The Tricky Business Of Being Great
Dear Dr. Sam: Our son is 15½. He has been a pretty gifted athlete his entire life, playing most all the major team sports. He has settled on basketball, and he currently plays on a highly-ranked AAU team in our state. Recently, he has decided that he wants to try to play basketball in college--at whatever level that may be.
He is a great all-around player, and he puts the team first. Because of his style, he does not score anywhere near what he is capable of. Also, having become accustomed to this style of play, he often takes a back seat to high scoring players when he is on the court.
I would like to help him take his game to the next level by working to help him gain confidence to be more aggressive with his scoring, but I also want to be respectful of his style. What suggestions do you have for making a successful transition into this evolution of his game?
Dear ZP: Thanks for your question. First, allow me to commend you on raising a team-first young man. He sounds like a great teammate, and I’m sure he’d be a great addition to many college teams.
I find that in the work I do with athletes and executives, the most impact I can have is by asking questions. I believe that many people are capable of resolving their own issues with the help of some perspective from others. As a helper (parent, coach, psychologist), our role, then, is to be a guide to help the athlete figure out how to overcome their challenge. In fact, I always tell my clients, “You are the expert on you—not me!”
So, after reading your submission, I have many questions that I would love to ask your son. Try using my questions as a guide and starting point to having a discussion with him. If he is like many teenagers who are unwilling to have this type of candid conversation with their parent(s), perhaps he could address the questions in writing?
- How do you feel about the way you play in practice and games? What do you see as your strengths? What are some opportunities for improvement? (Essentially, I am wondering if he sees his limited scoring as an issue or not.)
- How is your performance helping the team? In what ways is your performance hurting the team? (Again, I am curious as to whether he believes his limited scoring is negatively impacting the team.)
- If he DOES recognize that his limited shooting is an issue, then I might ask him something like this: What do you believe is holding you back from playing to your potential and/or playing the way you would like? (Once he identifies the barriers, the next steps may become clearer.)
- Besides points scored, what are some other ways to define success? (Help him identify other metrics, such as assists. That being said, I’d prefer he also focus on things that are more in his control, such as work rate, communication, attitude, etc.)
- In terms of your future in basketball, where do you see yourself in the next few years? (I am wondering if he has aspirations to play basketball in college and whether he is motivated to do the work to play in college. Is this your dream for him, or is it his dream for himself?)
- In order to reach your future goal (presumably of playing in college), in what ways will you need to improve? In what areas would you like some help? (It’s best if he asks for help from his parents as opposed to trying to help him if/when he doesn’t want it.)
I think you will find that the path forward will become much clearer after asking these and related questions that are sure to come up. I also want you to know that college coaches are looking for so much more than points on a stat line. It’s true that the stats may help get the attention of a college coach in the recruiting process, but it’s the intangibles that matter most. If you want further assistance on developing a roadmap for your son, I really like the free roadmap that Athlete Foundry has built for middle and high school student-athletes who want to play sports in college.
Regardless of stats, there are many ways to get a college coach’s attention, such as attending a college camp or ID clinic. Good luck, and be sure to check out our article Ten Things No One Tells You About College Recruiting.
All Alone On A Team
Dear Dr. Sam: I have a question about teammates. My 13-year-old daughter is conscious about making sure that everyone on her team feels included, yet ironically, she is the one who is often excluded. She is an excellent all-around athlete that is at the top of her game in her sport. Her sport is such that she is competing against girls who are 2 grades above her in school. She is ranked 2nd in her competing state, and this means that she is always winning races against the older girls. She is a fierce athlete who is focused and determined. Her coaches love her, and she works constantly to keep a balance by letting her light shine, making social contact with all her teammates daily (while they are all forming cliques and working to exclude her). She is working very hard to stay positive, and she refuses to stoop to their level and play the middle school games they are playing with her.
I’m not worried about her getting depressed, or disengaging, or even lashing out at them, but this is something that has been going on for well over 3 years now. She often jokes that if she wasn’t who she was less successful, she believes they would like her more. However, she knows she is here to be the best version of herself, and she refuses to let their treatment of her shake her and distract her from her goals. She’s just a middle school girl that wants to be liked. Nothing more complicated than that.
What should she do? How can I guide her to continue to be true to herself and help her keep her light shining? It’s heartbreaking as a mom to watch, yet on the other hand, I’m so proud of her resilience.
Dear CH: Similar to ZP in Ohio, allow me to commend you on raising such a strong, determined young woman. This type of exclusion would crumble most middle schoolers that I know. Your daughter, on the other hand, seems to be taking it in stride and hasn’t allowed it to deter her from her goals. This alone should be commended, and she seems to have all the makings of a future leader!
As for how to guide her, the first thing that popped into my mind when I read your submission was the Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership by Dr. Kent M. Keith. Perhaps this could be something she can rally around? I am envisioning her printing it out, hanging it up somewhere visible, and reading it every day. (As a high school athlete many moons ago, I had this hanging in my locker.)
Next, I’d suggest taking a look at these practical anti-bullying tips from Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan. Similar to his suggestions, I like to start with asking what she has already tried in terms of stopping the behavior as well as coping with the behavior. Is there anything else your daughter can do to try and improve the dynamic or cope with it? From where does she think the bullying and or jealousy stems? Could it be insecurity, for example? If so, are there things your daughter can do to support her teammates and boost their confidence?
She might also consider enlisting help from her coaches. I would never suggest asking the coaches to fix the situation for her. At her age, this is something she needs to first try to address herself. In fact, if a well-meaning parent or coach takes action on behalf of a child, it can make things worse. That being said, her coaches might have some suggestions, and I’d be shocked if they aren’t already aware of what is going on.
Your daughter may also want to weigh the pros and cons of talking to her teammates directly. This obviously comes with some risk, and it may not be worth it in the end. On the other hand, it could be that the grudges and jealousy were formed by initial misunderstandings or preconceived ideas. Perhaps talking openly with her teammates would help get to the bottom of the root cause and allow an opportunity to clear the air?
If she decides to go forward with this approach, it’s important for her to use “I statements,” such as “I feel…” or “From my perspective, …” and to avoid “you statements” which are likely to put others on the defensive or feel attacked. I’d also suggest that she clearly and specifically describe her concerns and the impact of the behavior.
Last of all, as her mother, my suggestion is for you to continue to provide your daughter with the positive emotional support that you have been giving her all along.
Dr. Sam Maniar is the Founder & President of the Center for Peak Performance, LLC, where he and his team provide sport psychology and business consultation. He has worked with thousands of professional, college, and school-aged athletes and teams, including the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State Buckeyes, and the Chicago Cubs. If you would like Dr. Sam to answer your question in a future column, send it via Twitter to @sam_maniar (also be sure to use the hashtag #AskDrSam) or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and use “Ask Dr. Sam” as the subject.