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Play the game, and have fun playing the game

Basketball Games are Just a Game


*Note: this passage was written several months ago, but I constantly have to remind myself of the same thing I told my 8-year-old daughter as an entrepreneur. For this to be worth it, I have to play the game and have fun doing so.


Today I watched my daughter play her first basketball game. As I particularly don’t enjoy basketball much less playing it (even though I’m tall enough to dunk if I had any athletic ability), I never had the chance or the want to teach her the fundamentals. We showed up and realized it was a lot of the children's first game, many of them in the same boat as Evelyn. So here we go….we were down by 22 in the first half of the game. My daughter was busy cheering either when her team was good, or getting frustrated when her team started to do poorly.


I was fine with it all as I know a natural competitive spirit is good when in team sports. But I noticed that she began to get fixed on the mistakes she was making, or things not going their way, or a random whistle to a rule like “no-press” when she thinks she is doing well. All in all, she was getting down on herself and focusing on minor mistakes, which would shadow any achievements made. The mistakes began magnifying and taking shape. The cheering slowed down, only expecting another mistake or disappointment to occur. Eventually, the walls came down. She began to tighten her lips and began to tear up.


“Oh shit…poor thing.”


My wife, Monika leaned in and said “I think she’s getting frustrated with herself, I think you should go talk to her.”


So like any daughter's daddy, I headed over to see what was going on. She was frustrated with herself. When she had the ball the ref called a whistle while she was dribbling, not once but TWICE! The first time she was dribbling up the court and a kid tripped on his shoelace, the second time when it was “no-press” on the other team. She was embarrassed that when she had the ball the whistle was blown and all eyes were on her. And the second time, confirming she didn’t know the rules, so she was frustrated. I told her I totally get that, I didn’t even know the game when I was her age, and I still don’t. She wasn’t here to play her first game and know all the rules. She wasn’t here to make every shot she tried to take, or get every rebound that fell. She wasn’t here to even make a basket. She was here for two reasons:


Play a game of basketball

And have fun playing a game


She was so worried about killing it her first go around, or a whistle called on her when she was heading straight ahead that she forgot that she came that day, not to win a game. But to PLAY basketball. She wasn’t and isn’t expected to know the rules of the game that she just started her professional career 16 minutes ago (she is the tallest one on the court by far btw. nbd), She was here for the playing experience. With her friends, with people cheering for them, whether they got a rebound or ran away from a bounce pass. She should just play the game, I didn’t and wouldn’t care if she was the best on the theme, the worst on the team, the funniest, the seriousness, I just wanted her to do what she was here to do, play.


Far too often people that jump out on their own, or dive into a new career path are self-expected to get it right, nail it on their first try, and achieve the unexpected. But they JUST stepped on the court. They just began to start something new. We are too hard on ourselves and begin to get discouraged when we suddenly get hit with something we didn’t know about or weren’t aware of (like the whistle), but the thing is to understand you are trying this out to see if you like it. You have to try to get in the mindset you are playing a game, trying something new, getting out of your comfort zone, but most importantly: OWN IT. You have to go for that basket because you should be playing, not making every shot. Take chances. Try doing something you weren’t doing last Saturday. Start your first game.


But please: have fun. The goal of a game, and if “taking a bet on yourself” wasn’t a true indication it’s a game, nothing is. But realize that uncomfortable things in life, such as your first basketball game, would be a lot more enjoyable and not lead to frustration if you realized it’s a game and to have fun with it! Take some pressure off of yourself and allow for mistakes and a learning curve. You are here to have fun. Yeah it’s a gamble to try something new (see, the gaming phrases again!), but might as well realize you have to have fun doing it, otherwise, the experience will not be worth it.


With Evelyn, she got so wrapped up in crushing her first basketball game. She forgot that’s not the goal of your first basketball game or any game. The goal should be to play a game, play hard as hell if you want to, but just play. Second is, if you are uncomfortable, and realize you are, it’s ok but it’s not ok to let the uncomfortableness or frustrations stop you in your tracks. Realize everyone is, and have fun doing it. The same goes for when you start your own venture or do something new. Yes, the goal should be to succeed, but to master what you are doing, when you’ve never done it before is absurd. The goal should be to have little successes that you begin to incorporate when you are playing so you can slowly build up your progress. When you step out on the court, you will make mistakes, you will get some whistles blown on you for something you had no idea you were doing incorrectly or approaching the wrong way. You will not understand what you are doing at first, and it will not be second nature. So do not expect perfection, or a slam dunk your first few games/years on the court.


Frustrations of the unknown or things not going according to your “plan” (remember we discussed this in previous articles) the worst thing you can do is sell yourself short and stop or quit. Give yourself the grace to learn the rules, to find your stride, to adjust, to redefine what “success” means, and to learn to play the game. Every step or day you move forward it’s important to realize that you are only improving your game, you are learning how to dribble, pass, what offsides are, free throws, defense, offense, etc. That’s a lot, not only for an 8-year-old but also for anyone stepping on whatever court they are approaching. So look at areas of learning, failure, whistles blown, etc as exciting things and events. Each time you meet a roadblock take it as an area to learn, pivot, figure out how to get past that defense, and figure out how to take the shot.


So as Evelyn was getting down on herself (for things she didn’t even know) I told Evelyn to take a step back. Realize where she was. Self reflect. That she was 8 years old, never played a game of basketball in her life, and she is starting in her first game. Your expectations are too high. Your expectations should simply be to PLAY A GAME and have a damn good time doing so. Reflecting on reality versus expectation is valuable. Realize you are starting something new, there is a learning curve, no press means no press until 2 minutes left, you can’t dribble again once you stop dribbling, taking a step or two is fine, but god forbid you to take three then that’s traveling. So it takes time to master the game. But have fun doing so, this will attract much more energy toward you. People don’t want to see success (it begins that keeping up with the Jones’s feel), people want to see passion, enjoyment, and excitement. This is what develops your fans, your support group, people that cheer for your efforts (notice I didn’t say successes, but efforts). I would cheer the same for Evelyn if she got a basket, or if she took a shot and air-balled it. Show effort over success.


Cut the noise, focus on reality, readjust your personal expectations, and give yourself grace. After all, it’s just a game, and games are meant to be played. You can only win a game if you play.


UPDATE from when I first wrote this article: Since then, my daughter had her second game. After practicing with each other one Sunday for maybe 15 minutes and learning her two goals: play the game, and have fun. She was ready for her second game. Her mood and presence were so much better. She was having fun, cheering for both teams, taking shots she wouldn’t have before, and not getting frustrated at herself. She even scored 4 points! 2 from under the rim, and then she made back-to-back free throws. Her self-worth and pride were a lot higher that day than the day she first stepped on the court and held herself to such rigid (and wrong) expectations.


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