Make It or Break It.

If we missed the 5:30 minute mile by a second, we’d be back on the track the following morning for a re-run. Our college basketball preseason conditioning may have been a warm-up for a cross-country athlete, but for me, it took everything I had. 

I knew the necessary pace was 1:22 minutes per lap. The first lap was easy. I was fresh. I had nervous energy to get out. My focus was clear and mindset positive. I usually finished a second or two below the needed pace…The second lap was tougher. I was beginning to fatigue and needed to push myself to maintain pace, but it was still early enough to run well…The fourth and final lap was purely a gut-check. My legs were shot and lungs were burning, but the finish line was in sight. Doubts dissipated. And while never easy, once I got to the final 400 meters, I knew I could finish strong.

But that third lap?! It was forever the most merciless. The physical exhaustion paled against the bigger battle in my mind. The positive affirmations I’d pumped myself up with prior to the race were gone. The fourth lap finish line was too far out of view. Doubts whispered in the second lap, but they screamed in the third. “Give it up Trent…Remember there’s still another lap – conserve energy…You can try again tomorrow…” It was four years of the same scenario — no matter if I was in great shape and made my time the prior years. I couldn’t outrun my own uncertainty. I needed to stop listening to myself and start talking to myself. Therefore, I reminded myself of the training and preparation I’d done. I told my body there was more in the tank. 

Most importantly, I redirected my vision. Rather than the finish line, I panned back. With the season beginning soon, I knew doubt was guaranteed to surface again. Maybe I’d go 0-7 to start a game. Would I fight for the confidence to keep shooting? Maybe we’d find ourselves down big in the second half. Would we be disciplined to focus only on winning the next play? The third lap was more than a challenge. The third lap offered me an opportunity to prepare for bigger challenges in the future.

Starting strong is important. It’s possible to gain momentum and get ahead. But as Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan til they get punched in the mouth.” How do you respond when adversity hits and doubts get loud? Everyone starts the season optimistic. Most New Year’s resolutions begin with great enthusiasm.

Finishing well is clearly crucial. This is the time where the confident and clutch rise up. Most teams and organizations strategize on how to finish strong. Most runners empty the tank to sprint the final stretch.

But let’s not forget a game isn’t won or lost on only the first or final few minutes…

What’s often overlooked is the middle. The outcome of basketball games are often most influenced by the few minutes before or after half time. Many teams go one of two ways mid-season because the grind takes its toll and the finish is still far out. Did you know most marathoners who don’t finish quit in the 20th mile? Only wisdom treats each possession, quarter, lap, month or day like their last.

What’s your third lap? Is it a discipline to which you cannot seem to commit? Is it a team objective or sales goal on which you’ve lost steam? Enthusiasm wanes. Feelings falter. Fatigue and doubt are inevitable. But vision and purpose offer an anchor. Rededicate to the journey. Recommit to the mission. Attack your third lap!

2008 BigTen Tournament

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