they can do hard things! They are capable of more than they even realize. They can push past any mental limit they place on themselves.
If, at the beginning of practice, I told everyone that we would be doing 101 up-and-back’s during practice, we would have seen different responses from each player. I would have had the players who had to let me know about an injury. Some would have probably let me know they are sick and their mom told them they couldn’t run. Some probably would have just had a terrible attitude the entire time and not given it their best effort. Who knows how many excuses I would have heard, but I’m pretty sure that none of them would have been excited to run 101 up-and-back’s.
But now that every single one of them had done it, things were different.
They were proud of what they accomplished.
They were impressed with themselves and with each other. They did something hard. They did something that others wouldn’t be willing to do.
Conditioning gets you in physical shape, but I believe it does a lot more than that. Conditioning and doing hard things helps you to develop a champion mindset as well. When my team conditions in practice, we also work on our mindset. It doesn’t matter how hard we’ve been working. It doesn’t matter how tired they are. When they rest, they don’t show weakness. They don’t hang their heads and put their hands on their knees. They stand tall and confident.
When they’re in a crucial game and it’s the fourth quarter, that’s when this all pays off.
It’s been an intense game. You’ve been running and pressing the entire game. The whistle blows and you look your opponent in the eye. They’re gasping for breath, and their hands are on their knees. Regardless of how you feel inside, they are looking at you standing tall and confident, as if you’re just getting ready to take it to another level. That’s the point where you just won the mental game and the rest will follow. That’s the point, that even though you feel as if your tank is empty, you know you’ve done hard things before and you can do it again. That’s the point that you know you deserve the victory because you’ve put in the work. You’ve done the things that others have not been willing to do.
The Skill of Letting Go
As the song goes, since I was a little kid I wanted to “be like Mike!”
Michael Jordan was my hero. I popped in my “Come Fly With Me” VHS tape to watch before every one of my games. Even today I have Michael Jordan posters in my house, a jersey on my wall, and my closet is full of Air Jordan’s.
So when I had the opportunity to take my kids to the Michael Jordan Flight School basketball camp, I was probably more excited than them. Like many of the kids at the camp, they were there for their parents as much as they were there for themselves. This was one of the highlights of our summer for four years.
One year I was on the second level of the bleachers watching as Michael taught the kids about foul shooting. He would teach and then call a kid up to demonstrate. None of the kids were making any of their shots. He started to give them incentives. “If you make this shot, I’ll give you a pair of new Air Jordan’s.” But still, nothing was working.
I was leaning over the edge watching all this happen when he looked up and made eye contact with me. He put up his finger and signaled for me to come down to the court. Sure, I was an adult, but this is the guy that’s been my hero for years! I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I walked down the stairs and out onto the court in my flip flops. He shook my hand, gave me a ball and asked which team my kid was on. After telling him, he said, “I’ll give you one shot. If you make it, I’ll give you a pair of Air Jordan’s. Plus, I’ll give your daughter and everyone on her team a pair!”
Wow! What an opportunity. This was easy!
My daughter was excited and told everyone on her team how good of a foul shooter I was.
I spun the ball in my hands. Took three dribbles and then spun it in my hands again. Yes, the same foul shot routine as MJ!
I shot the ball. My stroke was perfect. My wrist snapped, the backspin looked beautiful. The ball floated through the air for the perfect… AIR BALL!
“Are you kidding me? I just shot an air ball in front of my hero? Is Michael Jordan seriously laughing at me?!”
I was devastated. I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t see the humor in it or anything else. I was seriously upset with myself for a long time.
Luckily for me, it wasn’t a game. If it had been, I would have been useless for the rest of the game. Why? Because I was focused on the past. On something I couldn’t change. All my focus was on the fact that I had one shot and air-balled it.
What I wasn’t doing, was something I teach my teams. If you want to reach your full potential, you need to have a short-term memory on the court.
Too often we see a player miss a shot or make a mistake and it ends up having a negative impact during other plays because they can’t shake it.
If you want to do the best you can for your team and be the best player that you can be, you’ve got to have a short-term memory and put those things behind you. They’re in the past and there’s nothing you can do to change them. Focus on what you can do in the moment, and what you have control over.
I had a girl that played for me a few years ago that was very predictable. She was a great player at both ends of the court. But if she messed up on offense, I knew that there was a very high probability that during the next play on defense, she would get called for a foul.
Working with players that have struggled with this, I’ve had them do different things. One player that I coached, I would have her physically touch her left shoulder and say “next” to herself to shift her focus away from the negativity of the past. Another, I had write “next” on the toe of her shoe. If she ever hung her head in disappointment with herself, she would see that and be able to shift her focus.
What I do now, is teach my players something that Tami Matheny taught me. When something goes wrong, when they make a mistake, or they’re just frustrated with themselves I have them think of W.I.N., or What’s Important Now? The missed shot, the foul, the mistake they made, are all in the past. Those are not the things that are important now and in moving forward.
In basketball and life, when we can channel our focus and energy into the things that will help us achieve our goals rather than focus on our past mistakes or failures, we’ll have much more success.
To develop to your full potential as a basketball player, there are a lot of things that you’ll need to do. It will depend on your level of discipline, your dedication to practice, your mindset, and so much more. Here we have just looked at two aspects of it, the ability to do hard things, and your ability to let go and move on when you make mistakes. These are both skills that will not only help you in your development as a basketball player, but they are skills that will benefit you throughout your entire life.
It comes down to what you want and what you’re willing to do to get it. Good luck!
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