For The Love of the Game
I’m writing this from the passenger seat of my truck while my wife takes her driving shift on our road trip from Austin to Las Vegas where I train during the offseason. There’s a lot of things I learned during my time in San Antonio and Austin. Many lessons I learned on the court and during my rehab from injury that I’m looking forward to implementing for the rest of my life. However, the most important lesson I absorbed came from something completely removed from basketball. If you’ve kept up with my blog, social media, or speaking events, you’ll be familiar with my personal struggles with mental health and my advocacy for better mental health facilities and treatment. I’ve always been much better at providing advice to others than I’ve been at taking my own advice to heart. Maybe we’re all like that in one way or another. I can’t count how many times I’ve told family and friends how important or beneficial it would be for them to talk to a therapist. I’ve always been a proponent of people talking through their feelings in one way or another, but until this year, I’ve never truly explored that option myself in a non-athletic sense. There’s been so many times during my lowest moments that I’ve literally had a therapist’s number saved in my phone and for one reason or another I’ve talked myself out of calling. Whether I felt better the next day so I think I'm fixed, or I just plain got cold feet, there was always an excuse. That pattern continued all the way up until this year when I felt I'd reached such a difficult and low point in my life that, for my own good, I knew I needed to make that call. So, for the past couple months, I've been regularly seeing a therapist in Austin and it’s definitely been one of the best decisions I've ever made for myself. There’s been so many personal discoveries I've made and feelings I've uncovered that not even I knew I've been holding onto. While so many of them could be considered, “vital”, there’s one that’s been consistently on my mind since I was first faced with it a few weeks ago, and I really believe is the driving force behind a lot of the difficulties in my life.
My life has been full of accomplishments and successes. Everything that I’ve set out to do, I have achieved. I’ve been so unbelievably blessed to accomplish the things I have. For so long I’ve pushed myself and sacrificed to be able to succeed and make my loved ones proud. From day one, athletic success has brought me attention and admiration from countless people and, as a kid growing up, I internalized that pretty quickly. I learned that winning and success=love. Regardless of how immediately unhealthy that observation is on the surface, it doesn’t take much to understand that train of thought, especially for a kid. This drive and desire to be accepted, loved, and admired was an incredible driving force in me pushing myself to become the best that I could be, so I won't say it’s all bad, but still.
When I finally verbalized this thought to my therapist, she said something that became the lesson I’ve been building up to this whole time. She said, “You don’t need to do anything special in order to be loved.” Hearing her say that was like a light had been shined on the darkest corners of my mind. I’d heard before from loved ones that they’ll love me no matter my level of success, but after spewing out all this poisonous thought, this phrase affected me in a different way. She then asked me to think of all the people in my life that I love, and whether or not I require them to do anything special in order to earn my love. My answer was obviously, no. So why do I feel differently about myself? There’s the million dollar question. Hearing these thoughts opened up a new way of thinking for me and forced me to ask myself an important question. Was I playing basketball because I love it? Or because I want to be loved? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that for a while I'd been playing for the latter, and when I play that way, the game is no longer fun. I remember the days of playing for the pure love of the game and the joy that came with it. I want to get back to that and I think I’ve taken an important first step in my pursuit of that. This is an important offseason for so many reasons. Maybe the most important is me playing for me again. For the love of the game.