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Lasting lessons basketball taught me part one; an introduction

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

Ken Jones my high school basketball coach was a true student and scholar of the game. In addition to teaching us as much as he could about the fundamentals of basketball, he was also interested in the psychology of sports and wanted to teach life skills to his players. He regularly shared his own life experiences and frequently told us, “As much as I want you guys to become good basketball players, I also want you to become good people.”

Right around the time of tryouts one year, he gave all of us an article from USA Today titled; The joy of victory is why sports exist, by Jeff Riggenbach. While the author argued that the main reason for competition is the thrill of victory, he also stated, “One of the principal reasons we like to see kids get into sports in the first place is what they can learn from the experience right? Important lessons they learn include:

• How to set a goal and work toward it
• How to coordinate their own efforts with those of their teammates
• How to achieve and maintain the flexibility to respond to the ever-changing moment
• Making quick alterations in plans, strategies and tactics

He continues, “These are lessons that would benefit anyone, not only on the playing field or court, but also in business, politics and every other sphere of human life. To learn these lessons, you don’t need to win, necessarily. But you do need to want to win, and you do need to try with all of your might to win.”

Though unable to play even pick-up basketball these days for medical reasons, the game is still frequently on my mind; the Xs and Os, the strategies, and the longing for that feeling of competition. Most importantly the many lessons the game taught me about life are always fresh on my mind. With March Madness upon us, this next series will discuss the Lasting lessons basketball taught me about life, people and success, and how those lessons have translated into the adult world.

Some of the best memories of my life were my years on my high school basketball team at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY. Similar to some of my teammates at that time, it was an experience that didn’t go exactly as planned. Even though it had its share of heartbreaks, it was also a molding experience for me and those experiences have continued to play out throughout my life well after high school.

The players and arenas have changed with every new experience, but the themes and lessons have translated into adulthood. Learning about dribbling, hook shots, and proper defensive techniques were fun, but basketball taught me so much more. It taught me about the most important game of all, the game of life.

Even for young people who don’t go on to play big time college sports, participating in high school interscholastic athletics can be a very rewarding experience which can impart important life lessons. Most of these lessons will translate into the adult world, the workforce and interpersonal relationships. This series will therefore be a reflection on the lessons basketball taught me and how they’ve translated into my life, my career and my many relationships with people along the way. The lessons will be broken up into the following categories:

• Life lessons
• People, Teamwork and Leadership
• Success in life

Many of these lessons are universal and could be gleaned for example from the documentary Hoop Dreams, a very moving film for me which tracked the high school basketball careers of Arthur Agee and William Gates in the early 1990s. Though their basketball careers were much more successful than my own, our experiences, trials and tribulations were similar in many ways.

This series will be continued in part two of the Lasting lessons basketball taught me.