Basketball was a game I loved the day I picked up a ball, and have been very fortunate that it has exposed me to many places, people, experiences, and opportunities. However, the going was not easy, not by any measure of the word. As a Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach and Certified Personal Trainer, I look back at the days of my young ignorance and think about all the things I could have done differently to be more successful. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but this is a big reason I love what I do now! Here's a bit about my story, and five lessons learned. My advice? Learn them and start actively working on them now, they make a tremendous impact not only as an athlete, but in your life.
The Imperfectly Perfect Journey
High school: Kodiak, Alaska
I had no formal training in how to improve my athleticism (I was a long, lanky, average athlete), zero knowledge or experience with lifting weights, didn't have cable TV and YouTube wasn't a thing yet, so I didn't watch much basketball. The one saving grace, is I was fortunate to come from a community (and state) that LOVES basketball and an outstanding high school coach who had played in college and professionally.
Not knowing how I was going to get recruited to college, I picked my best game, made a bunch of copies, packaged them up and mailed them off to coaches with personal letters. Out of desperation, I also got on board with a recruiting service who helped get my name out to coaches. I thought I was D1 caliber, hilarious.
I fundraised to travel with my summer team, the Alaska Stars, and stayed with a family in Anchorage for the summer so I could practice with them. Now playing with some of the best talent in the state, I realized I was still a decent player, but had a ton to improve on. I also still knew nothing about what it would really take to play at the next level, and would soon learn the hard way...
College: The University of Alaska Anchorage
I was fortunate to get picked up by my home state college, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), who at the time was (and still is) a Division II powerhouse. I soon learned that the jump from high school to college was substantial. Every practice felt like trying to scramble up that super steep wall on America Ninja Warrior.
unless something was torn or broken). And no one cared why you didn't do something the way it was asked of you, if it wasn't done right, you were getting yelled at.
I was put in my place real quick, ultimately spending that first year as a redshirt, meaning I was able to practice with the team, but not play in games and still have four years of eligibility. It was not pretty, as oftentimes things worth fighting for aren't, and a lesson in what collegiate athleticism and expectation looked like and would cost to attain.
The Fuel That Sparked The Rise
asked of me without complaint and silent anguish (oftentimes surfacing alone in tears of frustration).
As I drove to my dorm after hearing the most blunt, honest, and what felt unfair words I'd heard in my life, I became increasingly angry. I took 3 days off. Enough time to pack up my stuff to head home for the summer and let that brutal statement really sink in.
Then it was time to get to work. I ordered a weighted basketball and started googling drills to improve my athleticism and skills. For that entire summer I was obsessed with improving, and more importantly, still angry. It was my fuel.
The Pressure that led to the Fall
The next year was completely different. Suddenly I found myself starting, scoring more points in my first game than I had the entire last season combined. I had finally made it to the top of that seemingly impossible Ninja wall.
Yet, this wasn't even close to the start of a happy ending as I would soon learn there is a price with success and it's adversity's distant cousin, pressure. My junior year I didn't know how to handle the pressure, I was at risk of losing my starting spot to a junior college transfer and literally made myself sick with stress, missing our first road trip because I was stuck in the Emergency Room with painful abdominal cramping. I was ashamed and shocked that my body had quit on me.
I think you may have figured out by now though that a little tummy owie wasn't going to keep me down, and even though I was never able to reclaim my starting spot for the entire year, we went on to Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament, a trade off I would make every time! #TeamFirst, baby.
Adversity strikes again, Won't she bother someone else?
Our new coach, who remains as the current coach for the UAA women's team, had to go to intramural games to find us a couple more players so we could even practice 5 on 5.
Expectations were drastically different than the year prior to preform, as we were so young and undermanned that if either the Point Guard or myself had a bad game, we would not win, and that's not to sound cocky at all, it was the unfortunate truth. Thus, with every game came a family reunion of pressure and adversity, because winning was and will always be more important (regardless of who you are or if you actually think this) than individual success or accolades.
Against all odds, we somehow managed to have a winning season (17-10) a record I felt more proud of than any previous because it required excellence on every level from many people. A true team effort, and perhaps another story for another time!
Finally, after years of dreaming, setting goals, and working relentlessly towards them, I was fortunate enough to finally live my ultimate dream of playing professional basketball. My journey after college took me overseas to Germany, where I played one year for a club called TSV Viernheim and then returned the following year to play for another club, the GiroLive Panthers of Osnabrück. After nine months abroad my second year, I immediately flew 16 hours from Germany to Australia and played out the last four months of my career for the Logan Thunder in Brisbane.
Five Key Lessons Learned
This is one of thousands of student athlete experiences in one sport, and it is my only wish by sharing my story that it helps young student athletes overcome their own Ninja Warrior walls in sports and in life, because I will tell you right now, those experiences have had immense impact on how I handle things in my now, adult (is that a GRAY HAIR?!) daily life.
This is where your circle comes in to play. Surround yourself with people who care about you so much they are willing to tell you something you need to hear in order to help you, and are willing to say it even if it makes you mad or upset. Remember, it's never easy to hear those types of things, the saying "the truth hurts" exists for a reason, but it will ultimately make you better.
No matter how much or how little success you are having at this moment, do not stop working. You have to believe in your ability to reach your goals and that hard work will pay off, it always does. Now, there is a massive difference between believing in yourself and being entitled to an outcome because you think you've worked hard for it. This goes back to having solid people you trust to be honest with you.
Here's the kicker though, you must be receptive to what they say and at all costs avoid shooting the messenger! You are enlisting the help of someone to give you a different perception than your own, which is absolutely critical for your growth as a player and person.
Have Selective Hearing
The one voice you need to be listening to, even if you are not religious, is the voice of faith. Faith, or believing in yourself, is the voice that will tell the critiques and fans to be silent, because they don't know your process. They don't know the sweat, blood, and tears that you put in; they don't know what you are working towards; and really, they don't know you.
Trust the process
If you haven't noticed already, the four lessons before this are all interwoven in some way. Ultimately, these all constitute your process, and when you are confident that you are doing things the right way, which is in accordance with your values and vision, then you must trust that with persistent action and work, you will get to where you want to go.
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