*swish

Hands down, that is one of my favourite sounds. When you shoot a ball that just gracefully arcs into the net, managing to just miss hitting the rim.

For those of you who don’t see me embarrassing myself on the court during lunch time, I have this new fascination with basketball. It’s a sport that I never got around to playing when I was a kid because I didn’t really want to be friends with those “athletes”.

But basketball is something that I just want to get better at. I feel it’s something that can help you get closer with a lot of guys, it’s lots of fun, and it’s pretty good exercise. One of the biggest things that were stopping me from picking it up was my fear of getting embarrassed by other people, but sometime last year, I just stopped caring about that, and started joining a few games.

I would say that since I’ve started, I’ve gotten a lot better. So good, that I can make 10% of my shots. When people are picking teams, I won’t get picked last. Occasionally, my teammates will pass me the ball 🙂

I’ve also reduced the number of embarrassing blocks, “ankle breakers”, and terrible shots from maybe like 7 a game to one or two. Progress!

As a tangent, one question that I always love to ask people when I go and interview them is “What is your superpower”. I don’t ask to get the stupid answers like “I can shoot lasers out of my eyes” or “I can breathe underwater”, but to really understand what these people believe to be their defining strengths. Some good answers that I’ve heard before include:

  • Connecting people with each other and making “magic” happen
  • Empowering others to be the best version of themselves
  • Being Creative and Executing on Ideas

I would like to think that my own superpower is learning quickly, and a belief that if I set my mind to it, I can learn anything that I want to. Including something like basketball. I feel that a lot of that has to do with how I approach practicing, learning, and getting better.

So here I was, Grade 11, I wanted to be baller. Some guy who could hold his own, help the team, and score. There is one small problem I have with playing basketball though. I’m short.

My friends are tall. One of them has freakishly long arms. Whenever I try and go for a layup, he takes a special form of pleasure in waiting under the net and slapping the balls out of my hands.

https://giphy.com/gifs/xT5LMC2tszWk35jWEg/html5

My solution? I needed to get better at shooting the ball. That way, it wouldn’t matter how tall I was. As long as I had a little bit of space, I could score.

So whenever I had some downtime, I would take my basketball, skateboard to the nearest park, and just start shooting the ball. From the free throw line, off the boards, from the corner. I missed so many shots. I had so many bounce of the rim. Even more just swirled around the basket before flying out. The thing that I hated the most was having the ball bounce out and fly into wet grass and mud. By the time I got the ball back, my shoes and my socks would be dripping with water.

If my life was a movie, this period of time would have been one of those training montages that you’ll see in a movie. One of those where the “eye of the tiger” is playing in the background, while the kid does a lot of pushups, situps and then starts shooting as many 3’s as Stephen Curry and vanquishing the enemy high school team.

Reality is just a tiny little bit different. In real life, there’s no music, practice is boring, and after one day, you don’t magically get better. It also doesn’t happen within a time frame of 60 seconds. If you want to get better at something, you need to be methodical, analytical, and patient. I thought it would be fun to compile a few of my observations that I’ve picked up through learning to shoot better. I think a reflection like this is crucial, because it lets me record down observations and let me extrapolate and apply to the other areas of my life.

1. Random, Chaotic, Hope for the Best Shooting Doesn’t Let You Get Better

When I first started trying to get better at shooting, I figured that all I had to do was take a lot of shots. Eventually, one or two of them would go in… right?

So I ended up taking a lot of shots, without paying attention to my technique or trying to adjust. I didn’t get better at all. I might as well have closed my eyes and tried shooting like that.

After a while, I started being a little bit more deliberate with my practice. I looked at my shots to figure out why I missed and the adjustment I needed to make. Was I not pushing the ball high enough? Was my angle off? How could I fix it?

Instead of the random-chaotic-hopeforthebest shots, I started to make sure that every action I took was deliberate and intentional. In life? I will never just do random stuff for the sake of it. I will never waste my time on something just because other people have told me to. I always have a purpose and direction to everything that I’m doing.

“Nick Chan the man with a plan”

2. You Can Spend All The Time You Want Preparing, But After a While It Doesn’t Matter

There were a lot of times where I was hesitant to take my next shot while practicing. I would get into position, adjust my feet, make sure my knees were bent, that I was looking up right above the net, take a deep breath, slowly flick my wrist, and…. airball.

Wow. That sucks. All that preparing and adjustment, and psyching myself up didn’t help me at all. I would have done something similar if I had just shot the ball right after making the adjustments that I needed to from my last shot.

It’s great to take some time to prepare and all, but sometimes you just have to go for the opportunity. After a certain point in time, preparing more isn’t going to help you accomplish anything. You start psyching yourself out, second-guessing, making adjustments that won’t make a difference. And when you prepare endlessly, you just end up stuck in one place.

3. A Policy of Good Misses

Practice isn’t just black and white. There are different degrees of how bad a shot was.

“Really Bad Miss”: Complete airball, hit nothing

“Bad Miss”: Hit the backboard, but not the rim

“Ok Miss”: Hit the rim, bounces off

“Good Miss”: Enters the bucket, looks like it’s going in, bounces out

Why bother making the distinction? Because not every mistake or “miss” is bad. If I airball, I have to make sure that this shot never happens again. But if the shot falls under the category of “ok miss” or “good miss” then at the very least, I’m getting better, and I can replicate a similar technique for the next shot.

Not all bad shots and mistakes are created equal. Some will tell you how close you are to your goal, other confirm that you still need a lot of work.

4. There is Such a Thing as a Bad “Bucket”

On the inverse side, sometimes you can make an ugly shot that has no business going through the hoop. Like the shots that bounce 7 times on the rim before going in. That’s just luck.

When you get lucky, be thankful, but it’s nothing to be proud of unless you can do it again. That’s a question that I like to ask myself more and more now. Are the successes I’m having really a result of my skill or my work? Or was it simply because I got lucky? For me, the answer to that question is my go-to method for keeping my ego in check.

5. Once it Works, Do It Again

Every once in a while, I get to hear one of my favourite sounds.

*swish~

When the ball glides into the hoop, and touches nothing but the net.

Whenever I make a shot like that, my goal, is just to copy exactly the same thing that I did before. It’s about reinforcing the positive actions and muscle memory.

If you ever accomplish a goal, maybe it’s some competition, a test, meeting new people, then remember what you did to get those results. Take your proven strategy and use it again and again, until it doesn’t work again. It’s like the Krabby Patty Formula, once Mr. Krabs perfected it, he never bothered with trying another formula.

6. Patience

You never get better quickly. I would shoot the ball over and over and over, and it would feel as if I would never get better. There were times where I would sink my first 5 shots, before promptly missing the next 30 of them. Facing these challenges and hills is one of the most demoralizing feelings in the world, and after facing one or two of them, many people choose to just quit.

While I didn’t see results every single practice, I did notice that over time, I would slowly start to become better and more consistent. A lot of times, that indicator was almost unnoticeable. Perhaps it would be that maybe in one day, I would make 31 shots instead of 30. Or in all the games for a week, I would make at least 2 shots a game instead of just one. Over time, I just had to have faith that I was moving in the right direction.

That’s a mindset that I apply to a lot of actions and areas of my life. Investing, working with people, marketing, as long as I am practicing and improving, I know that I will get to where I want to be eventually. “Eventually” might one, two, five, ten, even fifty years away, but hey, is there really a rush?

Ball is life, what can I say? Had a “ball” writing this post, and I figured that I would just give it a “shot”. Chaining puns? I’m on fire and I got ice in my veins. Aha, if you enjoyed this post do you mind clicking the little green heart? It would mean a lot to me!

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