As I sat in a packed gymnasium watching my adopted hometown’s basketball team pursue a state championship this week, I thought: How many shots have these kids taken with nobody watching? How much basketball have they played with no specific trophy on the line?
The next day, my thoughts turned to an interesting line of research in sport psychology. The research and observations point toward this fact: After winning a championship, a significant portion of athletes feels more pressure and less happiness in their sport.
What is going on here? Why would athletes feel more pressure and less happiness after winning a trophy they desired?
The answer is deceptively simple. Athletes (and people in general) are often taught to believe that the trophy is the ultimate thing that matters. So initially, athletes are overjoyed to win a trophy, and there is nothing wrong with that.
As time flows on, this joy subsides. As a new season starts or a careers ends, thoughts and feelings ebb and flow, and the athlete (or coach) begins a search for what’s wrong now. After all, the desired trophy is in hand, but happiness isn’t constant. So something must be wrong.
The thoughts begin to churn:
“I have the trophy, and it isn’t making me happy. I must need another one to be truly happy.”
“I have the trophy but the pressure to win another must be outweighing the joy the trophy brings me.”
“I have what I always wanted, and it isn’t making me happy. So I must be broken and incapable of being happy.”
What’s being overlooked is that happiness, pressure, boredom, discontentment, and all other feeling states do not come from trophies, losses, playing time, criticism, or anything else outside of us. It seems that way, but it doesn’t actually work that way. While we believe we feel matter (physical stuff) or matters (situations or events), we actually feel thoughts about matters. We live mind over matter. The mind determines the meaning and the feeling of the matter.
Thankfully for us, in our mind over matter existence, we are capable of feeling that love even when no trophy is present or on the line. The strongest love doesn’t come from matter, it comes from active pursuit. Our mind over matter existence allows us to find the love when the cheering crowds are absent and the court is silent except for the bounce of the ball and the squeak of a single pair of sneakers hustling between shot and rebound, shot and rebound, shot and rebound.
Sometimes the shot bounces off the rim and is retrieved a long way from the goal. It’s symbolic of being off the mark and hustling to pick up the scatter pieces of a loss. Sometimes the shot is true and the rebound is more of a simple retrieval, the collecting of a trophy outcome.
Outcomes of shots vary, but the only way to earn any outcome is to take the shot. It’s absolutely fine to love it all, including the trophy, but if we believe that the presence of the love is controlled by the outcome, we slide into a weak low energy pursuit that will never result in the outcome we desire.
The love and energy to take shot after shot and collect rebound after rebound do not live in the outcome. They live in the act of taking the shot.
Take the shot, collect the rebound, repeat as needed. Love all of it.