I remember the moment very clearly. It was right after our first league game against Redlands College during my graduate season (2014-15).
I had played poorly and didn’t shoot well. (6/15 fgs, 15 points, 5 reb, 3 Act, 2 TO’s,) While it might not seem like a terrible stat line, I think about 10 of my points came in garbage time. I had averaged 18 or 19 points per game the year before and had very high expectations for the season.
The moment that I remember most vividly was walking out of the gym with my dad. We had won the game but I was frustrated. I was telling my dad maybe I’m not really a good scorer. When teams load up on me, maybe I just don’t have what it takes to carry the team. Maybe I’m expecting too much of myself to think I can be our team’s go-to guy. Sure, I play hard, defend, box out and compete, but maybe that’s my ceiling.
I was questioning everything: my ability, my talent, my potential.
I went on to have my best season yet, scoring 22.5 ppg, 6 reb and 4 ast per night on 55% shooting from the field and 45% on 3’s. I’m not sharing this to brag. I’m sharing my story to let you know that every player goes through hard times and starts to question himself.
In the moment, what seems like an insurmountable obstacle or fundamental truth, might just turn out to be a blip in the road.
Looking at it now, I laugh at my overreaction. I was foolish to make those kinds of leaps in judgment after one bad game. I was just a college kid then, I know better now, right? I’m much more mature and can take the long-term view.
Well, not so much. I talk to my dad and my girlfriend on the phone after pretty much every game so they know the truth. If l have a bad game now I’ll be just as distraught as I was when I was in college. I’ll start questioning my ability and talent and despair over what happened to my career.
Eventually though, I (usually) come to my senses.
By zooming out and looking at it from a bird’s eye view it’s absurd that I get so caught up in the moment after one bad game. Time helps provide the space (both temporal and emotional) that helps gain that perspective.
The Dark Alley vs. The Top-Of-The-Building
When you’re in the depths of a bad streak, it’s like being in dark alley. You can’t see above the menacing walls on either side. You can’t get a foothold to climb up the side.
It feels like there’s nowhere else to go. Your entire world consists of that alley. You can’t even imagine that anything else exists outside of it because the alley is all you can see.
Eventually though, as you keep walking, you find a side door. You tentatively push on it and find that it swings open. You clamber through the door and climb to the roof to get a better view.
Looking over the edge of the building you see an entire, sprawling city. Only then do you realize that the alleyway that seemed to be all-encompassing is just a tiny strip in a massive world.
After that game against Redlands, I was in that dark alley. I couldn’t see any way out and I couldn’t see the rest of the city. I had conveniently forgot about all the evidence of that I could carry the burden of being our team’s go-to guy.
All the preseason success was nothing. This was league play now so that didn’t count.
All of last year’s success was nothing. Now teams are game-planning for me so it’s different.
All the work I’d put in the offseason means nothing if I can’t do it when the important games come around.
This was the narrow perspective that I had. After just 1 game!!
In the moment, I wasn't able to hear that I just had an off-night. Or that I was being too hard on myself. Or even that basketball is unimportant in the grand scheme of things. In fact, I’m pretty sure my dad told me all those things (which were all correct).
In my mind I was trapped in that alley and I couldn’t get out. I had the alley perspective and my dad had the top-of-the-building perspective.
Often, it just takes time to get that top-of-the-building perspective. Personally, time is the only thing that I’ve found that can consistently take me out of the alley perspective and into the top-of-the-building perspective.
Sometimes, you just need to keep walking in that alley for a little while longer. Eventually you’ll find the side door and make your way to the roof.