Let’s say you are the parent of an outstanding youth basketball player, male or female. Let’s say that you are trying to determine their potential in the game. What will ultimately determine whether they succeed or fail in their quest to become an elite high school, college, or pro player? Talent obviously plays a role. Each of our genetic profiles is different. Some of us max out in high school, others in college, and then you have those athletes that reach the professional ranks. Grit is a huge key to reaching those levels and elite athletes grind it out day after day to give themselves a great shot at success.
There is one factor that is often overlooked, the player’s willingness to sacrifice. A player that is not willing to sacrifice something, or more likely many somethings, is unlikely to make it big in the game of basketball, or any sport. Great athletes sacrifice on a daily basis. They are committed to their craft and are willing to set aside pleasure or comfort while others are not. This willingness to sacrifice for the sake of one’s improvement as a player is what helps to separate “players” from those that merely play the game.
As a long time basketball coach and skills trainer I have seen all types of players with varying levels of talent and genetics. Let’s not be naïve and suggest that any one factor determines whether or not a player reaches his or her potential. There are many factors that go into whether a player achieves their goals, but the willingness to sacrifice is crucial.
Is a player willing to go to the gym and gets shots up during a hot summer afternoon when their friends are at the pool? Is a player willing to get up before school and work on their ballhandling in the basement? Is a player ready to spend Friday nights playing pic-up games when their friends are hanging out at parties? Is a player willing to eat right, stay away from drugs and alcohol? Condition their body to be an outstanding player? If they are willing to do these things it’s a great sign that they might be on the path to success.
When we watch college or professional basketball on tv or in person we tend to gloss over the hours and hours of practice time that these players have put in. The vast majority of that time has come when the cameras were off and nobody else was there. These players were willing to push themselves beyond where they thought they could go. I preach to all the players I work with about the need to get out of their comfort zone. Being great requires being uncomfortable. If a player is unwilling to push through those barriers and sacrifice their comfort they won’t develop the skill set necessary to reach their potential.
Players willing to sacrifice get in one more rep, sprint the floor one more time, take one more shot, train just a little longer than those players who aren’t. These players give up time with their family and friends to pursue their dream of being great. Most players aren’t willing to make that sacrifice. On the night of my senior prom I was playing pick-up basketball at a local college gym. Would most players have made that sacrifice? I don’t think so. Great players make their game a priority and are willing to forgo experiences that most people would not. They know that this kind of sacrifice is what sets them apart and makes them a success. For most players this kind of sacrifice is uncomfortable, maybe even strange. Why miss out on a fun event like the prom? Great players make this sacrifice willingly because their success depends on it.
Most players tend to choose the easiest path. They put in the required time and not much beyond that. When things get tough they are ok to walk away. The harder you work, the harder it is to walk away. As parents we often try to make our child’s path easier, after all that is part of our job isn’t it? In some cases yes, but in others we need to step back and let our kids struggle. Don’t intervene when their playing time is lost or they have a bad game. Let them figure out what types of sacrifices they have to make to rectify their predicament. Great players embrace the struggle and sacrifice. They don’t look for excuses or for someone else to bail them out. Instead, they put their head down and get back to work.
Is your young player willing to make the sacrifice to be great?
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