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How Basketball Saved My Life

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

Today, I finally did it. I finally got back on the court to hoop. Regardless of my busted knees, occasional asthma, and cracking foot bones, I still managed to get around. Now, for those who know me well, basketball is truly life to me. It was my therapy during my childhood and undergrad. It was how I expressed and communicated in relationships and friendships. It was the place that allowed me to freely be me. I stopped playing when my mom passed because, one, I played for her honor, and two, life changed too much. As Monica said on Love and Basketball, "Basketball just isn't fun for me anymore". Basketball is my emotional outlet, so as a person who trained herself to suppress emotions, this meant I had to suppress basketball.

I knew a piece of me was missing, because it seemed like it ached me to avoid basketball. Those who shared basketball with me and the love that I have – well, I felt disconnected from them too when I didn’t play.

Nonetheless, today was the day that I took the courage to reconnect. And, as always, it gave me everything that I needed. I felt whole. During my hoop session, I processed through major themes that arose, and thus, how basketball saved my life.

Some people know how to play basketball, and some people hoop. There are some things that are truly innate in your personality and destiny, and there are some things that you must acquire skill to participate. Always do the things that are natural to you, and not what seems socially acceptable. It is so much more fulfilling. I would try to solve my problems with things that didn’t come natural to me instead of turning to things that always naturally healed me, like basketball. I realized that certain skills and talents are put in me for a reason – so use them.

You are never too old, accomplished, or successful to go back to your fundamentals. To anyone who has seen me play, I have a pretty mean 3-pointer. Nonetheless, there are times when my arms start to bail on me and I lose my form. Since childhood, if I started to miss a few shots, I would go to the front of the rim and practice my shooting form again for about 10 minutes before shooting outside the arch again. It seems juvenile, but it is also silly to go down a path of poor form in pride because I usually shoot so well, or thinking that somehow my arms would magically fix itself. Instead, it is important to stop, evaluate, rebuild my foundation, and try again. Although it takes extra time away from dropping splashers, I will be more excited at how many more shots I can take in the future, and how I won’t tear my arm up. I would have actually missed more shots, and become more frustrated, and started setting expectations on how I SHOULD be performing, versus evaluating what it is that is not making me perform as I desire. Sometimes, you get too comfortable and forget your form, which was actually made to protect your wrist and arm from being too strained. Thus, in life, there are times where I needed to stop shooting towards something just because it worked in the past. Obviously, something in the form wasn’t working, and it is OKAY to stop, and go back to my foundation in order to grow past my obstacles. It’s okay to make goals of sleeping enough hours today. Or eating three healthy meals. Or having 30 minutes to myself. It seems so fundamental but often I get so caught up in large tasks that the foundation of these large tasks is neglected. Thus, I need to go to the front of the rim and regain my form so I can make ACCURATE shots – not JUST SHOOT. Which leads to the next one –

Don’t get hung up on the shots you missed, blocked shots, the balls you lost, or the times you got scored on. Focus on the whole game. Of course, playing poorly never feels good. Especially playing with guys, you “can’t” mess up. But, you can’t only focus on what was done wrong, but maximize on what you do right. Focus on how you can best contribute to the entire game, not how you can be an all-star. Once I accepted the fact that I am a true hooper who is not strong in dribbling, I was able to learn how to play my strengths even better. I found new ways to get myself open for a 3, or being a strong post to always get a paint shot, or practicing anticipation to cover the paint and block shots. When I focused on what I wasn’t as strong at (dribbling), I found myself making more mistakes and costing the game. It’s okay to not be perfect everything, but it’s even greater to realize my strengths, and be the coldest at everything that I do the best. Also, don’t stop playing because you missed a shot, or even worse – someone blocked your shot really loud. I always think I look silly trying to hustle to get the ball back when I am the one who lost it, but truth is, I look even more silly for not trying to get back the ball that I deserve and I possessed. There is a whole game ahead, so know that the loud sound of your shot being smacked into the stands is not the last moment. I need to always go get what is mine, even if mistakes set me back. The true defeat isn’t that I messed up, but that I gave up.

Celebrate your made shots, but not as if you will never shoot again. This was a deep one for me, because it has to do with my confidence. I danced a hard line between celebrating too much and not celebrating enough. There is no other feeling in the world than that shot going in, and hearing the fresh net sound (real hoopers know that euphoria), so it is important to be excited. With that, it is okay to be confident that this is not the last time that you will make your shot. With that, KEEP PLAYING THE GAME. Sometimes, I get stuck that something has finally went right in my life after so much has gone wrong. I get so hung up that I am afraid to shoot again. I am afraid of taking away the high of that success with an air ball decision. So I won’t shoot again. That used to drive my dad NUTS on the court! It drives me crazy in life, too. When that one things goes right, rejoice AND keep going. Play defense so you can get the ball back and score again! Remember what you did and remember the worth of making this shot again. Don’t be afraid to do more great things because of how long it took to get the first great thing to happen. You will miss some shots, but, in my case, you will make a lot more. ;)

Don’t force things; don’t think too much; just believe, and do what you know. Sounds really hippy, but this is the bread and butter of being successful on the court and in life. I noticed, as I was shooting, the time I thought about my shot as I was shooting, I always missed. I overthought where my feet were, how it left my hand, how much muscle to put into it, everything. Now, I’ve been shooting on a regular sized goal since I was 6. If I don’t know how to shoot by now without thinking, something is wrong! So, why do I do it? If I have been doing this job, or this relationship, or this skill, or this degree for so many years, why do I even think to question myself? Faith is a real thing, and even on the basketball court, you don’t have much time to second guess yourself – you just know. And I realized that it gave me that trust in life. I just knew because I have done it for so long, and I should trust that I STILL CAN do this.

You can’t play alone. One on one is fun, but it doesn’t grow you the way a team does. If someone wasn’t passing me the ball, I would never be great at pulling up to shoot. In one on one, you see all of my strengths – and flaws! Now I have to actually dribble everywhere! YIKES! Even though I will eventually get to use my strength, my weaknesses may not allow me to get to that point. Thus, I need a team. I need screens. I need a point guard. We all need each other to reduce our weaknesses and complement our strengths. Sometimes it was hard for me to say that I needed someone else so that my weaknesses do not hinder me from being the best I can be, but it is true. I need each person in my life that helps me to bring the best out of me, so I don’t have to play alone and navigate through my obstacles.

Communication and relationships are the key. Relating to the last theme, if you don’t know your team very well, unless you are all superstars, you most likely will lose. I love the old-school Spurs because everybody knew each other’s strengths like the back of their hand and the team harmony was nearly unstoppable. To win the game, you have to be vulnerable enough to be on the same page as your teammates. It may take sacrifice, compromising, transparency, and other levels of discomfort, or as I like to call it: trust. As I said in the beginning, basketball was my way of expressing myself to others. People saw how mad, sad, scared, passionate, anxious, or excited I was through how I played. Verbal and nonverbal communication truly reign through in this game, so it is important to be mindful to trust those who I choose to play the game of life with.

The game isn’t over until the final whistle blows. Don’t give up until then. You have to lay your heart on the court. There is no half playing. With that, the game is not over until the final buzzer goes off. Until then, you play. You don’t walk on the court, you don’t start untucking your jersey, you don’t sit on the bench and cry, you don’t blame everyone on the team, you fight. Because there is always hope and there is always a chance. With that, there is always regret that you didn’t give all you had to win. Playing ball takes a lot of emotion and trust. Therefore, once that valve is open, it is hard to stop. Life decisions should have the same intensity. Don’t stop until the true final whistle blows. Now, this doesn’t mean start making senseless decisions like fouling people, taking wild shots, switching up plays without communication, and other unhealthy tactics in panic. This also doesn’t mean that you continuously look at the scoreboard and play softer because you know you are losing anyways. Let your struggles drive you to play SMARTER and HARDER. This means keeping in a strategy, but with a level head and a hawk-eye focus. You got this. You know how to win. Just keep playing. BUT PLAY SMART.

Losses equals lessons: learn. If you only knew how many tapes I look at to evaluate how to do better in the next game. Losses are not just there to keep you out of tournaments. They are helpful tools to learn and grow. As in life, setbacks are not in place to keep me from being successful. Challenges arise to teach me how to fight harder. How to use a different play. How to create a different shot. How to more effectively use my team. If you learn a lesson from a loss, you never truly loss.

Hoop with heart. This is the soul of it all. You can’t truly hoop without heart. Heart takes intentional dedication and commitment through passion. I went to practice daily, and after practice, I would go to the Y and shoot for a couple of hours. If I missed shots, I would make myself run. No one had to force me. I wanted to because I wanted to be better. With life, heart should be so second nature that no one should have to force me to work towards my goals. I should be that committed on my own. Plus, no one wants to play with someone who isn’t trying. Have you ever played someone who is barely giving effort? That annoys me so much! At the end of the day, real hoopers leave every single thing on the court. If you lose, you lose hard. If you win, you win harder. Win or lose, the true testament is how much heart did you give. Were you invested. Were you committed. Were you vulnerable. I used to use basketball to solve arguments with people close to me because often it would express exactly how I feel, in a healthy manner, but assertively – just like in life. And they knew. I can’t leave the court with anything still left in me. I always gave it my all.

In conclusion, you see that basketball taught me so many beneficial mantras for life. Now just imagine going 5 years without practicing any of this. I’m so glad I am done running from basketball and that old piece of me is back. Although I avoided playing ball for so long, I am thankful that these principles somehow sustained me through my roughest times. I can’t wait for these basketball themes to continue to save my life daily, and I can’t wait to get back to hustlin’ people on the courts!

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