Intrinsic. A word I feel we all have lost with the age of social media consuming our attention and supporting our egos. The loss of pure enjoyment of a given action and a dependence on the external results. A lesson I have learned over and over in my journey as a college athlete.
I started my basketball career when I was in Kindergarten. For as long as I remember, a ball has been in my hands. I used to shoot each and every day – rain or shine. Growing up in Seattle, mostly rain.
I would create teams at my elementary school, drawing up plays on my dads clipboard and sneaking past recess monitors to shoot on the better hoops around the school.
When I got home, I would shoot even more. I would pretend I was on the Seattle SuperSonics and hit the game winning shot like my favorite player Ray Allen. One teacher asked me if I was home schooled because it seemed as if all my time at home was dedicated to shooting. I loved it. Each day of improvement was filled with pure bliss and was why I found perpetual success in the game.
I began playing in travel tournaments in second grade and kept working each day towards a goal of playing Division 1 basketball. I really didn’t care what anyone had to say, I was going to succeed. I remember being told I was only good enough to be a practice player on an 8th grade travel team in the Seattle Area, and looking back – am the only kid from that team playing in college. My enjoyment for the game opened doors to success and was why I passed my peers in skill.
As I got to high school, I knew I had he opportunity to make noise around the state. By my sophomore year I was starting on varsity, and during my junior year I was apart of the team that finished 6th in state. That season I saw a lot of the hard work pay off, scoring 36 points aginst the number one team in state that featured current NBA player Zach LaVine. I started gaining interest from many Division 1 schools around the country after averaging more than 20 points a game in the KingCo playoffs and State Playoffs.
After a successful summer, I received scholarship offers from schools in Washington and California – deciding Eastern Washington was the best fit for me. Goal achieved, right? Maybe. I had gotten used to coaches scouting me and watching each game, but I started having a weird feeling going into games after signing to EWU. A pressure of expectation from myself and those around me. Each game I went into with no energy and no enjoyment as it seemed all anybody cared about was how many points I scored or how well I played. Basketball now became my identity. My reasons for playing became extrinsic and how I could live up to the expectations.
I redshirted my first year at Eastern Washington, training hard each day to expand my game and add weight. Even though I wasn’t playing, I felt the extrinsic pulls around me. We used to have to write down how many shots we would take and make each day, and I began feeling like I wasn’t shooting for the joy it brought to me when I was little, but the number next to my name. This was a reoccurring theme.
As my first year of playing came around, mentally I wasn’t ready. I didn’t really want to go back and play because my enjoyment steadily declined. To give you guys an idea, we would have weights at 6 am, then class, then individual workouts around noon, film after that, practice in the evening, and extra shots each day. A lot of time spent feeling tired and worn out mentally and psychically for something I had once “dreamed” about doing. Clearly this wasn’t my dream, dragging myself to workouts and counting down the minutes until they were done.
I played sparingly that year and felt a weird feeling of relief as the season came to an end. It was an up and down year that lasted from about September to April. For reasons I won’t explain, I transferred from Eastern with no plan. Within the first day I was contacted by about 10 Division 2 schools and had received scholarship offers to continue my playing career.
I decided to join Azusa Pacific University, a Southern California Division II school with a history of success.
I just finished my first season with the Cougars, and it was another up and down year with a ton of room for improvement individually and as a team. I can’t think of another time I grew more as man, spending time reading and meditating to grow mentally and spiritually. Basketball kept teaching me the greater lessons of life. As the summer came around I read the book ‘Beyond Boredom and Anxiety’ by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi which focuses on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation.
I found that many of the reasons I still played strayed away from the intrinsic journey I had embodied as a kid. Success had become the new reason for playing and replaced the pure enjoyment of the beautiful game I fell in love with.
I think nowadays athletes and people are losing that intrinsic drive. Whether it is posting about your success on social media or gaining popularity within your social group, our culture is filled with people acting without maintaining a healthy space of bliss. My question to you guys is, would you still do a given action if there were no extrinsic rewards for it? (Extrinsic = fame, money, power, acceptance, etc). If you really loved it, the need to show others would be irrelevant. You will not only perform better if you live intrinsically, but you will find more enjoyment and have more motivation to do so.
My journey has showed me to never lose sight of the kid in me, because that kid did everything with pure love and heart. I will be a Junior next season and can guarantee a rise in performance because of my focus to maintain the intrinsic motivation for the game. I will make sure I workout with love, and enjoy each game, without a pressure of performance but an opportunity to live out my REAL dream.
Be free. It’s all about your individual journey. Everything is a perfect part of your process and if you really follow your bliss, you’ll be right where you need to be.