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Life Without Sports

Basketball is Psychology XLVII

(Photo via @oregonwbb twitter)


“Be strong.”

“Take it like a man.”

“Don’t be a wimp.”

“Don’t cry.”

These words are often told to those who are going through a hard time, especially athletes.

There’s an unwritten rule that athletes are not supposed to cry or show emotion. Our culture of sports equates a face of stone to strength and vulnerability to weakness. As if athletes are not human and shouldn’t be affected by hardships.

Being strong does not mean you are not allowed to have feelings, and strength does not mean you suppress your feelings.

When we hide our pain, it doesn’t go away, it festers, which is why vulnerability is the ultimate strength.

Athletes are taught from a young age that being strong means hiding your emotions and that showing your emotions is a sign of weakness. That could not be further from the truth. Grieving is brave. One of the strongest things you can do is to feel the weight of your emotions. It’s okay to be heartbroken, sad, and upset. Grieving is brave because it means rather than hiding your emotions, you’re holding them.

If we don’t grieve, we can’t heal. Grief has to be fully experienced because on the other side is healing. Strong people cry.

A few weeks ago, for the first time, the sports world stopped. Many athletes were forced to abruptly end their seasons, and for some, their careers ended as well.

In her book ”On Grief and Grieving” Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief:

  1. Denial: Denial and shock help us cope and make survival possible. It’s our way of letting in only as much as we can handle. Letting in the feelings associated with loss at once would be emotionally overwhelming. We can’t believe what has happened because we actually can’t believe what has happened.

  2. Anger: Feeling frustrated and upset

  3. Bargaining: Thinking “What if…” / ”If only...”

  4. Depression: It is an appropriate response to a great loss. It is intense sadness. It makes us wonder, why go on at all? Life feels pointless, even your daily activities seem empty and it’s hard to care about anything. Our society does not know how to handle this depression. Depression after a loss is seen as unnatural and most people see it as a state that needs to be fixed. But depression is a normal, appropriate response. It would be unusual to not feel an intense sadness after something you care about is gone. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary stops along the way, The only way around it is through it. Sometimes intervention is vital, but most of the time, we do not allow the normal depression that comes with grief to have its place. This cheering-up reaction is often an expression of that person’s own needs and that person’s own inability to tolerate a long face for extended time.

  5. Acceptance: often confused with the notion of being all right or okay with what happened, that’s not the case. This stage is about accepting the reality that something is gone and recognizing this new reality is permanent.

The world of athletics views tears as a weakness and a face of stone as strength.

Because you’ve been taught suppressing emotions is strength and showing emotion is weakness, as an athlete it can be tempting to think these do not apply to you, but recognize that it is okay to not be okay. In fact, not being okay can be part of the healing process.

The saving grace of loss is that the hardships are an opportunity for growth. You won’t be able to see or understand this kind of growth until you look back years from now in the future. This time will help you grow as a person, which will help you throughout your basketball career and beyond.

This may feel like punishment, but choose to view it as training. These hard times are shaping you into a tougher person who is even more capable of weathering life’s toughest storms.

Why do you do what you do?

One of the biggest problems we see throughout this time without sports, is a lack of motivation. If your only sources of motivation are winning and accomplishment, you’re probably having an especially hard time adjusting to life without sports.

We all have different motivations for everything we do.

Whether it’s what motivates you to wake up early to go to the gym and get some extra shots up, what motivates you to give more effort on game days, or what motivated you to read this article; we all have underlying reasons behind every action we take.

Typically, our motivation comes from two sources:

  • Ego (looking good, doing things for social media, obsessing over our image...)

  • Materialism (getting stuff: money, accolades, scholarships, contracts, championships...)

As an athlete, this is quite possibly the longest break you will have without workouts, practices, and games. It has never been more important to know how to motivate yourself.

What we all need is motivation that will last.

We need motivation that will energize us even if the sports world stops.

We don’t think what’s motivating us is important, and we don’t give it a lot of thought, until all of a sudden that motivation is gone and hopelessness settles in.

If your motivation was looking good or getting a trophy, this might be especially hard for you. No games are being televised, and no National Championship trophies are being given out.

The problem with being motivated by looking good and winning championships is, it does not always deliver. What happens when you lose the game and end up looking bad? What happens if you never win a championship? Or worse, what happens when you win the championship trophy and the MVP and it leaves you feeling empty? How many trophies and accolades does it take to be satisfied? It never satisfies.

What if there was another source of motivation? And what if that source of motivation always delivered?

That is how gratitude works. The more time you spend thinking about how grateful you are, the more your brain finds to be grateful for. Gratitude sparks an endless cycle of joy and motivation.

Tough days are going to happen to us all. There are going to be times when everything seems to be going wrong and you can’t seem to catch a break. In those hard times, your motivation for looking good and winning championships is not what’s going to get you through.

You need motivation that will sustain you, even if you have to face life without sports.

What does it look like when you are energized by gratitude?

Finding the Right Perspective in Adversity

After injuring his back in his very first college game, Michael Porter Jr. spent most of the season injured. After one year of college, Michael declared for the NBA draft. At one point during his high-school career, Michael Porter Jr. was projected to be picked first in the NBA draft. So when draft night came around, it was a shock to not hear his name called until the 14th pick.

For most, being drafted in the NBA is one of the most exciting nights of their life, but all anyone could talk about is the “disappointment” of dropping to the 14th pick. In his interview right after being drafted he said, “All I can say is it’s a blessing, you know I’m not entitled to this, everything’s a blessing and I’m so excited. My path was a little different than everybody else’s, but I’m going to make sure this pick is this organization’s best pick they’ve ever made. I’m just happy to be with a team that believes in me. I don’t feel entitled to this, it’s a blessing.”

He could have lost perspective and viewed the night as a disappointment and he would have lost one of the most exciting nights of his life. Most people saw the night as a huge disappointment for him, but how rare is it to get drafted in the NBA? Most people can only dream of making it that far, and rather than believing he deserved to get picked higher, Michael found the right perspective.

Finding the right perspective means you take a step back from the situation to evaluate what is most important; which is exactly what Michael Porter Jr. did here. When you are able to find the right perspective, you will lose the entitlement, and instead you’ll be full of gratitude, motivation, and joy.

Just by finding the right perspective of gratitude, Michael turned what many saw as a disappointment into an exciting night of recognizing how blessed and grateful he is.

Watch how much your emotional disposition changes when you start thinking about how grateful you are. Your season or your career may have ended prematurely, and as human beings we are prone to think about the negative: how unfairly it ended. It is completely counterintuitive to look back on a season that ended so suddenly and unfairly and try to think about what you’re grateful for, but what if you started thinking about how grateful you are for your team, the moments you shared together, and the times you did get to play. Think about how grateful you are that this “Life” without sports, is only a season. Sports bring so much joy and excitement to our lives, if you are involved with sports in any way, you are living the dream. Research has shown us that the most joyful people in the world have one thing in common: they practice gratitude. Gratitude changes everything.

Action Steps:

Social distance does not have to mean emotional distance: Don’t let gratitude just be an attitude, make those around you feel appreciated. Right now what we don’t need is more information, we need more connection. Social distancing and quarantine have probably left a lot of people on your team feeling lonely. Reach out to a teammate, coach, or friend and let them know why you appreciate them. Take a genuine interest in their well-being. When you ask them how they’re doing, don’t accept a one word answer. You won’t see your teammates or players at practice every day, but don’t let that stop you from using your gifts. Leaders lead, regardless of the circumstances. If you’re an encourager, reach out and encourage someone. If you’re funny, reach out and make someone laugh. If you’re a great listener, call someone and ask them how they’re dealing with life without sports. Be intentional about your relationships.

Motivate yourself with gratitude: We all want everything to go back to normal, but I would suggest you don’t go back to normal. Instead, you treat every day you get to play the game as if it was a bonus. Instead of complaining about “having” to run sprints, remember what a privilege it is to be with your team and to have another opportunity to get better. Let gratitude be what motivates you everyday and you’ll find a source of energy that always delivers, even when the sports world stops.

Seek growth: read books, watch film, find a mentor, rest, study the greats, ask questions, shoot in your driveway, work on ball handling in your garage, cook a healthy meal, whatever you do, don’t stop getting better. Recognize and seize the opportunity this time of social distancing is for personal growth. Come out of this stronger, smarter, and better.

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