Rutgers unexpected run in the NCAA women’s basketball tourney came to an end last night as Tennessee soundly beat them in the championship game 59 to 46.
Although Rutgers was clearly outplayed last night, it would be a mistake to conclude that talent alone had decided the issue. After all, this was the same Rutgers team that earlier in the tournament had beaten the # 1 seed in the tournament, Duke.
In one way the game was lost before it began. This game was decided by the intangible but critical factor – mental toughness. Rutgers began the game tentative and unsure of themselves. No fault here needs to be assigned, but we can imagine that the team was laboring under a universal mistaken idea, that the outcome of the game was more important than the process of playing the game.
When we share that universal mistaken belief, how can we not tighten up and become tentative? Each pass, each shot is in danger of being evaluated from the lens of how am I doing? And while we are evaluating we become fearful of making a mistake.
The Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer has counseled her players: “You got to be willing to fail, to succeed.” Until last night Rutgers had played that way – they had played fearlessly and with confidence. Call it playing “out of your mind” or “in the zone”, it mean the same – you play without hearing the voice of your ego which always dispenses bad advice.
Of course we will never know what bad advice each Rutgers player’s ego counseled. There are universal themes we can imagine:
- “This is a big game, I really must play well.”
- “I can’t believe how many titles Tennessee has won. How can we beat them?”
- “I shouldn’t have missed that shot, I hope I don’t get the ball again.”
- “We’re down by 7 points, we can never catch up.”
- “It’s hard to play well with a big crowd watching.”
What these thoughts have in common is that they take us from the present moment and the process of being the best we can be. The more we hold on to these troublesome thoughts the more problematical they become. The best we can be, flows though us and cannot be forced. The source of the flow is beyond our individual ego.
Because the source of the flow is beyond our individual ego, our dysfunctional thinking interferes with the ball going in the basket. Again no blame here, for this is a universal lesson. Whether we are artists, teachers, businessmen or basketball players, one way or another we are all “shooting balls into baskets”. And one way or another we perform at a level less than we are capable of when we are distracted by thoughts of the outcome.