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Teach your athletes to own their choices


December 28, 2018

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There is a recurring dream that I have had for the past 20 years. It takes place at my high school, and I am showing up to basketball tryouts for my senior year. In the dream, I am stepping on the court as an outsider who is timid, yet determined. I have a chip on my shoulder that is hard to shake off, and I feel like everyone on the team is staring at me — including the coaches. I want so badly to be part of the team, but I always wake up before knowing the final outcome.

Now, before you begin to analyze this dream as some subconscious feeling of rejection from my peers, it is actually a quite literal dream and I know the cause: regret for having quit my high school basketball team.

It was my junior year in high school, and I was the starting shooting guard on the varsity team — a goal I had worked extremely hard to reach. As much as I wanted this, it was also a very challenging place for me to be.

By nature, basketball is an intense sport filled with noise and adrenaline. It requires tactical plays and moves executed to near perfection in front of a crowd. To play, you need to work well with others in a team setting with many teammates with starkly different personalities. This sport also requires having several coaches charged with the task of catering to all those different personalities, all while teaching the game the best they can without letting their negative emotions fly.

By nature, I am a tenderhearted loner. As much as I loved moving up and down the court, anticipating passes and draining a clutch shot, I didn’t like the pressure of doing it in front of an audience while a coach was yelling at me from the sidelines. The pressure got to me, and I found that the game I loved so much was too much for me to handle.

Unfortunately, my teenage self didn’t see things this way, but instead blamed the nature of the sport. I often looked at my teammates as negative influences and threats, and faulted my coaches for not providing an atmosphere where I could thrive. I went from loving a game to blaming the game, and as a result, I quit. And as a later result, I am filled with regret.

I know that I will never be able to change the choice I made all those years ago, and may have to settle for a very unsatisfying recurring dream for the rest of my life. However, as a mother of several athletes who may very well encounter the same challenges I did, I have the chance to make it right.

I don’t want, nor will I let my kids blame coaches, players or even the nature of the game when things get hard — like I let myself do all those years ago. Instead, I hope to instill in them a sense of self and accountability. If a coach or player is difficult, it is up to my child to decide if the situation is worth pushing through, addressing directly or leaving. Whatever, the decision that is made will be theirs alone based on their own reflection of self.

Maybe I won’t prevent regret from happening, and my kids may very well have recurring dreams as a result of poor decisions made. But at least those decisions (if I have anything to do with it) will be devoid of blame and filled with accountability.

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