There is no denying the fact that some people are born with more natural ability to excel at basketball than others. Call it genes, call it natural talent, whatever it is some players pick up the game very quickly and begin to develop at a very young age. Does this mean that if you aren't born with this ability that you should lick your wounds, accept defeat and move on to something else? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
If we were to take a random sample of 100 college basketball players I would dare say that around half of them were born with the athletic ability I spoke about in the previous paragraph. The other half would be players that flat out had the will and desire to make themselves a great basketball player and did it the hard way.
An important thing to understand is that there are advantages and disadvantages to both situations. Yes those that are born with natural ability have a big head-start but that's not always what it's cracked up to be. For example, when things come easy it's normal to get over-confident and I've talked about how this can have very negative consequences in previous articles. Players that have to dedicate more and work harder to get good acquire toughness. They develop maturity and valuable work ethic that other players lack. They handle setbacks better and they can end up accomplishing a lot more because they know how to deal with adversity.
Most players that aren't born with all the natural ability in the world handle themselves completely wrong. They think of themselves as a victim of circumstance and tail-spin into a path of self-pity. I'm sure you've heard all the excuses, "My coach hates me", "I don't have the right last name", "My coach has no clue how good I am" I could go on and on but I know you get the point. Even parents play the victim card and that can make it especially hard for you not to but you have to be strong. The worst thing a parent can do is encourage this way of thinking.
When I was growing up I had a close friend that is the perfect example to me of how someone who is not born with all the basketball talent in the world can and should develop into an all-star caliber player. For the remainder of this article I'll be pointing out the key things he did that are important teaching points.
1. He accepted reality
Denial is extremely dangerous. The worst thing you can do to yourself is fail to admit what kind of player you are. In my friend's situation, reality was he wasn't a very good shooter and he struggled to dribble with his left hand. I never once heard him complain about it or try to act like it wasn't true. He took it for what it was and decided to go work and try to improve those areas of his game. It's not easy to admit when you aren't very good at something but it's an important step to progress. People get too impatient and can lose touch with reality. If my friend would have pitched a fit to our coach and had his parents make a fuss he would have gotten nowhere. He would have focused on a handful of semi-true thoughts to justify why he should be getting more playing time and nothing would ever get solved. Instead he chose to see things as they really were so that he could get to the core of solving the issue.
2. He decided to be an outstanding defensive player
Notice how I used the word decided, that's an important thing to note. Good defense is all about choosing to get tough and to play aggressive. To play defense you don't have to be born with all sorts of athletic ability. Once you learn the basic fundamentals of footwork and positioning, it's all about desire and toughness. My friend knew that when he got on the court he had to make an impression. He knew that his offensive skills weren't the greatest and so he made it a point to shut down his opponent. And that he did. It didn't take long for our coach to take notice either. Pretty soon he was actually getting put into games specifically to play defense. All of us players loved having him on the floor because he played tenaciously. He caused all sorts of turnovers, shut down the opposing teams best players and had the heart of a champion. Our coach's started to notice how well we liked playing with him and that increased his playing time even more.
3. He focused on his strengths
My friend made it a point to really focus on what he was good at when he was on the floor rather than try to prove to the world that they were wrong. Since he knew he wasn't a very good shooter he didn't shoot unless he was absolutely wide open and pretty close to the basket. Other players would have thought of their brief time on the floor as their time to shine and to prove that they could do what others doubted in them. They would have forced up shots and made their situation even worse. The idea is for you to create positive results during the games you are in. Even if they are small you are getting somewhere. If each time you get some minutes you make sure just a few positive things happen, you will start to see more and more playing time. You can't make it all happen at once. Don't think that if you get 5 minutes of playing time that you can score 15 points and prove to the world that you should be playing more. That's usually the surest and quickest way to putting you on the bench for good. My friend worked on his shooting and ball-handling during practice and in games just focused on playing phenomenal defense, getting loose balls and creating shots for others.
4. He carried himself with a quiet confidence
Let me just put it bluntly, it's very annoying to coaches and your fellow teammates when you whine, gripe, complain and act as if the world is out to get you. If you aren't getting as much playing time as you want there are right and wrong ways to handle yourself. My friend handled himself perfect. He made it a non-issue. He had his private conversations with our coach and was very professional about it. He respected our coach's position on things and just asked for honest feedback about how he was doing and what he could do to get more playing time. We never saw him act selfish or as if he was unhappy with any of us teammates. He was our biggest supporter and when he came into the games he made good things happen. How can you not love a player like this?
5. He hustled and did all the small things
When my friend was on the floor, nobody played with more aggression or hustled more. He caused turnovers, got loose balls, drew offensive fouls and pulled down rebounds. I remember joking with some of my teammates that I got tired from just watching him on the floor. I loved it though. When you have someone like this on your team you have a huge advantage. My friend earned so much respect from our coaches and from us players because of his effort. We literally wanted him on the floor as much as possible because he did all the little things that were so important that other players didn't focus on as much. He flat out made us a better team and was able to earn lots of playing time for it.
The moral of the story is - slow and steady usually wins the race. If you look at your peers and observe that they are ahead of you in certain areas of the game, don't panic. Don't lie to yourself and pretend that you're just as good and that they just got some lucky break. Analyze what you need to work on but at the same time make note of what your strengths are. Focus on playing intense defense and hustle like crazy. These things will get you more playing time and you'll actually have the chance to prove that you are getting better. Focus on the things you do well and make something good happen when you are on the floor - even if it seems small.
If my friend would have gotten impatient there is no way he would have became the player he became. He ended up becoming a very good all-around player. He practiced his shooting and dribbling like crazy and eventually excelled in those areas. He got to a point where he started knocking down shots during games and creating shots for others. He would have never had that opportunity though if he wouldn't have done the 5 things addressed in this article. He ended up earning a starting position and continues to be recognized to this day as a great basketball player.