Monday, May 5, 2014

5 Things Swimmers Can Learn From NBA's "Game 7 Mania"

This season has marked the most exciting first round of NBA playoff history. Out of a total of 8 combined match ups, 5/8 ended up going to a game 7. Game 7s are pretty spectacular, and say what you will about any series, mental toughness is key in game 7, especially in close contests. 

Swimmers do not really ever get a game 7 - maybe the closest they'll get will be a swim off. However, mental toughness is something that can be learned and developed and possibly brushed aside more than any other athletic trait. By watching these games (as a biased Spurs and Raptors fan), it occurred to me that swimmers can learn a lot from these situations... hopefully they were paying attention.

1.)  Sometimes the odds are against you: The Toronto Raptors were the higher seed against the Brooklyn Nets, however the Nets were the favourite and were an under achieving team throughout the regular season. The Nets were built to win in the playoffs; the Raptors overachieved and exceeded expectations. The Raptors were the underdogs in this series. Their options were to play scared to the favourites or fight to the end (which they did in a 1pt loss in game 7). Also, sometimes life isn't fair - the officiating was TOTALLY skewed to favour the team with the veterans (the Nets) with several insane foul calls and lack of foul calls in favour of the Nets. The Raptors did not give up! 

How is this relevant? Think back to the Central Region Championships in February. How many athletes and parents complained that it was a bad competition because their watches didn't match up with the final times. How many people failed to show up for finals because they didn't feel it was worth their time? How many people found a reason to not race because the odds were not in your favour? As a coach, I've heard it a lot - "this is a slow pool," "There is no one to race", "I'm not feeling it today". Bottom line is, even if the odds are not in your favour, your job is to race. You cannot achieve if you do not compete. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. The Raptors were GREAT role models for that.

2.)   Sometimes it all comes down to 1 shot: How many times in your career have you had be a clutch performer? Last chance to qualify for a meet? Had to perform to get your team points? Had to swim well in your only swim at provincials to avoid missing finals? How often do you capitalize on that opportunity in that moment? The great part about those moments is that they're prep moments for the rest of your life. Sometimes life comes down to 1 shot. An exam. A job interview. A split second decision. It's not those who necessarily capitalize on those opportunities that do better later in life (I would argue that those who learn how to eventually capitalize are far more prepared for later life), but failure in these sports moments does not mean certain doom and doesn't mean that you're going nowhere in the sport. Kyle Lowry, who put the Raptors on his back and carried them for most of this series, just couldn't get the last shot yesterday. He is NOT considering quitting and I know that his mom didn't call Dwane Casey yesterday asking why her son can't seem to win a title. The great thing about sports is simple: sometimes you don't make that shot and have that opportunity to prepare to get it next time. 

3.) People still love you when you fail: Ultimately, the Raptors failed in their goal of making it past the first round in the NBA playoffs, but they lost no fans in the process. In fact, they did miraculous things for the NBA in Canada and for the Raptors in general as a franchise.  Expect this to be the begining of something HUGE - a step in the right direction for domination of the EAST in the future. The public support of these guys has been huge and it is for you as well, regardless of obtaining your goals or not. Your team mate doesn't kick you off the team; your coach will still coach you; your parents will still love you. The world moves on,  your competition goes back to work, so should you.

4.) Don't fear personas: The Toronto Raptors are a young team with no true All Stars. They did not go into a series against veterans & future hall of famers like Paul Pierce (16 years), Kevin Garnett (19 years), Joe Johnson (13 years) & Deron Williams (9 years) with respect and admiration. Despite the fact that, when Garnett & Pierce won their first NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, most of the Raptors team were fans of the Celtics and playing in High School. Despite the fact that the referees were clearly fans of these players, the Raptors were not. Not only were they not fans, they were not afraid of the Nets. They willingly accepted the challenge of more experienced and arguably better athletes and put themselves in position to win. Never once did they say "I can't beat Kevin Garnett". How often do you have the opportunity to race a faster, more experienced athlete in training or competition? How often to you accept that challenge?

5.) Perfect athletes do everything they can to achieve: It can be frustrating to hear an athlete come back after a race and say "I feel like I could have gone harder." That means that they were protecting themselves from doing everything they could have to be better. Being the best means getting yourself into a mental state where you are willing to fight to the end; accepting the "final shot" and deciding to go for it. Being honest with your coach, your team, your parents and yourself that you did everything you could have means that they can't expect anymore from you, and therefore, you were perfect.

BONUS for parents:

6.) Athletes learn your exceptions by observing your "fan" tendencies: Quite simply, good fans make good athletes. How many times have your children/athletes watched a game with you? How often have you called your team names or not backed them because they were losing? What is your child/athlete supposed to learn from that? Does that attitude translate into their sport? You'd be surprised by how often those same parents gives the athlete or their coach a hard time about their kid "not being successful". Be a good fan to professional teams and to your child/athlete and back them no matter what! This is obviously more important for your child/athlete than your professional team because in the long term, you're responsible for what type of child/athlete you have. Be supportive; it's only sports.