Leading up to a championship game, my wife asked me, “Trent, in 20 years, will anyone care whether you win this game or not?” At first I thought it was an odd thing to say. After all, this was going to be the biggest game of my professional career. Theresa, however, could sense my angst in the days leading up to the game and realized I was putting too much pressure on the outcome. I was overwhelmed by something I wouldn’t even have complete control over — the result of a basketball game.
Don’t get me wrong; results do matter. As a professional, if you don’t perform at a high level, you won’t remain. If your team doesn’t win, then getting the next contract is going to be that much harder. Winning and playing well translates to food on the table, money in the bank, and opportunities to continue playing as a pro. I’ve seen guys get cut a week onto the job. I’ve seen others stick all season, only to get released the week before playoffs began.
Sure, we can can influence the result of a game, but that doesn’t mean we have control over it — and it’s a liberating feeling to let go of the things we can’t control. Off the court, this mentality allowed me to have a healthier perspective at home and not base my self-worth or mood on winning or losing. On the court, it freed me up to play without fear, and instead with more assertiveness, focus, and even joy.
In watching the NBA playoffs, I witnessed one of the greatest game-winning shots I’ve seen from Damian Lillard. In a closeout game 5 for the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard stared down All-Star and All-NBA Defensive Player Paul George before launching a step-back 3-pointer from near half court. The shot fell as the buzzer sounded to give him 50 points for the night and send the Blazers onto the 2nd round. In the aftermath a two-year-old quote from Lillard resurfaced which gives insight into his mindset and what I believe allowed him to be clutch when it mattered most:
“Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent…We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.”
Perspective > Pressure
Author and theologian C.S. Lewis said, “When we put first things first, second things are not suppressed, but increased.”
Perspective is powerful! It’s important to distinguish the difference between what matters and what really matters. Having something that grounds us and the wisdom that a game or job or sale is not everything ironically frees us up to perform even better. Proper perspective makes way for more confidence, less fear, and greater enjoyment.