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Lasting lessons basketball taught me part four; success in life

Photo taken February 28, 2014
Photo taken February 28, 2014
Photo taken by Anwar Dunbar

This article is the conclusion of the series titled the Lasting lessons basketball taught me. Part four will discuss some of the valuable lessons basketball taught me about how to be successful in life.

Basketball taught me that no matter what you set out to do, it helps to have a mentor who is experienced in you craft of interest. Someone who has been there already, knows all of the tricks of the trade, and the potential pitfalls and can help guide you in the best possible way towards your goal.

“Sometimes kids have to realize when a coach is trying to help them,” Coach Larry Brown said during his unsuccessful stint coaching Carmelo Anthony and some of the other younger NBA stars in the 2004 Olympics. “Kids have to understand the difference between coaching and criticism. There is a big difference.”

One of the most important lessons basketball taught me is that when someone says something to you that may at first seem unpleasant, it’s important to try to figure out where their words are coming form. Is it coming from a place of hurt? Is it coming from a place of genuine concern? Is it coming from a place of helping? Trying to figure out where people are coming from and avoiding knee jerk reactions can often save a lot of trouble later on for all parties involved.

Basketball taught me that you have to know the leaders of your craft. On the court, you have to know who to model your game after. In other arenas you have to know who the leaders of your field are and how they got there. In graduate school, my thesis advisor stayed on me about knowing what was new in our field because it impacted our own research projects.

Basketball taught me that sometimes you have to lose before you can win. This is hard to fathom, especially when the losing is taking place. In life, however, it’s often important to learn what not to do just as it’s important to learn what to do in key situations. Furthermore, there are usually very important lessons in every loss.

Basketball taught me that there are times in life when you have to go your own way, and leave certain people behind in order to achieve your goal. Friends and relatives for example, who don’t share your interests, can sometimes hold you back from achieving your goal.

Likewise it helps to associate with those who share your interests. If you’re going to be a good basketball player for example, you have to hang around with other basketball players. The same thing goes for learning to invest money, learning how to write, learning how to salsa dance, pursuing higher education, etc.

In my playing days, it was often stressed to us that “the game is 95% mental and 5% physical.” This relates to one of the biggest lessons that basketball taught me which is that whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you not only have to be focused on your goal, but you have to be mentally strong as well, as there will likely be unexpected obstacles to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

Just as on the basketball court, in the game of life not only will you have to put in the work to achieve your goal or master your craft, but you will also have to endure people (sometimes those closest to you) telling you that “you can’t,” why “you won’t” do something,” or “what you’re not,” all difficult criticisms, but comments you’ll face when setting out to accomplish something of value. Many successful people derive motivation from disempowering words and naysayers while unsuccessful people buckle and fold under those criticisms and doubts.

“Your attitude determines your altitude,” my high school basketball coach Ken Jones told us regularly. In translation, your approach to a given situation will impact the outcome of that situation. We were fortunate that in addition to trying to get us to win games, Coach Jones wanted to develop us into the best people we could be. Likewise, in whichever activity a young person is involved in, the life skills taught are just as important as that particular activity.

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