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A lot of players are trying to make it in basketball; many of those people reach out to me with questions and challenges and to bitch about their problems. I’m glad you/they do; that dialogue is the fertile soil in which I grow my content.
Here I will share 13 harsh-ass realities of basketball life that your favorite motivational speaker or online influencer either has wrong or completely ignores.
- Hard work does not beat talent. That cute quote is true only when the hard worker HAS talent of his own. When everyone in the gym has talent, hard work matters a lot. If you have no talent, you probably won’t even be in the room in the first place, and your hard work will never be seen.
- Size matters. “Undersized” players — whether we’re talking your size for basketball in general (6 feet is the general “undersized” cut-off point) or for your specific playing style/position — are already at a disadvantage before the game even begins. Put simply, taller players get more chances in basketball, because height is a talent. Undersized players get looked over and underestimated. If you’re undersized yourself, you probably know this. So know this: You have to be twice as good to make up for it. Also…
- Athleticism can substitute for size. If you’re not the prototypical size for your position or style, your athletic ability can close the gap. Nate Robinson is only 5’9”, severely undersized for professional basketball. But he’s pound-for-pound, or inch-for-inch, one of the most athletically gifted players the game has seen. Isaiah Thomas is another super-athletic small guy (though each guy is athletic in unique ways — Nate has vertical jump, power and strength; IT has quickness and agility). Charles Barkley is no taller than 6’4”, but was one of the best rebounders in the NBA throughout his Hall Of Fame career. Dwayne Wade is 6’4”, but his super-long wingspan of 6’9” allowed him to play “bigger than his size,” as they say.
- If you’re both small and unathletic, you’re going to have a rough go of it in basketball. Period. Basketball is a sport. Size and athletic ability matter, a lot, in sports. Unfortunately, there’s no consolation for this truth. Don’t say you weren’t told.
- “If I can do it, YOU can do it!” – No, you can’t. I know the trainer/coach you follow on YouTube or Instagram has a bevy of stories that illustrate this truth myth. If anyone is qualified to say it, I am — and I’m telling you, it’s not what you think. Luck, talent (again) and timing played a huge role in my basketball “rags-to-riches” story. Most people with my same circumstances aren’t going to make it. Not that you can’t try anyway.
- You may need to choose between being an Instagram star and a real-life player. Solid, winning basketball is often not highlight-worthy. But I (and maybe you) live in America, where everyone wants to be seen, heard and known, and many long to validate themselves via public attention. Nothing wrong with it, if that’s what you want. Just know, “the show” is a byproduct of good basketball, not the other way around. Look into the careers of your favorite online-only basketball players: Many of them have never played a significant (college or pro) basketball game in their lives. Just the facts.
- Everybody can’t make it. Team sports have limited spots. Basketball teams at all levels have 12-15 roster spots. There are over 500,000 boys high school basketball players playing this year alone. Do the math. And…
- “Having game” means nothing. You read that correctly. If a basketball team roster has 12 spots, and 20 players at the tryout have game, what happens? 8 players who have game don’t make it! You need to not only have game, but have more game than your competitors.
- You need live game experience more than you need more drills. Dribbling drills and fancy training sessions are cool, and (hopefully) will help your game. But remember the point of doing that stuff: Playing well in the games themselves. There are too many players these days who look great in training, and are pure trash in the games. And it’s not because they lack skills — they lack experience in applying those skills. Prioritize game experience over more practice (while still getting your practice in). From your games, identify your areas for improvement and tailor your training to those needs.
- Everything is subjective. Making a team or not, getting signed or not, having an agent interested or that same agent plain ignoring you are all based on the opinion of the person making the decision, not the facts that you see. There’s no certain number of points or rebounds that guarantees someone will want you or want to help you.
- There is no “deserving” in basketball— or in life, for that matter. In this game, you get what you can negotiate, earn, demand, or obtain by whatever means. When I hear of someone “deserving,” it gives me the idea of someone expecting things to come to them just because. No one gives you anything because you deserve it. Most of the time, you get things when the other entity has no other option but to give it to you.
- If you couldn’t make the biggest team at your school, you’re probably not pro material. I’m sure there are some exceptions out there. I’m also sure that most players out there who didn’t make their high school or college varsity teams will not themselves be an exception. Pro sports is a natural selection funnel: Generally, the best players at each level get moved onto the next level. Notice I’m not talking about your stats — just making the team. If you weren’t on it, you’re probably not going to make a professional basketball team.
- It’s OK to not play basketball for a living. Most people reading this don’t want to hear this, yet I have a feeling that there are a few who need to hear it. Life does not end when you stop playing basketball (or stop striving to “make it” in basketball). And even if you did make it, it’s not a lifetime job. There are plenty of other needs in the world that you have the skills to fill.
Hope this helps.
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