As I sit on the bus on our first road trip, I look at my teammates, and I can’t help but think about how different we all are.
We’re from all over the place: Texas, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Florida – even Canada. But somehow, we all ended up playing basketball at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Already this season, these people are a part of me, including the ones I’ve only known a few months. They have my heart.
That’s what makes being a captain so easy, and so hard.
I wasn’t always an outgoing person. In fact, on the first few organized teams I played on as a kid, I tended to be very quiet. I’m an only child, so it took me a while to get used to being around people who weren’t my parents or immediate family.
Eventually I got the hang of it, but then the problem became learning how to not get too attached, because all seasons are bound to end. I still have that problem, and that is why I care so much about this team.
I’m a junior, so I still have this season and the next, barring unforeseen circumstances. But this will likely be the last team I ever play on. So I want to give this group everything I have left.
My freshman year was very humbling. I had a lot of growing to do, both mentally and physically, and accepting that was hard for me for a very long time. Then, just as I was starting to hit my stride, I suffered two consecutive injuries and ended up missing my sophomore season. That brought with it a great deal of disappointment, and a new set of lessons to be learned about self-belief and perseverance.
I count these struggles as blessings, because without them I wouldn’t have the perspective that I do now, and I wouldn’t be as adept at sensing when my teammates are struggling.
Our team is full of personalities, and we all deal with adversity differently. I make a conscious effort every day to read my teammates’ faces and body language, to gauge whether they’re having a good or a bad day, and then give them the kind of support they need to get through whatever is on our schedule for the day. Sometimes it’s more helpful just to listen to them talk through whatever is bothering them.
I truly take pride in that part of my role because I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed – especially when you invest so much emotion into the game. And, on a team full of people, it’s easy to feel isolated when things aren’t going the way you hoped they would.
In my opinion, staying involved in my teammates’ lives and making sure they’re in the right frame of mind is the easier part of my role as a captain. The harder part is reconciling my own emotions and struggles with my ability to be the person my team needs me to be.
The greatest lesson: patience
If there is one thing that sitting out for a year helped me to realize, it’s that I have very little patience for my own mistakes.
I have always been a cerebral player. I’ve never been the fastest, or jumped the highest, but I put a great deal of stock in my basketball IQ. That said, when I do things wrong, I am my first and most ruthless critic. I overthink and overanalyze because I expect so much from myself.
After I was cleared to play again, my brain told me it would take time to get back to good form, but my heart was stubborn and told me I would be back in no time. Because of this, I was constantly frustrated, and I often felt like I should’ve been making progress faster than I was.
Now, months after being cleared, I’m dealing with a similar situation.
We’ve had a couple scrimmages in recent weeks to see what our strengths and weaknesses are, and I’ve found myself making mistakes that I didn’t think I would make. But as I’ve been told numerous times, nothing prepares a player for game experience like game experience.
The reality is, I haven’t played in a college basketball game in almost two years. On top of that, the experience that I have gotten in games was minimal. So, for me, this season feels like my freshman year all over again, except there’s a lot more responsibility on my shoulders and much less room for error.
I want to do well for myself and my family, for the younger players who I know are looking to me to set an example, and for the older players who won’t get another chance at this once the season is over.
All these factors considered, it’s hard not put extra pressure on myself.
The adjustment I’m working on now is taking my own performance at face value and owning my mistakes, but not letting them overwhelm me into forgetting the growth that I’m making. Then, after I’ve extracted everything I can learn from, looking at how our team performed and what else I can do to help us succeed.
The road continues
I’ve still got a long way to go on this journey.
Going into our first week of play, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I’ve been waiting on this moment for what feels like forever. My phone’s lock-screen has been the gym we’re playing in for the past three months.
I can’t predict the future, but what I do know is that whatever happens this season, I will learn from it. We will all learn from it together.
And I’ll love my teammates just the same.