During a research experiment a marine biologist placed a shark into a large holding tank and then released several small bait fish into the tank. As you would expect, the shark quickly swam around the tank, attacked and ate the smaller fish. The marine biologist then inserted a strong piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate partitions. She then put the shark on one side of the fiberglass and a new set of bait fish on the other. Again, the shark quickly attacked. This time, however, the shark slammed into the fiberglass divider and bounced off. Undeterred, the shark kept repeating this behavior every few minutes to no avail. Meanwhile, the bait fish swam around unharmed in the second partition. Eventually, about an hour into the experiment, the shark gave up. This experiment was repeated several dozen times over the next few weeks. Each time, the shark got less aggressive and made fewer attempts to attack the bait fish, until eventually the shark got tired of hitting the fiberglass divider and simply stopped attacking altogether. The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass divider, but the shark didn’t attack. The shark was trained to believe a barrier existed between it and the bait fish, so the bait fish swam wherever they wished, free from harm.
When reading this story above, it immediately struck me for a variety of reasons. Over the course of several years that I have trained many players of all ages, I run into several instances where a player has a mental block. This mental block appears in many different forms such as a person passing up open shots, refusing to drive left, or being great in drills, but then when going against a defender, they becomes unsure and unconfident. I have always considered this a “fear of failure” in which players are scared to mess up and sacred that they might be unsuccessful and therefore decide to not even attempt the act at all.
This story made me think of another reason why these mental blocks occur. Maybe it is not just a “fear” of messing up, but the block might be occurring because of past experiences and setbacks. They might have had a coach tell them not to shoot, or yelled at them if they did. They might have had several games in which when trying to drive left they had the ball stolen or their shot blocked. For older players maybe they went against really good competition and did not do very well so they therefore see themselves as bad basketball players. As trainers, parents, and coaches, we must break down this mental barrier and try to help our players understand that past experiences good or bad, do not dictate what will happen in the future. We cannot stop working on a weakness in our game because it has led to disappointment in the past.
I have had a several parents email me saying that their child is not that good of a ball handler, but is a great shooter so therefore they should just continue to work on their shot only. This is a prime example of letting the past dictate the future , which in turn will only hold back the player. We must not shy away from past failures, but instead embrace it and instead even work harder at it until we break that “barrier” so that we can have success! By doing this, we can make an even greater impact on the player both on and off the court. If a young man or woman goes in for a interview for a job they really want, and their interview goes poorly and they do not receive the job, should we just give in and say “hey I guess interviewing isn’t your thing, let’s try finding a job that doesn’t have an in-person interview”. Of course not!!! Players, coaches, and parents, must be okay with setbacks and mistakes. Instead of criticizing bad plays or games, we should be honest about the mistake, see the barrier that is causing this, and then push forward trying to tear down what is stopping us from being successful!
Many of us, after experiencing setbacks and failures, emotionally give up and stop trying. Like the shark in the story, we believe that because we were unsuccessful in the past, we will always be unsuccessful. In other words, we continue to see a barrier in our heads, even when no ‘real’ barrier exists between where we are and where we want to go..