The transition from high school sports to college sports is something that people either do well or spend their entire first year trying to figure it out. There is no doubt that there’s a difference between the two — the pace, the intensity, the sacrifices. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was going to be walking into the first time I stepped foot on a college basketball court. Anyone could have told me countless times what it was going to be like with story after story, but until I experienced it for myself, I had no idea what it would be like.
I’m a freshman on the Lynchburg College women’s basketball team, and I couldn’t wait for the day that I committed. In no way did I think that it was going to be easy, but if I could have known one thing before I entered this next phase of my basketball career, it would be this: there is no way you are going to survive here unless you are mentally tough.
What is mental toughness, you ask? It’s the grit, as my coach always says — the ability to push through adversity and not lose confidence about who you are and what you do well. College sports aren’t easy in the slightest. Your coaches will push you to your limits. Practices will kick your butt. One day you won’t be able to hit a shot to save your life, but those are the days that can either make or break you. It’s how you mentally come out from those days that define how tough you are. Some people have it naturally, and some people never grasp the importance of it until it is too late.
Personally, I have a difficult time channeling my mental toughness — I’ll admit that. I’m the first person to second-guess myself. I want to do everything perfectly. I want my coach to know that I am the player that she recruited me to be. Messing up and being called out in practice multiple times a day is the ultimate confidence killer. No one likes to mess up in any way; we all want to be an asset to the team and do our part to help our team reach the ultimate goal.
At the end of the day, making a mistake isn’t the end of the world: Everyone makes them; it’s unavoidable. The mental toughness comes in when you take the constructive criticism that you are given from coaches or teammates and apply it to your game. When a coach is yelling at you that means they see something in you, something that you haven’t become yet. Once a coach stops yelling at you, does that mean they don’t see anything in you anymore? Have they given up on you? Did you give up on yourself? Coaches are supposed to be hard on you. They’re supposed to make you feel uncomfortable.
Imagine how it would feel to have so much potential in you, but because you weren’t able to become mentally tough, your coach recruited over you, and you never had the chance to reach your full potential. Henry Ford said it best: “It’s your thinking that decides whether you’re going to succeed or fail.” Stop second-guessing yourself. No more believing that you can’t do something. What if one day you couldn’t play the sport you loved? Would you be happy with the way you finished things? Good athletes push themselves to be good; great athletes push themselves to be great. It’s not about the play, or the defense, or taking the right shot. It’s about knowing that, when time is running out, and your team needs you, you’ll be able to produce. Allow yourself to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and when you’ve done that, then you’ll be the best athlete you can be.