Practice is not meant to be fun. But what it does for an athlete can be golden!
With March Madness on the mind, let’s bring back one of the more “mad” things that has ever been said by a basketball player…
Specifically, I’m referring to when Allen Iverson (A.I) said, “We talkin’ about practice?” about five billion times in a press conference. If you think five billion is an exaggeration, it is. But watch the clip yourself, and prepare for your mind to be blown. What A.I. would much rather have talked about was the “game that [he went] out there and [died] for.” Not practice. Because missing practice doesn’t really matter. I mean, how the hell can you make your teammates better by practicing?
But before you dismiss A.I. completely, I need you to know that he’s 6 feet tall, at most. That is short. The average height of an NBA player is over 6’7”. They say you can’t teach height, and somehow, this appears to benefit A.I., given his reputation for attending practice.
It really makes me wonder, though, how did this guy become one of the best point guards ever? Was it pure talent? Possibly. Talent counts for more than we think (read The Sports Gene by David Epstein if you need convincing).
But while talent might count, I’m not sure it really matters. Like, matters in the grand scheme of things. I’d rather talk about practice.
I happen to love basketball, even though my basketball career looks more like an abusive relationship than anything else (but this is love we’re talking about!). We met at age 12, which is a bit late. I was short, 5’3” despite my plans to be 5’8” (minimally). I played on teams (multiple) that somehow managed to win zero games in 20-plus game seasons. There was always drama. And on top of all that, I repeatedly suffered injuries—the worst being a broken collarbone. My mom begged me to stop, but I wouldn’t. She just didn’t understand; I loved this sport.
And more than anything, I loved to practice. I would go to the basketball court every day, on my own, and shoot for hours straight. I would go to basketball summer camps. I would draw out my favorite plays. I would tell our coaches to make us run more.
Other sports came more naturally to me, but I believe it was for that very reason that basketball appealed to me most. It constantly reminded me that practice matters—more than anything else.
Many people who dislike practice say it’s because it’s not fun. But it was never supposed to be fun. It was supposed to be hard work, full of mistakes and corrections, and more mistakes. That’s what turns most people away from practice, and simultaneously, makes it all the more valuable to the rest. It turns improvement from a common pebble to a piece of gold. And once you realize that, practice has the ability to be … better than fun.
So what can we learn from A.I.? I think we can learn two things:
- He missed out on some pretty baller practices.
- No one will ever know how great he could have been.
That, or he was a liar and actually loved to practice—and was willing to go to extreme measures to protect his secret.
Previously published on Medium