I coached a player a few years back who was an amazing free throw shooter. She shot over 80% for her career and was the type of player who finished most workouts by making twenty consecutive free throws. She was the kind of shooter chosen to shoot every technical foul shot and the kind you wanted on the line in every pressure situation – except over her career she missed as many of those crucial free throws as she made. And when she did miss, you would find her shooting more free throws in the arena after the game and again after the next day’s practice. Effort was not the problem. Technique was not the problem. And confidence was certainly not the problem. Her dilemma has always bothered me.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the off-season, which as Kevin Eastman from the Clippers says is really the “on-season” for coaches, considering mental aspects of the game. As I did, I once again found that there is direct correlation with my life and faith.
FAITH – Mind Control
No book had more impact on me this summer than Dr. Caroline Leaf’s Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health. Leaf is a neuroscientist who is also a Christian. And while the science in her book is a bit complicated, her connection to scripture is illuminating. I’ve read passages from the Bible that relate to the mind and our thinking, but no matter how hard I try, it seems I can’t always control my thoughts and attitudes. Leaf’s work, which secular scientists may attempt to refute and fellow Christians may categorize as scripture taken out of context, was extremely helpful to me as I’ve considered how attitude and our thoughts truly allow us to live life more in line with God’s plan for each of us. I’ll bring it back to basketball shortly, but ask you to consider the following verses
” . . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Deuteronomy 30:1
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” Romans 12:2
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
” . . . choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” Joshua 24:15
Those verses make it very clear that God expects us to develop and use the brains He created. We don’t have to blindly go through life accepting all of our experiences and circumstances as things over which we have no control. We can control our minds, we can capture our thoughts, and we can renew our minds to be what He created us to be:
“So God created mankind in his own image,” Genesis 1:27
Next to God, we, with our brains included, are the most amazing creations in the world. When I realize this fact, it inspires me to address my thoughts and attitude and to daily realize that God has already given me every tool to excel in this life as He has planned. Click here for my Switch on Your Brain Book Notes.
LIFE – Inside Out
If you saw Pixar’s movie Inside Out, you saw a light-hearted explanation of the physical nature of our personalities, memories, and thoughts:
It’s actually a helpful illustration of the amazing complexities that God created in our brains. The movie does a nice job of connecting how our experiences and memories help shape our habits and personalities, but what’s missing is how, through conscious effort and diligence, we can transform our minds, the way we think, and the way we respond to our emotions. As Leaf suggests, we don’t have to be the victim of our biology and we can actually break the habit cycles passed on from our parents or created by our life experiences.
BASKETBALL – Renew Your Mind
Too often we neglect the mental side of the game, yet time and time again the mental approach of players can determine the outcome of games and seasons. Far too many of us gloss over mental aspects, mostly out of ignorance or an unwillingness to learn. It’s easier to tell a player to go shoot 50 more free throws or get in the gym more than it is to invest time into helping a player analyze their self-thoughts. As we discussed a few months ago in Change Your Mind Change Your Game, sometimes it’s helpful to change an approach. Dr. Leaf’s approach can be helpful in getting players to focus on the process of how they approach the game beyond just telling them to think positively and be more confident. Toxic, negative thoughts are typically based in our fears, but dealing with those fears takes a focused and concerted effort to identify, understand, and, most importantly, replace thoughts over a three-week period. It takes effort to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind!”
When I think back to the player who rarely missed free throws, but frequently missed in pressure situations, I know that she had many sources of fear in her life. She never wanted to let anyone down and she was extremely hard on herself. In fact, she wore every miss on her face and frequently had a hard time letting go of it. Focusing only on results and performance does that. And that goes beyond free throw shooting. Players who want to be the best they can be would be wise to put effort into their mental approach.
Dr. Leaf’s approach can certainly be applied, while mental trainer Joshua Medcalf of Train To Be Clutch provides more basketball-specific ideas on his most recent CoachingULIVE podcast, including his concept of keeping a “What Went Well Journal” journal (30:00 mark) to help a player consider and learn from those things done well each day. By doing that, we can replace the toxic doubts and inadequacies, which are physical thoughts and memories that will remain in our brains, with positive and confident memories. Coach technique and strategy all you want, but ignoring the mental side means you’re missing the mark!