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How do you train for adversity?

I recently wrote a blog about college basketball and handling adversity and I suggest you read that first if you haven’t already because that is the basis of my focus here. My question is if college basketball is so difficult and filled with adversity, why don’t we train for it and how would you?

I don’t even know if I’m fully qualified to answer this question, part of me thinks some fancy psychologist should be the one answering it. But, I’m going to at least give my perspective as someone who’s navigated the adversity of college basketball and also talked to hundreds of players through that same adversity of playing in the college ranks.

When I think adversity, I think of the thing that none of us want but all of us need. Why would you want to wish adversity on anyone? But if someone never faces adversity how do they know how to navigate it when it arrives? In my previous blog about adversity and college basketball, I spoke about coaches asking the question, “how you handle adversity” during the recruiting process. The answer will determine how hard they can push you to improve which ultimately means, how good will you be for their program. So if you’re getting recruited right now, there’s a person who calls you regularly for a friendly chat and is trying to figure out through these conversations how you are going to handle them pushing you out of your comfort zone for 4 years. Kinda sick and twisted if you really think about it.

Personally, my college basketball career was filled with juggling adversity though I didn’t recognize it at the time. I played for 3 coaches in 4 years, 2 different schools, 18 dislocated shoulders, a broken nose, a stress fracture in my foot, a broken toe, a torn ACL, and I couldn’t even count the number of sprained ankles. Not to mention all the other little things like a stomach bug you don’t want me to describe that kept me up all night 🤮 before a game but I was still able to play 40 mins and win the game.

Now, go back to my last sentence. Notice what I did there, I couldn’t help but compliment myself for overcoming the adversity of the stomach bug and even told you how many mins I played. That game was in 1999 and I still remember how many mins I played!!!  So that tells you that the glory of overcoming adversity outlives the pain of the adversity itself. The stomach bug was gone in 40 hours, the glory of playing 40 mins in the win lives on forever!

I believe that game was an example of training for adversity. Because I played, I didn’t let the adversity of the stomach bug stop me, I overcame it. Seems like a little thing, but how are we supposed to handle the big ones when we haven’t practiced the little ones first. With that thought in mind, here’s my suggestion for how to train for adversity…

1. Flip your mindset. Embrace the fact that life is hard and challenging things arise when you least expect them, don’t expect perfection. Every time you have something pop up from a little annoyance to a real challenge, tell yourself “this is training for adversity” and embrace the challenge. Each time we overcome adversity we become stronger, so see it that way when you are faced with a challenge and recognize that overcoming this will actually make you stronger on the other side. Your mindset on the situation will determine the outcome so taking on the adversity as a challenge like an opponent needs to be your foundation.

2. DO HARD THINGS. Stop trying to make your life easier and start intentionally doing hard things. You never know when adversity is going to come and smack you in the face so find little things you can do regularly and big things you can do occasionally (basically, it’s practice). Little things… Run sprints on your own time so when a coach yells “on the line” you know you can handle it. Wake up early on your own and work out to mimic a morning practice so it’s no big deal when you have one. Find things outside basketball like taking the stairs when everyone else takes the escalator. Don’t press the button to close the back of your SUV, actually make the effort to pull it down yourself. Turn your phone off for half a day. When you’re out to dinner and everyone else orders dessert, don’t. Bigger things… Sign up for a 5-mile race when you’ve never run that far (or 50 miles). Stay off social media for a week, or a month. Don’t have dessert for a month. Find something that’s really hard for you… and do it. Find something that scares you just thinking about it… and overcome it. Find something you didn’t think you were capable of doing… and go accomplish it. What you’re going to find out pretty quickly is that you’re capable of A LOT more than you thought you were. But you’ll never know until you test yourself.

Adversity is a funny thing, it’s so ingrained in all of our lives, but no one talks about it much. I’m not suggesting you go to your next party and make small talk with the question, “so how do you train for adversity?” But then again, that could be a great way to train yourself for adversity as you deal with the awkward stare that comes back at you!!!


Author: Alex Harris

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