"Why Grind Like This?"
By: Jason Robinson & Mark Possis
It’s 2:30 on a Monday afternoon about two hours before the full court runs start. Two guys are on one of the courts warming up with ball handling drills and form shooting. They then get into their workout by doing progressive shooting drills that start from simple catch and shoot to dribble moves into shots. As they workout, others walk into the gym and see the work being put in and probably wonder why they are going so hard before the runs start. They take a break and start in on some intense live ball situation drills where they work on both offensive and defensive moves. Finally, before they cool down with 50-100 makes each they engage in what they call a “finisher” which is an intense drill designed to leave them exhausted. While they were in the finisher, someone walks up to them and asks why they are going so hard.
If you are still reading this you are probably asking the same question. Allow me and my workout partner Mark to give you an answer since we are the two guys you just read about. We ARE getting ready, not for the league or a tournament, we are getting ready for life away from basketball.
Why these highly specific, intense skill workouts?
On one hand, we are a little crazy, but the reality is that for us it goes far beyond the game we love. It has a lot to do with what we learn from the process. When most people say they are working on their game, they may be getting some random shots up, maybe working on a move or two for a minute until someone shows up wanting to run a game. For the two of us, we need more than getting up a few shots or just playing games. Mark has a great perspective on it that we both share.
Mark: Why do I still work so hard at basketball? It is not because I think I am going to make it to the NBA. I am fully aware that I am not going to hear my name on draft night this June. I have come to grips with that, and after some talking with my family and friends, I have actually officially decided to forego the NBA draft process, and to finish my senior year at the University of Minnesota! (This is my official announcement, world).
I am fully aware that my future career will likely not be as a professional basketball player. But it cuts deeper than that. Basketball is a tool I use to develop who I am as a person, and it has been ingrained that way since my youth. Let me explain further.
I know a great many people who played a sport all throughout their lives, but have given up on it since arriving at college. “Given up on it” in the sense that they do not practice the skill as much as they used to, or do not work on it in their free time individually. Why do I continue to do so? Why can’t I be okay with just letting the ball stop dribbling?
I am not entirely sure. If I were to speculate, though, I would say it is because it is in the fibers of my being at this point. Much of who I am as a person was uncovered in those countless moments in the gym growing up, trying to be the best I can possibly be. I developed certain habits that if given up abruptly, I would be missing part of me. It is where I have always gone to test myself, and to find haven in something that is familiar to me. It is where I go to cultivate who I am as a man; it is a tool I have always used to try and better myself, which, although I no longer play competitive basketball (not counting Wednesday nights with JRob and the fellas, though BOY can those get heated!), is a goal I will never not be in pursuit of. And what is that goal, you ask? Well, allow me to continue:
Faithful in the little things
How does this aid me in developing who I am? How does it cultivate my character, and help me overcome my weaknesses? What is really happening to me in those trying moments throughout my intense workouts with J Rob in the gym? How does it lead me forwards in my pursuit of Christ?
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” - Luke 16:10.
I myself am guilty of not being faithful and just in all matters all the time. I am admittedly far from perfect when it comes to doing what is best for me vs what I want/what is easiest. But the truth of the matter is, these little decisions have the largest impact on our development. If I wish to be successful, I simply must have the same principal, or goal, or objective in mind during every single decision I make throughout the day. We as people are merely the product of the small choices we encounter every day. The seemingly unimportant decisions are actually the most important.
Since basketball is still a tool I regularly go to for comfort, self-development, and competition, I simply cannot pursue it haphazardly. Success in any endeavor is characterized by the culmination of tiny positive decisions consistently made within the same trajectory. Those decisions form habits, and our habits are revealing of the trajectory we are on in our development.
Jason: I couldn’t agree more with Mark. Over 25 years ago when I first started in my career, my boss and mentor told me that he could tell a lot about a person from how they approach putting in work on the court. I told him that he was crazy but over the years as I have worked with many athletes I have learned that he was right.
When I meet up with a new person and they tell me about their dreams and ambitions, one of the first things I like to do is to get them in a competitive or athletic situation. It isn’t about whether they keep up with me or show me what’s up, it is all about their attitude while we are putting in the work. It is the ones that leave everything out there that I am the most impressed with. They are the ones that will come back for another session and will go hard every time we meet up. That is what I saw in Mark when we first met in the gym at the University of Minnesota. Our first few workouts told me everything I needed to know about him. His work ethic, his intensity, his dedication to details is what has inspired me in the few years we have worked together. I could go on about him, but I want him to explain what drives him.
Mark: Since I have chosen basketball as the activity I enjoy, and put time into, and has a special place in my heart, I must be as diligent as the person I wish to be in all that I do. I can’t skip a rep; I can’t go half-heartedly; I can’t give up when I am flustered and want to leave the gym; I can’t make some snarky comment to an opponent or a teammate, though I may want to. I can’t do these things, because if I do, then they become a habit.
The next time I need to push through something that is difficult, or refrain from making a comment, or refrain from quitting even though I want to, I will be less likely to do so. The bridge that could have transported my good decision-making has been cut off by the constant incisions in my soul through repeated sin. If I wish to someday be faithful in life’s biggest, most important decisions, then I must first be diligent in the tasks that are important to me, and that I practice often. And for me, that is basketball. That is why me and J Rob are still training like we have a game coming up, though we don’t. It leaks over into all other areas of life.
How basketball shaped me into who I am.
As I have been mentioning, basketball is a tool I use to develop who I am. It helps me practice the small matters with diligence, which builds success-enabling habits. However, these consistent workouts with J Rob have helped me more than simply building good habits: these workouts have put me in a position to practice fortifying my mind, which has long been an unsuccessful endeavor for me.
I have touched on it in other articles, but I had a very toxic, unsustainable mindset towards basketball, and both my mental health and athletic performance suffered immensely as a result. I desired with my whole being to be successful in basketball, I had the natural talent and work ethic to do so, but I never would. I would consistently underachieve, and I was stuck in a mental complex of knowing I was better than I was playing, but being unable to achieve what I knew I was capable of. I was doing these same types of workouts with J Rob in middle school and high school, but it is only now that I am performing as the player I always knew I could be. Why is that? What changed?
My mindset towards performing changed entirely. I am now much more concerned with processes rather than results, which is square one in any journey towards a healthy psyche. The inverse of that thinking - results over processes - is unsustainable, and, like it did in my experience, can lead to madness.
I implore you, do not ever go into a basketball game concerned over “whether you will play well or not”, or “if you will score 20 points or not”. Never go into any situation concerned with how you will perform. Any time I was fixated on one certain result, it would never happen. And it was maddening because that result is all that I wanted to happen. Nothing else mattered. My entire sense of self worth was contingent upon attaining that result, and when I would cease to achieve it consistently, I had no idea who I was. My mental health plummeted, and so did my attractiveness as a potential recruit. I went from being sought after by many of the top high schools in the state to come play for them, to riding the bench during my junior year, after being promised varsity minutes as a freshman. Everything that I wanted so badly, and that I knew I could attain, somehow evaded me, and I could not figure out how to subdue this effect.
But now, I have learned to love the process of getting better, and leaving the results up to Someone beyond myself. When I go into a game now, the self-doubts of “What if I don’t achieve this?” “What if I fail? What if I can’t make a three, or I turn the ball over right away?” no longer affect me. Through hours in the gym with the intentional focus on the grind itself, the passion for the game, and realizing that no one thought can actually affect my performance unless I focus too much on it, I have learned to be confident, and actually play up to the standards I alway knew I was capable of. Those self-doubts used to cripple me, and it was because I cared so greatly about achieving one result that I let the possibility of failure debilitate me.
God never wastes a hurt: He used all the pain I experienced beautifully, and now I am in the best place that I may have ever been in terms of mental health. I actually enjoy basketball again, I love working on it, and I play significantly better. And the vast majority of this was achieved by learning genuinely - with every fiber of my being - to hand those self-doubts over to God. I never did that before. Now, I repeat “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” any time I feel the anxiety begin to creep in, and I let the supernatural, unparalleled power that exists in the utterance of Jesus’ name unfold. To me, the results have been miraculous. The day I began saying those words, I made more progress in this battle with anxiety than I had in the previous four years.
What I am proposing is not easy by any means. We are wired to compete, and desire achievement. I still do want to win more than anything. I still cherish competition, and seek it out at all costs. I still experience the desire to be the very best player on the court, and in everything I do. The biggest difference is that now I do not fear the other inherent half of any competition: failure. It does not affect me nearly as much, because I know that God is greater than my self-doubts, and that my success is not my worth. People don’t love me for my success or my achievements or accolades: they love me for who I am. I do not think I ever realized that until I let God take over my mentality, and I surrendered the results to Him.
Jason: For Mark and I, our foundation for how we deal with life lies in the foundation of the faith we profess. It is on that foundation that we build the work ethic that we have. Sports were key in making this practical for us. There are a great deal of things that we can learn from playing sports. The biggest lesson that we learn is that our identity is not in how we play and the results we get. It is what you learn in the process of playing the game that will last far beyond the outcome. How to deal with adversity, how to deal with success, how to deal with failure…these are lessons that you will need to make it in life. Allow us to break it down for you.
Mark: Do you hit snooze, or go for that morning run? Do you google that one test answer, or do you have the integrity to answer according to your own knowledge? Do you skip the fried meal, or do you settle for what is most readily available or convenient? Do you skip that last rep, or doing abs at the end of a workout, or leg day, or do you grind through it? Do you opt to articulate that one snide comment you’ve been thinking, or do you opt to refrain, despite strongly desiring to? A lot of these decisions do not have immediate consequences, which is challenging for us, given that our current society is gravitating towards an insatiable age of instant gratification. We can never get enough, we can never have anything be too immediate. Thus, it is difficult for us to foresee how one little decision will affect the ultimate formation of our character, which makes it difficult to find the motivation to do so.
Jason: It is the little decisions that you make everyday that will lead to outcomes that will affect you for years to come. If you cut corners in your preparation for the game, then when the opposition rises up, you will be exposed for who you really are. In his book, “Chop Wood, Carry Water,” Joshua Medcalf said that “under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training” He talked in the book about how success isn’t achieved by some superhuman effort, it is simply the result of the training that you have done. The point is that you have to train to the level that will get the job done in any situation. This is true not only in sports, but in life.
That is why we go hard in our workouts! We know that if you put in that kind of work you will find yourself doing things that others will find amazing, but you will just be doing what you do. That is what makes some of the greatest athletes that we admire so special. They make it look easy because they put in the work that allows them to do it.
Here is the reality of it all: most of us aren’t going professional in sports but we all have a purpose in life that we were created for. The question is, do you have what it takes to become all that you were created to be? The answer can be found in the foundation that you lay in order to get there. For Mark and I, that foundation is our faith in the God we know that loves us and has a purpose for us. According to Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do good things that he planned for us long ago.”
Because we are firmly established in this knowledge, we let it drive everything we do. That is why we grind so hard every time we step on the court. It is out of appreciation for the gifts that God has given us that the least we can do is to push ourselves to the limits, working to perfect them. From the game of basketball that we are both madly in love with to walking in the calling that God has prepared for us to live out, we are going to put in the level of work that shows we believe it.