I sat and waited anxiously as coach walked up and down the sidelines knowing he was looking for someone to put in the game. Should I make eye contact and look enthusiastic? Should I act like I don’t notice him looking at the players deciding who to use for a substitution? Coach tapped the shoulder of the player next to me, the player rose, and the coach put his hand on his back as he barked instructions in his ear and guided him to the scorer's table.
Although I couldn’t read the minds of the other players, I was quite certain that I wanted the opportunity to play as badly as all the other players. It was late January and official practice for the college basketball season had started back on October 15th. But even before that, we had completed six weeks of our pre-season training…lifting weights 3 times per week, conditioning 5 days per week, individual workouts twice a week and 3 open gyms per week.
This was my third year as a walk-on player on the Quincy University basketball team. The summer before I had gone home to work and train as hard as I could to earn more playing time. I woke up at 4:30 every morning to deliver newspapers, then walked across the street to my hometown high school and worked on the summer paint crew from 6:00 am to 2:30 pm. Then it was shooting drills and skill work, lifting weights, and running before sometimes heading out to make a few more dollars as a youth baseball umpire.
Sometimes I was frustrated because by the time I got to the running portion of my workout around 4:30 pm I didn’t have much energy left. I thought I needed to get in better shape. In reality, I was probably over-training…or at least not training as smartly or efficiently as I should have been. If I sat down or laid down in a place with not much noise I could usually fall asleep within 30 seconds. By the time I returned to school in the fall I had a shoulder injury. It was from trying to bench press four days a week because I knew that getting stronger was one of the keys for me getting to play more. I had no one guiding me. I was simply doing what I had experienced or seen and I was pushing myself with the theory that more of everything was always better and that through sheer determination I could will myself to get more playing time the next year.
When I arrived on campus my freshmen year I had not even talked to the basketball coaches. I showed up in their office one day and asked if I could walk on to the team. After a short conversation they told me when the next open gym was and a couple of the guys I could catch a ride with since it was off campus. At the end of the open gym they said when the next team workout would be held, and I showed up when they had instructed. And I just kept showing up at every team activity. No one ever told me or made an announcement that I was on the team. But when official practice arrived on October 15th there was a locker with my name on it full of team gear.
My freshman year I was what one local newspaper reporter would call a 30-30-30 guy. I would get into the game if we were winning by 30 points or losing by 30 points with about 30 seconds to go. I played in six games that year, but I had an awesome experience. I knew I was the least skilled player on the team, but I earned the respect of my teammates with my work ethic. I became part of the team and I knew what to expect the next year. I wasn’t going to be satisfied just being on the team my sophomore year. I was going to improve as much as I could and challenge my teammates for playing time. The plan worked. Even though I didn’t play in every game I played in over half the games and some in the normal rotation.
I was even able to start one game because the coach was trying to shake things up and allowed the team to vote for who should start. My teammates voted me a starter and I had a great game hitting three 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 9 points. Afterwards, that I went back to the normal routine of playing some games and not others. But I had the taste of some achievement and I knew that if I could just push myself even harder I could get the results I was seeking.
After another summer of near exhaustion and the shoulder injury from over-lifting, I thought I had made significant strides again. But many decisions and actions of other people are outside our control. I didn’t play as much my junior year as I did the previous year. It was a frustrating year for our team as we won the fewest amount of games of the four seasons I played at QU.
Was I disappointed when friends and family would drive hours to see me play and it happened to be one of the games I never got off the bench? Yes.
Did I think I could help the team if I was given an opportunity to play more? Yes.
Did I quit? No.
So what did I do about my situation?
Scouting Report for QU
#50-solid post player
I then listed every other player’s number with question marks like this:
I observed the players as they came into the locker room and their reaction to it. Some wondered who did it, but I didn’t say anything. I have never told anyone that I did that. Did it work? I don’t know but I love finding ways to challenge people and some people respond to it and some don’t based on their own frame of mind.
The summer before my senior year I decided to stay in Quincy and live on campus. I worked at the front desk of the fitness center and gave tours of a local historical museum. The work was not labor intensive and I did not have to get up early in the morning, so I was able to devote my best energy to my training. One of my teammates and I used a strength and conditioning workout created by one of our physical education professors. For the first time, I had the guidance of someone with training instead of just making up my own workouts. In the previous summers I had done most of my basketball work on individual skills and playing some one-on-one, but that summer I was also able to play against other college players on a regular basis.
Due to my training, I was in the best shape of my life and I was playing at a level I would not have thought I was capable of four years prior. In the first game of my senior season, I had a new career high with 10 points. I was playing well and earned the right to start a few games at the beginning of the season. I went through a slump and lost some confidence during the middle of the season as my playing time fluctuated. I was able to regain some confidence and finish the season strong. Our team won the most games that season of the four years I played and we qualified for the post-season conference tournament for the first time as well. For our final game of the regular season, I was given the opportunity to start along with the other three seniors. I scored 16 points and only missed one shot all day. That day was the culmination of four years of not giving up. I had plenty of reasons to quit along the way, but I am glad I didn’t.
Do I wish things had gone differently? It doesn’t matter. My story is my story and the only thing I can change is how I use the lessons from my experiences to help shape my future by committing to positive action in the present. This is why I coach! I know that everyone has some form of greatness inside them just like I discovered that I did. It is not a coach’s job to make his players great; it is the coach’s job to create an environment where players can reveal their own greatness. And that can happen no matter how many minutes a player plays.
For a long time, I didn’t believe I had the ability to be great. But it was always there. It was just that my own mindset was keeping me from revealing that greatness. I still have things in my life that shake me and cause me to doubt my greatness. But I draw on those experiences from my past and realize that I have overcome obstacles before. I see that I am not the only one who has gone through adversity and perhaps someone is looking to me for direction, guidance, and hope.
What if you don’t get in the game? What if you get fired from your job? What if you fail to get any other type of external result you want? Keep working hard, be a good teammate, learn as much as you can and cherish the opportunity to reveal your greatness as you experience your journey that can be an inspiration to others.
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