“Conscious Coaching” is a book by a Strength and Conditioning coach that I just finished reading. It challenged me to take a look back at my life in order to be a more effective coach going forward. The challenge from author Brett Bartholomew was essentially to find your why. Not the “I want to change lives” why, but truly the root of why you want to change people’s lives. So, I did a little soul searching and found mine.
I want to help athletes reach the next level because I never did.
Growing up, basketball was my sport. I played constantly. I watched basketball, both current and vintage (Hardwood Classics on ESPN). Both my Dad and sister played college basketball, and I had the same goal. I overheard people say I was athletic or talented, but I knew I was short and didn’t have a natural athleticism. I looked up to underrated pro players like Steve Nash, who made up for his lack of raw ability and small size with skill, smarts, leadership, and consistency. When I was playing my best, I brought the ball up the court, called the plays, got teammates into the correct position and made smart passes, just like my hero Nash.
High school rolled around. I went from a private Christian school where I could do no wrong on the court, to a public high school where I had zero “ins” to making the team. Tryouts were a new experience for me. I was confident in my abilities, but nervous about the process and the sixty other players trying out.
The coaches put me on the JV team. To me, that felt like a loss. I had thought I would make varsity, maybe as a reserve, but definitely on the team. Instead, I played a year on JV as a backup, which fell totally short of my expectations. I didn’t take it well. I practiced less and took less pride in basketball.
Around this time, I started CrossFit with the intentions of getting stronger and faster for basketball. A few weeks later, I finally got the call up I wanted—I would be practicing with the varsity squad as a sophomore. In scrimmages, the changes CrossFit wrought in my physical ability were noticeable. Less bruises from hitting the hardwood, less getting burned on the defensive end, more power in jump shots. I was becoming an athlete.
And yet a couple weeks before official tryouts, I quit.
It was unexpected from most around me, but I had lost interest. I had loved basketball, but that had been drowned out by my singular focus of playing in college. I had failed to set short term goals: be more consistent from the free throw line, develop quicker feet for faster change of direction on defense, etc. Without those shorter goals, it felt like I never made progress, and the love of the game faded away.
Instead, I started working out religiously. Exercise took the place of basketball. Instead of dribbling, I lifted. Instead of shooting, I did pull-ups. Instead of watching Hardwood Classics, I watched CrossFit videos. Guess what happened in the long run: I burned myself out the same way, by looking too far into the future instead of measuring short-term progress, and eventually lost sight of why I did it. I’m finally learning from this pattern and ready to pass that along.
As a coach, I want to help young athletes get more adept at the game they play, but more importantly I want to help them retain passion for what they are doing, and love the person and athlete they are.
Young athletes are more pressured now than they ever. Today’s young athlete is often pigeonholed into one sport at an early age, chained to year-round training schedules, burdened by the pressures of eager parents and early recruiting, and compares themselves to other athletes on social media. Off seasons are shrinking, and this comes at a cost. Recovery and reflection is crucial to the mind and body of an athlete. Many athletes continue playing for the sole purpose of achieving a scholarship. Our current culture is madhouse of constant comparison, and experts are linking social-media fueled comparison to depression and anxiety. All these things take their toll when compounded together, inevitably leading to burnout and disappointment.
Long term goals (or dreams) are important motivators. But focusing on effort, developing mastery of a particular skill, taking pride in your work, trusting the process, cultivating self-awareness, and measuring progress based on how far you’ve come protects athletes from burnout and enables them to enjoy their journey in sports, every step of the way.
Sports are meant to be fun, not a job. Sports should teach invaluable life lessons, not crush souls. I regret forgetting that. I wish I could go back and play basketball again to feel the joy and freedom of competing on a team and being on the court.
These experiences have become part of my motivation to work with young athletes today. I want is to help them get stronger, faster, more resilient. I want to help them be the best they can be by setting achievable goals and doing the work. But above all, I want to help them keep the passion and joy they feel for their sport at the center of all that they do. Because that is the purpose of it all.