The Sport of Writing

I love basketball. I like to play basketball, coach, watch it, talk about it, study and analyze it. Some might find this hobby obsessive but everyone has their “thing” and besides, there are plenty of fellow enthusiastic hoop-heads out there.

The talent level of the NBA is astounding: the power, the speed, the skill, the team play, the focus, the awe inspiring. It’s a great time to be a basketball fan.

Before pursuing my dream of being an author I dreamed of being a great basketball player. Spoiler alert: I didn’t make the NBA.

My love for reading and writing came before basketball but took a backseat once I made that first club team. The wider world of elite (I use the word loosely in this instance) athletics rocked my previous experience of playing small town junior high basketball. After witnessing the skill of other players, the knowledge of the coaches, the intensity of the competition—I was hooked. That was the inception of the dream, the sprouting seed of hope in my teenage mind. Maybe I could play professionally!

The team success and my individual growth as a player were motivation to work harder, to improve my skills and try to get really good at basketball. This inspiration put a decade long process in motion. During this time I continued to be an avid reader but the only writing I completed was for academic assignments. Eventually, the basketball dream slammed into reality and I realized that I needed to put the stinky sneakers aside for awhile.

Change was entering my life whether I was ready or not and choices had to be made. I decided to broaden my skill set, actively participating in new experiences in order to turn interests into hobbies. Basketball was no longer my defining characteristic. I picked up the pen and started writing.

I knew how to write but at this stage I wasn’t a writer. The skills were there but they were lackadaisical and unrefined. Thankfully, I had years of training to fall back on. Through basketball I had learned how to break down individual skills into component aspects in order to proficiently execute them. These skills could then be put together to build a solid foundation. The foundation is then expanded upon in different situations and scenarios. I looked at writing like it was another sport. Success would only come through diligent training and study.

I looked at my favorite authors in a new way, analyzing them just like my favorite NBA players—copying their distinctive moves and taking different aspects of their styles and incorporating them into my own. And I wrote. Pages and pages. When I was inspired and when I didn’t want to at all. I equated every word put down on the page to another jump shot taken in the gym. It is said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take—so I practiced. I got better. Confident enough to send some material to competitions and other readers. Club team tryouts all over again. Maybe I could write professionally!

Sometimes on the basketball court a sense of zen is achieved, one feels freedom, every movement effortless, one is in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the game. A similar sensation can occur when writing, often called finding one’s voice. In such moments it’s as though the words are pouring out as fast as the fingers can move, the writer part of a flowing consciousness that defies dissemination. Both acts are moments of creation. Understanding and skill have been focused by purposeful intent and delivered by a joyful passion. 

Lately, basketball has taken a backseat to writing but I have been given the opportunity to be the assistant coach of senior high boy’s team. The twelve guys are a coach’s dream: hardworking, attentive, unselfish, respectful, and actively wanting to improve.

At a recent tournament during a team dinner after a victory, a couple players were discussing how well they shot the ball during the game. The banter was harmless enough as they relived their minor glories but I took the instance to make it a “teachable moment.”

Player One: “Man, my jumper was so nice! Nothing better than a perfect swish.”

(General agreement from the others)

Me: “Yeah, you shot the ball pretty well, but a jump shot is like a hot girl.”

(All eyes turn to me because the only topic these guys think about more than basketball is the opposite sex)

(Pause for dramatic effect) “To build yourself entirely around the jump shot is tempting but risky. Other guys see you what you have and are jealous, wishing they had the same, but if you get cocky the girl, and the shot, will leave you, and then you better have more to your game or else you’re left with nothing.”

Player One: “I never thought about it like that before but I’m going to think about it now.”

Player Two: (Looks at me) “That’s why you write books.”

Yes, I write, but I still love basketball. The two are forever intermingled.

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