When this young hooper's drive stalls in lockdown, Georgia's Joni Taylor jump-starts his routine with purpose and process.
Ask the Coach is an advice column to help you keep your mind in the game.
I'm in my penultimate year of high school, and I've been playing point guard for our basketball team since I was 14. I've always been the kind of player who feeds off my teammates—in games, training and even workouts. But this year, since we haven't been able to train together, my motivation has plummeted. I used to play one-on-one with my brother, but last year he went off to university, so now it's just me. Aside from some shooting drills in the driveway, I've hardly picked up the ball in months. I can't even get it together to go running or lift weights, which I can totally do on my own. I'm really frustrated, and I'm starting to worry that my skills are slipping. How do I get my drive back?
– Missing Interactive Athletics
17-year-old basketball player
You know what, MIA? You're not alone. In my final year of university, I was struggling to find my own motivation.
I had so many injuries. I was so over waking up every day at 6am to go running. I'd lost my focus. And because the WNBA had only just started, I wasn't thinking about playing professionally. But I was also team captain, and I knew I wanted to end my university basketball career the right way, to be an example for my teammates and finish what I started.
So please don't feel bad about struggling to stay motivated. This happens to EVERY athlete.
During my own struggles, I had to take a step back and ask myself, "Why am I playing?" When I was a little kid, I did it because it was fun. But in university, it wasn't all fun all the time. So why did I stick with it? After a lot of thought, I realised that basketball was a way for me to give back to my parents. They were the ones who saw my potential and helped me thrive. I wanted to show my gratitude, and I did that by giving it my all, day in, day out.
This is my "why", or my purpose, and knowing my "why" was what got me through any challenge I faced as a player—and still gets me through every challenge I face as a coach.
We both know competitive basketball is a lot of work. That's why your "why" needs to wake you up and put the ball in your hands on those days when your teammates or coaches aren't around. And if you really want your "why" to work for you long term, it needs to be bigger than you—and bigger than your sport. Because if you're playing only to win the championship and then you win it, what then?
Some of my players have told me, "I'm playing for my uncle, who introduced me to the game before he passed away", or, "I'm doing this because a basketball scholarship is the only way I can go to university". Your "why" can be about you or someone else, and it can be completely personal.
To get to your "why", try writing out your thoughts in a journal. It might take you a few days to discover it, but you need to get this done—not just to get you through these pandemic times, but to sustain you as an athlete, because there are always going to be rough patches.
If you really want your "why" to work for you long term, it needs to be bigger than you—and bigger than your sport.
Once you've got your "why" figured out, you need to create a schedule to support it and hold yourself accountable to that schedule. I do this every weekend for the upcoming week. What works for me is breaking big tasks down into smaller ones and getting really specific. I don't just write "work out for an hour", I write down every exercise, set, rep and rest break. When I map every little step, I'm a lot more committed.
Now, a schedule is not going to take the place of playing alongside your teammates or learning from your coach. But there are a lot of things you can do to build back some of that support.
When my husband, Darius, and I were engaged, we coached for teams in different states, but we always made time for video calls and texted each other every day. Why am I telling you about my husband? Because right now you need to keep in touch with your basketball family and nurture that bond the same way.
Try sharing your training plan with a teammate so they can do it too. Maybe do parts of your workout together on Zoom. Afterwards, share what your time was when you ran the mile or how many shots you got up on the five-spot shooting drill. To build more camaraderie, you could host group chats, create a team slogan or make a shared playlist so you can all listen to the same music while you train.
Right now, you need to keep in touch with your basketball family and nurture that bond …
This last piece of advice might seem counter-intuitive, but letting yourself enjoy your non-basketball life can also help keep you in the game. So I want you to use some of this time to rehab, relax with your family, read a book or start a new hobby. So many things are upside down right now. But as an athlete, you know how to rise to the occasion. Your big-picture goal should always be to come out the other side stronger. If you can meet this moment, you could redefine your relationship to the game—and that could benefit you for a lifetime.
Joni Taylor is the head women's basketball coach at the University of Georgia. In 2016, she was named Spalding Maggie Dixon NCAA Division I National Rookie Coach of the Year. Her impressive coaching record includes stints at LSU, Alabama, Louisiana Tech and Troy University. A standout player at the University of Alabama, with 716 points, 555 rebounds and 103 blocked shots, she was number four among the school's career leaders and led the Tide to two NCAA tournaments and two WNITs. Taylor has won numerous awards for her dedication to community service.