By Ken Reed
I’ve always loved basketball — at least the pure non-commercialized version. And I like working with young people. So, for several years, I’ve coached an 8th grade girls basketball team.
Every year, one of my biggest challenges is to encourage the girls to “go for it,” to take chances and not worry about making mistakes. To me, playing without fear of negative outcomes is one of the keys to being a successful athlete, no matter your level of athletic ability or skill level. The best athletes don’t play tentative in an effort to avoid mistakes, or fail in anyway.
Young kids don’t like to screw up in front of their peers and parents (God knows that too many youth parents berate their youngsters for making mistakes during youth sporting events.)
Each basketball season, I always struggle to convey to 13-and-14-year-old teenagers the importance of just going for it on the court and realizing that they can handle any outcome. Sports and life are about taking chances and learning and growing from mistakes.
This season I came across a great quote from basketball legend Michael Jordan that’s helped me with this objective:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan is probably the greatest basketball player of all-time and he still had a lot of bad shots, bad games and disappointing losses to deal with, as this quote attests.
A little more than 25 years ago, the first “Be Like Mike” Gatorade commercial, featuring Jordan debuted. It featured a catchy tune and a lot of little kids playing basketball with Jordan, wishing they could be as good at the sport as he was. Well, Jordan had amazing athletic ability and basketball skills. And he was one of the hardest workers the NBA has ever seen. But there’s one attribute that is significantly underplayed when talking about the reasons for Jordan’s success: He wasn’t afraid of failure, of messing up, of being embarrassed. He simply went for it.
The following is what I wrote to my kids about Michael Jordan and this attribute. I told them they should all strive to “Be Like Mike” — from an attitude perspective — on the court, in the classroom, and in their social lives.
No matter what, Michael Jordan always believed in himself and kept his swagger … You could never tell by watching his body language if he was having a great night or bad night. While others would shy away from the big moment or be afraid to “go for it” because they didn’t want to face the possibility of failure, Jordan always went for it. He knew he could handle any bad outcome and that he would come back stronger the next time because of it.
He didn’t fear negative outcomes in sports (missed shots, turnovers, losses, others thinking badly of him for failing, etc.) because he knew those things were part of sports and as long as he played sports those negative outcomes were always a possibility. He couldn’t control the negative outcomes when they came his way. But he knew he could handle them.
By playing without fear he had a HUGE edge on almost every other athlete he competed against (who tended to listen to the Little Birdie in their head say, “Don’t take a chance here!” “Don’t shoot this shot you might miss!” “What if you play bad and your team loses?” “What will people think or say?” “What if they laugh at me?”) I’m sure Jordan heard the same type of negative thoughts in the back of his head, but he seemed to say, “Thanks for your thoughts Little Birdie but I’m going for it! Mistakes, bad shots, bad games and losing are part of sports. They’re going to happen whether I want them to or not. So, bring it all on! I’m going for it!”
Sure, he was human. He PREFERRED to not make mistakes or lose games but he accepted those things as part of the game. And he never let bad shots keep him from taking the next one with confidence. He never let a turnover keep him from making the next pass. He never let losses keep him from going for the win the next game.
In Coach speak, he figuratively flushed all those things and said “Next play” or “Next game.”
The next play or next game might not turn out great either … but he had the swagger to keep going for it.
Not fearing the consequences is one of the greatest skills an athlete can have.
So, while we can’t all be Michael Jordan basketball-wise, we can all ”Be like Mike” and adopt his approach to sports and life: “I’m going for it! Whatever happens, happens. I can handle it.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.