My name is Christopher Allison, raised in Puerto Rico by a father who was a pro player turned coach, so naturally I was drawn to basketball since I can remember. What other sport involves such athleticism, skill, and mental strength? It is the best sensation in the world when you are about to start a game and feel a little exited or when your team wins and you celebrate, making friends with people, feeling healthy and accomplished. That’s just a small part of the good things in basketball.
What is there not to love? Well everything is great when you are in the winning team. What about the loosing team? There’s always two sides of the story. There’s the coaching and training which leads to better skills during a game and a lot of times makes you a better person off the court. What about the mental side? Who helps or teaches you how to deal with those situations? It could be from being bullied and trash talked during the game to just being depressed for riding the bench.
In my personal experience, I was always one of the best in the team, just because I played since I woke up, shooting some shots at home before leaving for school, playing during lunchtime, and having a league basketball game or practice after I got out of classes then going to anywhere my father was coaching. I was good because basketball was my passion and it didn’t hurt that I was always one of the tallest and played point guard. Well, once you are used to winning, it was always very hard if I got a second place or third. I can remember being 7 years old and losing a semifinal of the league game and after the game I went to the ref and told him he was the worst I’ve seen in my life. Yeah I thought I had seen everything by age 7. My mother saw it and got me away and made me apologize to the ref but there was definitely a mental issue that was part of the game that I had to overcome. It really drains your body when you have so much passion for the game and think you deserve to win because you trained harder than the other team. When things go wrong in something that you want so much it often leads to mild depression or sadness during the day or even more, depending on the effort you’ve put in or it fuels you to work harder and develop my basketball sense.
As I got older, I started playing in teams with kids that were three and four years older than me and I was the sixth man, so I had to fight for my minutes. We were all good shooters, but we lacked on defense. Knowing that, I started training for defense during the practices by trying to play the most defense during drills until I got to be the showstopper. That was my roll, I had to play hard defense and try to get in the head of the best player of the other team without playing dirty. Just playing physical legally and doing stuff like not letting him get the ball and then telling him about it, boxing him out hard so that he had no chance of getting the ball even if it bounces to the other side of the court and if I saw him standing straight up without balance, I’d give him a little push with my fore arm just so he didn’t get comfortable. The thing other teams hated most was when I got into their team huddles which were not time outs just to hear their plans which pissed them off and some lost focus of what had to be done which was what I wanted. I knew some of them were really gifted physically but lacked mental toughness.
So that gave us an edge over other teams, and gave me a starting position because it doesn’t mean a thing if you can shoot but you can’t play defense. When I went back to playing in the team with kids my age, it was really easy, so we usually got to the championship or maybe one game short of it. When I got to college, I had worked on all these little things which make you needed in a team, not just making baskets. It was hard when I lost with a team and I knew I was better. It was always hard for me to go to sleep when you lose an important game. You start thinking, of everything that happened and assume that if you would’ve done that little thing like a boxing out or an extra pass, your team which is like your family, would have won. That feeling of disappointment and frustration with oneself is something that can affect a person for life, taking away confidence and self-trust.
Having a father who was a coach was good because he knew what was going through my mind and gave me advice. He always told me not to not put pressure on myself and have fun. As I got older it got harder to have fun all game long because the pressure increased. After every game, my father would go over all the things I did wrong and what was needed to get better. A lot was expected of me because I had to be a leader in order for us to win. In my mind, it was my responsibility to make sure that my best shooter got open shots, make sure that nobody was lost during the offensive schemes and defend like there’s no tomorrow. We usually won but when we lost, I hated myself so much on the way home and it didn’t help having your father remind you of the turnovers or silly fouls that could have changed the outcome of the game. It was a constant emotional and mental rollercoaster. Not everybody can deal with this. Most of my friends usually stopped playing because they couldn’t deal with the pressure and got depressed, which usually lead to excessive drinking.
Mental strength is something that can be acquired by those who don’t have it naturally and there should be specialists who help players overcome this type of mental strain. Someone to help players stay positive even though they know that they aren’t going to see a single minute. The love for the game does not have to stop just because you’re not playing for money. True ballers play because they love what they do. Be it anywhere in the world, it is healthy, you make new friends and have fun. Lots of money can be made so all aspects of the game should be analyzed and worked on if the goal is to be the best.
And this is exactly why developing mental habits at a young age as an athlete are so important.