Learning from Failure: Examining my Disastrous Trip to China

China was a great experience for me, but not because I played well. I played terribly for most of the trip. But, it was because I played so poorly that I feel as if I learned so much. Failure is a cruel but effective teacher.

I could give a list of fairly legitimate excuses for why I didn’t play well, but I won’t. Here’s why:

Excuses are a virus. They infect your thinking and undermine your mental strength. If I were to give myself an excuse for my poor play, I would be accepting that I don't have control over the situation.

Imagine yourself in this scenario: You’re the 3rd option on your team’s offense and average about 7-8 FGA per game. You’re an important part of the offense but not the focal point. In today’s game, you only got up 3 shots and missed them all. You got frustrated because you weren’t getting the ball and lost concentration, causing you to miss some assignments defensively and lose your mental edge.

To what do you attribute your poor performance? Many players would complain that their coach didn’t call enough plays for them or that their teammates were too selfish. As soon as you think that, you’re done. You’ve admitted that you no longer have control over your own performance. What’s worse is that you let one aspect of the game negatively influence others.

That is something I simply cannot accept.

That’s why I will not list any excuses for how I played on this trip. I played poorly, I’m going to own up to it, learn from it and move on.

Before I analyze how I played, a quick note on self-evaluation.

It’s not easy to directly confront your performance, especially when you’ve performed poorly in an area that is meaningful to you. But, attacking it head-on is the only way to truly learn and evolve from your past mistakes. For more on self-evaluation, check out Jay Bilas’ book Toughness. He dives deep into mental toughness, sharing stories and advice from coaching legends like Coach K, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, and Bob Knight. He spends an entire chapter on self-evaluation and why it's critical to success.

Although it’s difficult, try to be unbiased and analytical when assessing yourself. This is where a high level of self-awareness can be extremely valuable. Being able to take a step back from your own opinions and perspectives is a critical factor in accurate self-evaluation.


Here’s what I learned from my dreadful trip:


1) I tend to play passively when I’m in unfamiliar situations. I think this is a function of my reserved personality. This tendency is something I will have to consciously improve as I move forward. It doesn’t serve me well to blend in when the situation requires that I stand out.

Showcases and tours may not be the ideal playing situation to showcase my strengths, but that doesn’t excuse passive play. I’ve earned my place on these teams and I owe it to myself (and the thousands of hours I’ve spent training) to play attacking basketball.


2) Confidence is a never-ending battle for me. While some people seem to have infallible confidence, I’m just not one of those people. When self-doubt creeps into my mind, I have to be constantly ready to beat it back.


3) Negativity is contagious. Being around people with a pessimistic attitude is difficult to escape. It is much easier to fall in line with those around you than to go against the grain.

On this trip, many of my teammates were constantly complaining and whining about petty inconveniences and minor irritations. From the amount of whining, you would’ve thought that we were starving and homeless. It seemed that they forgot to be grateful that we were on an all-expenses paid trip to China, staying in luxury (for the most part) hotels, and being constantly taken care of. Eventually, I found myself thinking the same negative thoughts as the rest of my teammates and feeling less happy because of it.

I realized the importance of surrounding myself with people that have a good attitude and appreciate the quality of their lives. For that, I'm truly grateful for my friends and family who always seem to be upbeat and cheerful.


4) International guards are much stronger and bigger. I suspected this was the case, but It was confirmed on this trip. In most professional leagues, I am a big point guard but a small shooting guard. I have to be able to defend bigger guards in the post as well as chase quicker guards around endless ball screens. Fighting over ball screens without losing contact with my man is going to be crucial for me in the international game that features continuous pick and roll action.


5) On a different note, traffic rules seem to be optional in China. It’s downright scary on the road. Our team bus would routinely perform 3-point turns in crowded intersections. Honking is the norm. Lanes are meaningless. Motorized scooters with entire families on board swerve in and out of traffic. Pedestrians walk down the middle of crowded streets. It's pure chaos out there.


6) I need to force myself into uncomfortable situations where I will make mistakes. This is the fastest way for me to adjust to the new style of play. Mistakes accelerate the learning process because they create visceral memories of failure. If I don’t put myself in positions to make mistakes, I’ll adapt very slowly to the international game. Only by seeking to play outside my comfort zone will I get used to the game quickly enough to reach my goals.


7) Fear of failure is great for motivating me to train harder. When I’m training, I’m always paranoid that someone else is working harder than me. It’s a constant thorn in the back of my mind and inspires me to constantly push myself in the gym and weight room.

But, this fear of failure must be removed as soon as the game starts (I also learned this from Jay Bilas’ book Toughness). Although many great athletes have admitted to being fueled by the fear of failure, that fear disappears at game time. Instead, I have to be tough enough to accept the outcome, positive or negative, and be willing to be just as aggressive regardless of whether I make a mistake.


So there you go. I’ve bared my soul to you all and addressed some of my biggest weaknesses. It wasn’t easy to directly analyze why I played so bad on this trip. It would be much easier to ignore these shortcomings, but I know it will be more helpful in the long run if I confront them.


I've shared this information with you because I hope you can learn from it and use this example to inspire you to honestly analyze your own performance.

In the comments below, share your biggest weakness. I’m not talking about skill deficiencies. I want to know psychologically, emotionally, habitually what is holding you back. Feel free to use a pseudonym to hide your identity. But be honest with yourself. If it’s painful or uncomfortable to think about, then you‘ll know you’re analyzing something important. I’d love to hear what you all have to say and I promise I’ll respond to every comment.