What basketball taught me about life

What basketball taught me about life

#Attitude. It means giving your best on and off the court. It means showing up on time. It means out-hustling others even when your body is wearing out. It means treating your teammates and your coach with the utmost respect and care. It means to be the best version of yourself.

It has been almost 4 years since I graduated. If there’s one thing that’d define my university life, it’d be basketball. There were many challenging moments that we always overcome as a team. Time spent hustling with my teammates, growing together as a team are experiences I would always hold dear.

Being a student-athlete means spending most of our waking hours training. My day would start at 6:00 A.M. daily with a 5km run, followed by hitting the gym. Evening time would be reserved for basketball practice with the team. Everyone worked tirelessly towards a common goal – to become the best varsity team in Singapore.

I’m grateful for the many lessons and values being a student-athlete provided me. My coach, teammates, and the challenges we faced taught me many timeless lessons. I hope you will find these useful as well.

Deliberate practice

Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, 10,000 hours of practice is the magic number to greatness. In the beginning, showing up on the court and in the gym to put in the reps is the most important thing. After a while, we tend to go through the motion. Carelessly overlooking minute errors and missing out on daily opportunities for improvement.

Our brain naturally converts repeated actions into habits. For example, when we practice shooting and aim to make 100 shots a day. After many repetitions it becomes muscle memory. And if our shooting form was flawed, it becomes a bad habit that we subsequently have to unlearn and retrain.

Deliberate practice is the opposite of mindless practice. Instead of simply putting in the repetitions. It requires us to break down the process into parts, set clear goals, identify our weaknesses, and then continuously tweak our learning process.

Listen to your voice

Fear and self-doubt always strike at the most untimely moments. Surround yourself with supportive and positive personalities who believe in you. Avoid negative people who love bringing others down. It will drain you emotionally, preventing you from achieving your goals.

Throughout life, many will provide advice and opinions on how you should do things. Many of them are well-intended. With experience, you will learn how to filter out those that don’t sit right with your values and goals.

There will always be players who play dirty. Risking the safety of others and potentially inflicting career-ending injuries. They will convince you to do the same and they will rationalize their behaviors. In times like this, listen to your inner voice. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

This brings us to the next point on team culture.

Team culture

The speed and extent to which a team is able to grow together is largely dependent on its culture. A great team culture encourages open communication, promotes constructive feedback, and fosters a desire amongst teammates to see each other become better.

Our team set aside 10 – 15 minutes after every practice. Talking about what went well and what could be done better. A good advice would be to praise by name, criticize by category.

Alumnus would often be present to share their experiences. Every new batch of players did not start from ground zero. Under this environment, we were able to build on the experiences of seniors and alumnus quickly.

We never shunned difficult topics after every loss. As a team, we will trash it out and be critical of our performance. To find out how we can overcome challenges as a team. This form of candidness must be nurtured over time. And setting this tone starts from the top. Never let a loss go to waste, for setbacks provides the best opportunity to learn and grow.

Life isn’t a straight line

Life does not always move in straight lines. Sometimes you hit a plateau and move sideways for awhile. Other times you backtrack a little. It is tempting to think that everything moves in a linear fashion. As time pass, your career gets better, your relationships get better, and you become more fulfilled.

But the truth is that life will always throw you curveballs. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve gotten anywhere. Mid last year I had my ACL reconstruction surgery. Something that is dreadful to any athlete. Having to go through that prolonged rehabilitation process.

What matters though, is to focus on making tomorrow better than today. As the saying goes – if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Don’t be too hard yourself and focus on planning your next step. Get yourself out of that hole, one step at a time.

What you can’t count matters

What isn’t counted doesn’t count. That is how the saying goes and it is true that much of life is a numbers game. Headlines of sports articles are filled with how much points a player scored. How many rebounds were snatched. And how many assists and steals did a player achieved for the game. Was it a double-double or triple-double?

What counts can’t always be counted; what can be counted doesn’t always count.

Albert Einstein

Numbers, however, are incomplete. They don’t always paint the full picture. The points recorded for the game will not capture team players who fought for every loose ball. Hustled back for every defense. Team players who communicated on the court. And especially, selfless players on reserve who spent all their heart and energy cheering their teammates on the court.

All these added together create a lollapalooza effect. And it is what makes a winning team. This experience helps me appreciate beyond what is measurable. At work, in life, and with investments.


Having the right attitude counts. It is what makes a team succeed. And it is what makes a team complete. Attitude means to be the best version of yourself. Only with the right attitude, can our experience in life be satisfying.

I end off with my favorite pictures, which encapsulates much of my love for the game, and for my team.

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