WNBA athletes are dubbed veterans in their third season, as pro basketball is a “dog years” profession.
Atlanta Dream forward Monique Billings has a special mantle as a third-year player this year: along with Elizabeth Williams, she is the only other returner to the new-look squad, due to trades and opt-outs. But Billings is ready to lead.
Part of that came from a conversation she had with coach Nicki Collen prior to training camp, when she asked Billings to be a vocal leader for the team.
“It’s a challenge, but I like a challenge,” Billings said.
She also worked hard in the offseason, and during the nationwide quarantine period, to diversify her game.
“I’ve been working to be a threat on all parts of the floor,” Billings said. “I’m an energy player, and I’m still bringing that energy, but I also worked on my skills in the offseason.”
Perhaps even more impressive than her willingness to lead and her work ethic is Billings’ mental preparation, which reflects a lot of growth since her days as a UCLA standout.
Known for her ready smile, the 24-year-old Billings said personal outlook is a choice.
“You can be negative or you can be positive – why not be positive,” she said.
She thinks of young girls who might look up to her and other players as role models. And Billings appreciates the health that allows her to step on the court.
“In training camp my focus is to leave every day empty, to put everything I have on the floor and give it all I’ve got,” she said. “I have a focus to be more, give more and do more.”
Billings said it’s about maintaining perspective.
“There are people who didn’t wake up today, who don’t have the physical ability to get out there,” she said. “I always say, if you feel 60 percent, give 100 percent of that 60 percent. Give yourself grace and realize you aren’t always going to feel 100 percent every day.”
And asking for support is a must.
“Leaning on your teammates (is important),” Billings said. “If I’m struggling, I’m not having to deal with those types of days alone.”
As a Bruin, Billings was a high-octane post whose athleticism intimidated many opponents. If she made a mistake, she used to take it badly. But as an upperclasswoman, she began to understand the art of taking care of herself.
“Self-care has always been important to me, but I didn’t really have a routine,” she said. “In my later college years I started figuring out: when do I feel my best, what do I do when I feel at my best, and then executing that.”
Billings said there are many ways she practices self-care, from journal writing and reflection to bubble baths to reading and to making a gratitude list. She does whatever that particular day dictates, but the key is in creating a mindset.
“Self-care is centering yourself,” Billings said. “I wake up, meditate and set my intention for the day, just trying to prepare the best I can to have a great day. That’s self-care. Just being conscious of your mind, your body and your spirit, and being aware of your light.”
“I’m a light and I know I’m put on this Earth to be a light. Being aware of that is self-care, and it makes me feel good when I’m spreading light and giving to others.”
Billings said this approach has made her feel lighter on the court, and as a result, she’s able to help guide the Dream’s three rookies along.
“I’m the type of person to put a lot of pressure on myself. When I’m mindful I’m having a lot of good, positive self-talk, and not necessarily listening to myself,” Billings said. “Things are going to happen, and I have to be open to that understanding and give myself grace.”
“There’s a lot of mind work that goes into the game.”
For Billings, mindfulness is key.
“I’m just trying to take this part of my journey really mindfully,” she said. “I’m trying to understand myself and be the best version of myself every single day.”
Atlanta tips off the season this Sunday, as they take on the Atlanta Dream.