15th Best Player

Growing up I had no idea what success meant or looked like.  All I knew was that I did not want to be like the men in my neighborhood who hung around the laundromat and at YumYum Donuts talking about how they should've, could've, would've made it if they had listened and stayed focused.  

At 14, my sole focus was on being the star of my freshmen basketball team.  But instead, I was the 15th best player on the team, with the most honorable role of tracking all of my teammates’ stats each game.  Now as a leader of an education-based nonprofit, I am focused on coaching others to track meaningful stats to monitor progress to make informed decisions.  I guess I was an early adopter of “Growth Mindset” and data-based decision-making (wink).

Ball was life!  All I wanted to do was play basketball and I had run into a brick wall.  My life as a high school basketball star was slipping out of reach. I dove deep into a spiral of blaming others, feeling disappointed, pointing fingers and making excuses.  I was filled with self-doubt and acting against my own best interest. I was going through teenage angst.

As my confidence waned, my moods shifted to angry and frustrated.  My mom sat me down and patiently listened to me complain about how “no one on the team liked me”.  My mother helped me understand that I needed to focus on the things I could control. She helped me come up with a plan of action:  (1) to talk with my coach and (2) outwork everyone.

She coached me on how to speak respectfully and wait for the right time to talk to my coach. She guided me to focus on listening for valuable feedback that would allow me to best understand where I needed to improve.  This lead me to arrange one-on-one meetings with my coach.

I also started waking up at 4:45AM to get to the YMCA by 5:45AM.  My routine was to swim 1 day a week, lift 2 days a week and make 250 shots daily... all before 7:15AM.  I had to get in the shower and get to school (by 7:45AM, in time for homeroom). This was my routine for the next four years until I graduated high school.

As the season progressed, I started seeing some playing time but typically in the last 2 minutes of a game that we were winning by 30+ points. Although my playing time did not jump dramatically, I started gaining my confidence back because I could see and feel progress being made.  Because I was also tracking my morning workouts, I knew I was lifting heavier weights, playing more minutes and receiving positive feedback from coaches and peers. Understanding these data points enabled me to make progress at the age of 14.

While my progress was noticeable, I still faced challenges in completing my homework, getting up early, finding a ride to the gym and I still had three other players that were rated ahead of me.

Every day I poured my heart and soul into the game. Just like in school, I needed to figure out how to overcome my shortcomings.  If basketball was going to be my ticket, I knew I had to persevere. While that season was not as personally successful as I wanted it to be, I developed a work ethic and learned how to become hyper-focused.  

As an athlete, you are trained to follow through and never give up.  In the game of life, I had to learn that it’s also important to know when to quit.  And quitting doesn’t mean giving up but rather changing your strategy to accomplish a goal.

Through reflection, I identified five key questions that keep me focused.  These questions allow me to build a plan with tangible actions, focus on what is important to me, act strategically, monitor my progress and think about what’s next.

  1. What do you want?

  2. What actions do I need to take?

  3. Am I winning?

  4. What challenges am I facing?

  5. Do I need to persevere, pivot or quit?