UNCUT is not a religiously-affiliated organization and solely works to highlight the individual experiences of student-athletes. Each student-athlete has a different background, and we want to highlight their humanity in whichever way means the most to them.
Something I have struggled with in my time as an athlete is confidence, and trusting the hard work that I put into my sport. It’s easy to overlook the importance of confidence when playing a sport, but any athlete understands the impact that a lack of confidence can have on your overall performance. Throughout my career, I would doubt my own abilities on stuff that I work on every single day. I would overthink the smallest mistakes, and turn them into bigger ones in my head. In the past, I figured my best solution to avoid this type of doubt was to spend more time practicing. Because if I worked and worked, how many mistakes could I really keep making? I figured that if I practiced enough, it would force me to trust myself more. And though the extra reps and shots were ultimately beneficial to my overall game (and I do still think this extra work is important), it never seemed to help my confidence or mitigate any doubt I felt about my own abilities. I’ve been fortunate enough to have always been surrounded by really supportive people. I had my coaches and teammates that believed in me, and they would always tell me that I was playing well and to keep my head up.
But at the end of the day, all that really mattered was the fact that I did not fully believe these things myself.
I felt this most during my sophomore year season. I was coming off a strong ending to my freshman year and was psyched to continue this upward trend. But the way my second year started was nothing like what I had anticipated. I was missing shots that I would normally never miss, and I just could not find a way to get in rhythm. My frustration reached a peak in an early game against DePaul, one of our in-state rivals that we play every year. They were ranked this year and we had yet to beat them -- so it was a pretty crucial game. I missed two free throws at the end of the game that ultimately cost us the win. Obviously this sucks, but it doesn’t seem like too big of a deal. Yet, at the time, it was just what I needed for my confidence to hit rock bottom.
I remember going to my car by myself after the game, parking in front of my dorm and just sobbing. I knew what I was capable of, but for some reason come game time I would fill myself with doubt. So, after that game I told myself that I wasn’t going to experience that feeling again, and the solution I came up with was to spend even more time in the gym. I would wake up at 5:30am before lift and get extra shots up. Then later before practice I would spend another 45 minutes getting more shots up. And if I was really feeling it, I would then spend a little more extra time in the gym after practice. I was regularly doing this in the middle of our season -- basically killing myself mentally and physically in order to ‘prepare’ for the next game. I was completely exhausting myself and overthinking everything. Eventually, my coaches sat me down and told me they did not want to see me putting up any extra shots for a week. At first I was pissed: how is my own coach telling me to get out of the gym? But the truth was that I needed to take a break from basketball, both mentally and physically. The lack of confidence I had in myself started to consume me.
I did not need to exhaust myself by going to the gym at an unhealthy rate of five times a day, but instead I needed to take a step back, trust myself, and really enjoy the sport that I have loved my whole life. I needed to simplify basketball.
I eventually called my dad to talk about the game and how I had been playing in general and I just cried. I told him how I lost the game for us and how I felt like I was just lost out on the court. But, when talking to my dad on the phone about how I was feeling about my game, he took the conversation a different route. This time he really humbled me. He told me that I was making basketball too much about myself and my performance. He reminded me that I am not out there to play for anyone or to impress anyone. I am not out there to rack up accolades. But most importantly, he reminded me of my faith. Faith has always been a crucial part of my life. I grew up in a family that put a huge emphasis on having and maintaining a relationship with God. So, I was already familiar with my walk in faith, and knew that I could always turn to God when in times of need. Yet I had strayed away from Him and tried to handle basketball, school and everything else all on my own. But the conversation I had with my dad forced me to take a step back, and remember the reason why I really play basketball. God has granted me the talents and opportunities to play at a school like Northwestern, so really I should be playing for His glory.
And when I am playing for His glory, there is no reason to worry about expectations or performance; I should be enjoying it, because I am playing the sport for a purpose much bigger than myself.
Ever since that day, and that game, I have completely shifted the way I think about basketball and the reasons I play it. I used to put so much pressure on myself and how well I performed. I had forgotten that I wasn't on the court alone, but that God was with me. And in reality I was not playing the sport to exceed or meet any expectations, but rather to give glory to Him. So, while confidence is something that I have struggled with on the court for a long time, and still do at times to this day, I have learned to put my confidence and my trust in the Lord, and to not worry about what I myself can or cannot do.
In anything that I do now, especially on the court, I remind myself that if God is with me, who can stop me? A verse that I read before bed every night, before every practice and before every game is Philippians 4:5-7. It reads, “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This verse is what has allowed me to overcome anything that comes before me. It reminds of God's presence in my own life, and how important it is to continue to pray to him. And once I do pray, to let his peace take over and not worry or doubt anything in God's hands.
Ultimately, I have learned to instead put my confidence in God rather than in my own abilities, and this shift in mindset has completely changed my life.
Not only has it allowed me to perform better, but it has also made it possible for me to take a step back and enjoy playing the sport that I love.