I went back to my high school a few weeks ago and sat in on the senior boys basketball practice. The smell of sweat, the pounding of the rock against the floor, the shouts of teammates calling for help after getting beat baseline, the kick-out, the swooshing of mesh from a popped three. “From Oakville, Ontario,” as Matt Devlin would say.
The coaches whistle. The defense lining up on the baseline with their hands on their waist after a missed assignment.
These are the sounds and smells I grew up with. Feeling the heartbeat of the gym at 7:00 AM in the morning. Or of the ice rink. Or of the football field.
You name it, I played it. I was one of those kids that couldn’t sit in a chair for more than 15 minutes. I mean, my parents say I barely used my crib.
The smell of sweat in the early hours of the morning? Lining up for suicides?
If you ask me, feels just like home.
Seeing the next generation of young athletes on this old basketball court – the one I used to run down to during lunch time, throw my ripped Kobe Bryant or Ray Allen jersey on, slide into my worn out sneakers, and ball right until the bell rang – all of that made for an incredibly cathartic experience. I would advise other ex-athletes to go back to their high school and do the same.
It brought back memories I forgot I had. Memories of being young, lost, and naïve – I mean, we almost all were in high school. I could never quite relate to the few peers in my class that talked about their last A+ and how they had their careers projected out for the next 20 years as investment bankers.
I remember being wide-eyed and unjaded, dreaming of being a shooting guard in the NBA someday like VC, or playing D in the NHL like Scotty Stevens, or running through the tackles in the NFL like The Bus Bettis. I wouldn’t have to worry about everything else life would throw my way. Life would be complete.
I used to spend hours in my backyard shooting basket after basket until the sun went down and I couldn’t see the mesh anymore, waiting for my neighbour’s outdoor light to turn on to help boost my field goal percentage. I’d have my back against the wall of my neighbour’s fence to stand as far away as possible from the basket. If you would’ve asked me, I would’ve told you I was hitting from three-point range.
I didn’t end up playing in the NBA – being 5’8’’ with a low center of gravity, a bad vertical, and a seriously confused left-hand layup will do that to you, although I had a damn good three-ball. I didn’t end up playing in the NHL or NFL. Trying to play NCAA D3 hockey but not having the size or speed to stick around long enough to leave my mark was how I learned it was time to hang ‘em up. I’d started to develop other interests anyways that made the sport lose some of its luster and made me unwilling to commit. But if I had never tried to play at the next level, I would have never known.
I have no regrets.
Still, I’ve lived a relatively fruitful life up until this point and I credit most of my major successes to things I’ve learned from playing competitive sports. Yes, the classroom has definitely helped. I’ve had incredible teachers in both high school and college in courses ranging from managerial accounting to poetry writing. But sports is where I learned the life skills, the street smarts, the intangibles, and developed the work ethic that have helped me navigate the journey of life.
Hard work. Teamwork. Leadership. Strategy. Grit. Perseverance. Commitment. Failure. Success. Pain. Love. I have learned and tasted all of this through playing sports. These are the characteristics and emotions that you need to be exposed to as a youth in order to develop as a person and become comfortable exploring your full potential. There are both accomplishments and obstacles you experience playing sports that aren’t replicable anywhere else.
Most importantly, being an athlete teaches you how to manage time, it teaches you responsibility and how to hold yourself accountable to others, it teaches you to never get too high and never get too low. You fall into a routine that allows you to turn things into habits. And there’s something special about habits… because for most people, creating habits is one of the hardest things in life to do.
Talk to any successful athlete, one that has won NBA Championships or Stanley Cups or the Super Bowl, and the first thing most of them will tell you is that plain old habits are what drove the team’s success. Fighting to be the first to practice, and wanting to be the last one to leave the rink. Lining up pucks across the blue line in the late hours of the night to work on your snapshot, or squeezing in one last iron cross before the Zamboni doors open and the signs of your hard work are washed off the ice.
Yeah, successful teams have talent, too. Don’t get me wrong. And building a championship team, just like building a profitable start-up from scratch, is more of an art than a science. Every single team and every single company is always different. But plain old habits tend to beat out talent when rings or trophies are on the line. Making habits stick takes discipline that most people don’t have, and playing sports for as long as I did taught me how to do it.
My passion for wanting athletes, both at the high school and varsity level, to squeeze as much learnings and experiences as possible out of their sport is what motivated me to create BALLPRK: ballprk.com
Our team can’t promise that every single athlete that uses our service will play professionally one day, and we can’t guarantee that speaking to one of our mentors will get you accepted into the university or college you’ve always dreamed of, but we are committed to helping you explore your full potential as an athlete and leverage everything you possibly can from playing the game you love. You’ll learn more about yourself from trying to play your sport at the next level and from talking to mentors that have been where you are than you ever could from sitting in a classroom.
Trust me, I’ve walked in your shoes.
So come find a mentor. Ask how they went about getting recruited. How they prepared for their interviews. How they balance their academic and their athletics. How they found the school and program that was the right fit for them.
Ask about campus life. Ask about the team culture. Ask about what they do to keep in shape and improve their game during the season when they’re under stress to perform on the pitch and in the classroom.
Ask now while you can, because you don’t want to look back one day when your gear is gathering dust somewhere in your basement and feel regret for never having tried to play at the next level.
If you never try, you’ll never know.
Welcome to BALLPRK. #RegretlessLiving.