I’ve played basketball for over a decade, but it was only recently that I realised what a brilliant metaphor it is for life. I’ve lost loads of games in my career. Probably more than I’ve won if I’m really honest. I’ve also probably missed more shots than I’ve made.

At the beginning of my career, I didn’t have a lot of success. In training and whilst practicing, I was really good. I was assertive. I made shots. I led my team. I just played how I knew I could. But I could never put it together in a competitive environment, in actual game. As you can probably imagine, this drove me crazy. In the end, though, things did change. They got better. Much better actually. If you’re intrigued (come on, of course you are) then read on. If you like metaphor (and basketball), you’ll love this:

1. I play better when I’m relaxed.

When I’m frustrated, I play terrible. I force things. I get upset. I take bad shots. I ignore my teammates. I’m easily agitated. And, it’s hard to snap out of.

When I’m relaxed, I play great. I play free. I don’t force anything. I read the game. I let it come to me. I take my time. I’m patient. I make better decisions. It’s easier to get “in the zone.”

I’m also able to better focus on the most important thing: winning. How many points I scored, how many rebounds I grabbed…these things cease to really matter. All I care about is winning. And, seeing as that’s what I care about, my play follows in accordance.

2. Assertiveness leads only to great things.

If I drive to the hoop assertively, I’ll likely score or get fouled, or both. If I go after a rebound assertively, I’ll probably get it. If I play assertive defense, my counterpart will get flustered and make mistakes. The more assertive you are, the quicker you get what you want.

There’s a delicate balance between assertiveness and aggressiveness though. When you’re assertive, you know what you want and you go after it with focus. But, you’re also relaxed enough to be smart about it. When you’re aggressive, your thoughts become clouded, or you just don’t think. You act heavy-handed and make mistakes as a result. You might momentarily get what you want, but it doesn’t last, because how you got it is unsustainable. Assertiveness is the choice you want to make.

3. I worked really hard for a long time to get better.

This is simple. I could only hazard a guess at the amount of shots I’ve taken in my back garden, at the park, and at practice over the years. It’s well into six figures, I’d say. And that’s not even practicing every single day. I’m not a professional basketball player. So how many more shots would I have needed to have taken for that to have been realistic? Double? Triple?

You work hard and you work smart because you know it’ll be worth it. I didn’t absolutely love every minute of basketball practice, but I did it because when I went out on the court to play I wanted to know that I’d be good. That I could make shots. That I was worth putting on the court.

I knew I could play because I’d spent years and years getting better; the evidence was right in front of me. Or, even better, the evidence was me.

4. Self-esteem = performance

I used to be great in training. I’d play relaxed, free, smart. I shot well. I made good plays. I read the game easily. Overall, I played about as well as I could most of the time. I was always one of the best players. However, the thing that frustrated the hell out of me was that I couldn’t ever seem to replicate this in games. I’d always kind of freeze up. Everything took a lot of effort, and I didn’t always reap much reward. It was so annoying, and I remember being upset after a lot of games because I just hadn’t played how I knew I could.

The reality was that I didn’t think I was good enough. Didn’t think I could do it. It was like I didn’t think I was allowed to play at my best (If this resonates with you, check out The 3 Things That Will Give You Stronger-Than-Iron Man Self-Esteem).

Once I let go of these extremely limiting beliefs, it was almost like magic. I started playing how I did in training. Relaxed, assertive, making shots… it felt fantastic. This was what I’d been waiting for all this time. I’ve since won championships and individual awards, and it’s all down to a shift in how I was thinking, not my physical skills. I just developed a deep belief that I was good enough and I was allowed to just go out and play and actually have fun with it. It works infinitely better and is a hell of a lot more fun than the alternative. Shocking, I know…

5. It’s a team game

You can’t win a basketball game on your own; you just can’t. You need your teammates. I’ve been on teams where I’ve been the best player and I’ve tried to win the game on my own. It’s not fun. I got frustrated that I was having to do everything, or, rather, thinking that I had to do everything. I ended up playing selfishly and resenting my teammates. The best teams I’ve played on have had lots of good players and we’ve played well together. Everyone plays to their strengths and we help each other do that. Because of that, we won more games and had more fun. I know which option I prefer.

6. Score

If you want to win a game of basketball, you need to be able to put the ball through the hoop. If this isn’t a metaphor for setting and achieving goals, I don’t know what is. If you want to score, you have to shoot. To become a great shooter, you have to practice. The reason you practice? Because you want to become great. Because it’s important to you. Because that’s who you are.

The top teams in the NBA shoot around 50%, but usually lower, which is another great metaphor for achieving goals. Sometimes you miss. Sometimes you fail. You won’t succeed every single time, but you absolutely will succeed. If you’ve worked your ass off to keep getting better, you’ll take better shots and score more points and be a more effective player. You will succeed.

I also find that the tougher the shot, the more satisfaction I get from making it. That’s something I didn’t truly realise until writing this article, and is a good lesson to remember!

7. Letting go

Each team has so many possessions in any basketball game. You’re going to score a lot of baskets, and you’re going to miss a lot too. You might as well accept it. In the NBA, the highest level of basketball in the world, most players shoot around 50%, if not slightly lower. Which, for the math geniuses amongst you, means they miss about 50% too. These are the best players in the world, and they “only” make half their shots. If they took each miss with them to the next possession and thought about it, worried about it, obsessed over it happening again…what do you think would happen? Might they be frustrated? Might they lose confidence? Think they suck? Probably. Does that sound helpful?

It’s important to let go. You gave the ball away? Let it go. You missed a crucial shot? Let it go. Why would you hold onto it? There’s nothing to gain. Learn from it and move forward.

How do you let go? You have to trust yourself. If you trust that letting go is the right decision, then you can live with whatever the result is of that decision.

Featured photo credit: Air/Thomas Hawk via flickr.com

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