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Energy Gains

Basketball Is Psychology XXXI

(Photo via Chicago Sky)



We need energy to perform at our best.

If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t have enough energy to play as well as you can.

If you don’t eat enough, you won’t have enough energy to play as well as you are capable of playing.

But there is another valuable source of energy that often goes unexamined: people.

Drains and Gains

Do the people on your team leave you feeling energized or do they make you feel drained?

In his book People Fuel, Psychologist Dr. John Townsend termed the two types of people energy drains or gains.

Just one interaction with an energy drain can leave us feeling exhausted. We dread being around these people because they suck the life out of a room, and they drain out all the energy.

There’s nothing better than being around people who leave us feeling energized. We look forward to being around them because we leave every interaction feeling more passionate, motivated, encouraged, and empowered; these are energy gains.

What’s the difference between people who are gains and drains?

Leadership researcher at the University of Michigan, Kim Cameron found the differences between people who drain our energy and people who add to our energy:


  • Brag, promote, and talk about themselves

  • Devalue others

  • Lack empathy

  • Spend a lot of time talking about themselves

  • Focus on the negative

  • Complain about problems

  • Are quick to criticize others when things go wrong


  • Take responsibility and follow through with what they say

  • Support others

  • Are upbeat and optimistic

  • Look for solutions instead of complaining about problems

  • Acknowledge others’ contributions

  • Express gratitude

  • Help people around them

  • Are empathetic

Essentially, gains are team players while drains are self-centered.

Emotional Energy Management

There’s a lot of hype in today’s game surrounding players who can perform in the playoffs, when it matters, at the end of the game. Everyone wants to be “clutch”. Our ability to perform in clutch time lies in how much energy we have.

Performance Psychologist Dr. Jarrod Spencer said, “The better we manage our energy, the better we’re going to be in peak performance at the end.”

This is why great athletes are meticulous with their game day routines. They aren’t just reserving their physical energy for the game, they try not to expend much emotional energy by having an uneventful schedule leading up to the game.

You might be in great physical shape, but most players still get tired at the end of games because they run out of emotional energy. Basketball games are full of ups and downs, momentum shifts, bad calls, decision making, great plays; it’s all part of the emotional roller coaster that makes us love basketball. Throughout the course of the game and even practices, your emotional energy steadily drops; this is why you need more gains than drains on your team.

You should be the kind of teammate who adds to everyone else’s energy. This kind of teammate is indispensable because although their value isn’t quantifiable on the stat sheet, their team always seems to find that extra boost of energy, that winning edge. Energy gains make a difference in the win column.

People who can energize their teammates are a crucial ingredient to winning because they constantly replenish energy stores. When you have a team full of gains, you have the advantage in clutch time, when teams full of drains are out of emotional energy.

Gains Win Championships

You win with gains because the defining characteristic of gains is they don’t think the world revolves around them. They are always looking for ways to acknowledge and encourage their teammates.

If you don’t think this is a recipe for success, look no further than the San Antonio Spurs. They have a history of drafting players most people have never heard of. Sure, talent is important, but it doesn’t matter how talented you are to the Spurs, if you don’t fit their culture.

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said, "For us, it's easy. We're looking for character, but what does that mean? We're looking for people who have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it's about them, or if they understand that they're just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that.”

The 5-time NBA Champion has notoriously won with guys who seemed too old to still be playing let alone winning. Tim Duncan was 38-years-old when he led his team to his 5th title against LeBron in his prime.

"It's not about any one person. You've got to realize it takes a group to get things done."

- Gregg Popovich


How were these old guys finding the energy to keep going? They were gains, not drains. Their physical energy may not have been at an all time high, but their emotional energy was. They energized each other with an unselfish and supportive mentality.

His former teammate Steve Kerr said, “He’d come into the locker room after a loss and he’d say, ‘My fault,’ and you’d look at the stats and he’s got 38 points and 24 rebounds. Pretty sure it wasn’t your fault, Tim.” There was an understanding that it’s not about any one person, and Tim Duncan modeled that.

Action Step:

Lead by example.

While you can’t control all the actions of your teammates, you can influence them by setting an example. Practice all the qualities of energy gains:

  • Take responsibility and follow through with what you say

  • Support others

  • Be upbeat and optimistic

  • Look for solutions instead of complaining about problems

  • Acknowledge others’ contributions

  • Express gratitude

  • Help people around you

  • Be empathetic


Written by Julie Fournier




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