Monday, October 14, 2013

Have you ever given something in which you did not possess a lot of natural talent your full effort? What were the results of your effort? Was it a success? Did you surprise yourself? Did you learn anything?

When I was a freshman in college, I had a two hour break every Tuesday and Thursday between my morning class and my afternoon class. It was a long, often cold walk back to my dorm, and once I made it all the way back to my cramped dorm room, I only had about half an hour before I had to walk back out into the cold to my afternoon class. Instead of the long walk, I decided to kill some time in the rec center, which happened to be very close to both of my classes.

On my first visit to the rec center I walked around, went upstairs, and followed the noise. There were two basketball courts upstairs, both with intense pick up games taking place. Crowds had formed around both courts as people cheered on the players, who all happened to be way more skilled, bigger, faster, and stronger than myself. I now had a challenge. My goal was to get good enough to play in one of these intense pick up games and hold my own. It wouldn’t be good enough for me to simply gather the courage to join a game and get destroyed. After all, I could have, and would have, gotten destroyed on the basketball court on that very first visit to the rec center.

Downstairs, on the quiet, less crowded basketball courts, is where I would be found every Tuesday and Thursday for the next three months. While the loud and frantic games took place on the courts upstairs, I found solace on the courts downstairs. I was all alone. Working on my jump shot and my ball handling. I sure did need some work. I hadn’t played any organized basketball since the 7th grade, and it showed.

I worked hard for the next few months. Chasing down the ball after all my misses was tiring. There was one day in particular that I worked myself really hard. After a ton of dribbling drills, and refusing to leave until I made 15 shots in a row (this took forever), I finally got my backpack and headed for class. It had just started to rain outside, but the good news was my class was only a five minute walk away. If I hurried, I wouldn’t get too wet.  I got about two minutes into my walk when both of my legs cramped up. The cramping was so bad I was forced to take a seat on the sidewalk because I couldn’t walk. I had to sit there, in the rain, which had begun to pour by now, for at least ten minutes. I remember laughing  and wincing at the same time, wishing I could have made it to class before the cramps set in.

At the end of the semester I felt I had improved enough to at least not embarrass myself in one of the pick-up games upstairs on the “big-boy” courts. No longer was I dribbling the ball off my feet. I could now make about 70 percent of my jump shots with no one guarding me. It was time to see if I could make these shots in a game, with those players who I first sized up as bigger, faster, and stronger than I.

I walked upstairs, and walked out onto one of the courts. They were in process of picking teams. There were about 30 players on the court. We all stood behind the three-point line with a ball. One at a time, we launched a three point shot. The first ten people to make it would be our players (five-on-five). I was nervous when it became my turn to shoot. I didn’t want to have to sit and watch the game if I missed the three-pointer. I drilled it. All net. But now I was more nervous than before. What if these people thought I could actually play? What if I was terrible?

To this day it’s so strange how vividly remember the fifteen minute game I played. Even though it was almost twenty years ago, I can still see, hear, and feel what much of the game was like. Perhaps it was because I put in so much effort, and trained so hard up to that point that the memories stuck with me.

I took the first shot of the game. We had possession of the ball first. Since I was the smallest on the court (5’10”) I played point guard. I dribbled the ball up, passed it into my teammate in the post. My teammate passed the ball back out to me. I was wide open. I took the shot and …. it came up short. Way short. An air-ball. Walking back on defense, I hung my head for a second. Negative thoughts began to creep into my head. “What was I thinking? I knew these guys were better than me. Why did I think I could play with them? This is going to be embarrassing.”

Thinking back to my competitive tennis days, I pushed the negative thoughts away. I replaced them with positive thoughts. “I have put in all this work the past three months. I can make fifteen shots in a row now. I am much better than I was before. I got this!”

On our next possession I passes the ball inside once again. My teammate was double teamed, so he kicked it back out to me. I knew I was going to shoot before the ball reached my hands. From behind the three-point line I rose and released the ball. Swish. “That’s more like it,” I thought.

In the small crowd watching the game, I noticed my roommate. He hadn’t been to the rec center when I was there all semester long, but he decided to show up randomly today. I did not tell him that I was going to attempt playing my first game against the ‘big-boys’.

I remember being able to keep the offensive player in front of me on defense. I even frustrated him with a couple of steals. On one of the steals, I grabbed the ball, looked up and saw that I had a three-on-two fast break. One of the defenders came at me fast reaching for the ball. Quickly, and without thinking about it, I dribbled the ball behind my back to avoid his reach, navigated past him, pulled up at the free throw line and swished another shot. I heard my roommate say, “Seriously?” and then say him flash a smile.

We lost the game by two points, but I did my best. I made a few more three pointers and racked up several assists. I fit in. Not only did I not embarrass myself, I was able to play at a higher level than I thought I was capable of. I played one more game after that. Then I was done. The desire wasn’t there anymore. I think I just had to test myself and see if I could reach my goal.

I didn’t have a ton of fun while practicing every Tuesday and Thursday for one whole semester. In fact, some days where flat out tough. I just stuck with it. Often times in life we talk about only doing things that we find fun. If it’s not a good time then stop doing it. It didn’t even feel that much fun during the two games I played. It was more intense than fun. At the end I felt satisfied. I felt proud. This is what I want my students to feel. It’s good to be frustrated along the learning process. Everything we do does not need to be fun. It’s about the effort, the grit, the hard work. It’s about being satisfied with yourself when it’s done.

Story by: @ryanhorne0076

*You can join our asynchronous Twitter chat on Carol Dweck's book Mindset by following the hashtag #Mindset13. Please add your own comments below of a time that you felt smart or successful and how a growth mindset got you there.


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