Basketball on the Edge – The Shadow Side of Greatness

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I recently read an article written by James Clear (a fascinating blog, to read if you have the chance) titled The Shadow Side of Greatness. In the article Clear describes how people who have achieved true greatness in one specific area of their life have often had extreme difficulty in other areas.

Here is a direct quote from the article, “Success in one area is often tied to failure in another area, especially at the extreme end of performance. The more extreme the greatness, the longer the shadow it casts. To phrase it differently, the more one dimensional your focus, the more other areas of life suffer.”

The shadow side of greatness, in Clear’s thinking, is what you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve at a high level. From a youth basketball perspective, are we willing to accept the shadow in our child’s life or our own life as parents and coaches as we chase “greatness”?

Is it worth it? I never asked myself that question about basketball when I was kid. Whatever the shadow was, I was willing to accept it. The things that I missed out on, whatever they were, certainly were never as important to me as basketball. I was pretty one-dimensional as a high school basketball player. Fortunately I was a good student, but I was mostly focused on basketball to the exclusion of just about anything else. I just wanted to play. My ultimate goal was to play in the NBA. I tried not to allow anything to get in the way.

I have an old family video from when I was a kid that shows me carrying my basketball, getting ready to walk out the door and saying goodbye to my parents and my sister. Nothing that unusual, except for the fact the fact that my sister is sitting in front of her birthday cake about to blow out the candles as I walk out the door. I don’t remember where I was going to play, but I’m sure stuff like that happened all the time. I don’t know why I wasn’t staying other than the fact a basketball game was out there and that was where I wanted to be at that moment in my life. That’s just the way it was. I think that was the shadow side of whatever “greatness” I achieved in basketball. People came second for me, basketball came first. Was it wrong? I didn’t think so at the time. Would I change my own experience if I had it to do over again? I doubt it.

On the other hand, as a parent, I ask, “Is it worth it?” far more often. My own kids have plenty of other interests besides basketball, but we spend a lot of time attending basketball practices, games, and training sessions. They are just getting to the age where I become focused solely on basketball. They don’t yet love the game the way I did. I think the shadow side of greatness for us is the opportunity cost of other activities we could be pursuing. Art class, music lessons, zoo camp. These are all things my kids would probably enjoy, but instead we’re on the basketball court. They like the game so there’s no complaining, but sometimes I wonder if that shadow is worth it.

Taking the shadow concept one step further, some parents spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours to enable their kids to play sports. Elite teams, private coaches, out of state travel, daily two hour practices before age 10. All in the hope that their child becomes a star in their chosen sport. They see the scholarship pot at the end of this very expensive and time consuming rainbow. Often, the scholarship dream never materializes or the child drops the sport before they even get to high school. The time and money spent is the shadow, how could it have been used differently to enhance their family’s life? I believe in the power of sports to teach life lessons and positively impact our kids, but keep the shadow of that pursuit in the back of your mind as you chase what I hope is your child’s dream (and not your own).

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