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7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Playing Basketball

7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Playing Basketball

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.”

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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?

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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