If some of you are like me, confidence has always seemed to evade you. You would hear people tell you all the time, be confident. You just have to believe in yourself and you can be anything you want to be. I can honestly say I've never really given that idea any thought, let alone believed someone when they told me that. As life started opening doors for me, I was pulverized by some stunning realizations. I realized quickly that I would never play in the NBA. I'm not 6’6”, I'm definitely white (haha meaning, using the old cliche White Men Can't Jump), and i'm no Mugsy Bogues. I wasn't valedictorian (did graduate top 5% of my class though), and I was never God’s gift to sports. I had my moments, but I realize I probably wasn’t going to be a professional athlete.
Mugsy Bogues was a famously short basketball player (5’3” tall), but is still considered today to be one of the best handling point guards to ever play the game. Point Guards, on average in the NBA, stand 5’11 “. The average height of an NBA player, in general, is 6’7”. That means the average, not to mention the super-humans like YAO ming (7’6”) and Monte Bol (7’7”), towered over the little man from Baltimore BY OVER A FOOT. In the former two professional athletes mentioned, that means TWO FEET. How is it physically, and the even more daunting question, mentally possible for someone to step out on the court and say “Yea I belong here”. It's clear he knows something I don't. When he was interviewed by the NBA on this very topic he said, “ I was a guy that never backed down, believed in whatever he thought that he could accomplish and when he was out there, we would accomplish it,” Bogues stated in an interview with hornets.com. “Somebody that had empathy for others, but at the same time, took a measure of character in each and every thing that he did.” He went on to talk about some of his driving factors, or things that drove him to excel. “Not only kids, but individuals around the world. Folks that didn’t think that the game was meant for smaller people. For me, I always felt that tall or small, the game was for all.” Playing 14 seasons for the NBA, I think he knew what he was talking about.
There are plenty of stories in the sports realm that manage to astound and inspire us to greatness. The Disney movie “Miracle” is one of my favorite sports movies of all time. It takes a look at the 1980’s men Olympic Hockey Team, who against all odds, beat the Soviet Union who DOMINATED the DECADES (yes DECADES) of hockey prior to that year. A bunch of college kids, thrown together by coach Herb Brooks, came from behind in every single game in the Olympics to win a gold medal. Al Michales, one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time, coined the phrase “do you believe in miracles” at the closing moments of the contest. Mike Eurizone would score a last minute goal to put the underdog Team USA in the lead. Throughout the movie, and in real life, Herb Brooks preached to his team how the name on the front of their jersey (Team USA) was more important than the name on the back (players last name). Just another example of believing in a higher cause and how that pushes us to greatness.
However, my favorite sports story of all time is that of Billy Miske. Miske, known as the Saint Paul Thunderbolt, was a successful light-heavyweight and heavyweight fighter in the 1920's. His career was cut short due to Bright's Disease, a deadly kidney disorder. Miske's family struggled financially following his retirement, and though doctors only gave him a few months to live, he decided to fight once more in order to earn enough money to buy Christmas presents for his children. Too sick to train, Miske stepped into the ring for the final time on November 7th, 1923 and amazingly knocked out his opponent Bill Brennan in the fourth round. Billy Miske died less than two months later from kidney failure. What drive, courage, and confidence it must take to step into the ring and knock your opponent, down on the ropes, dying of kidney failure. Incredible and inspiring to say the very least and sadly a character trait I have never seemed to develop.
Maybe it’s just because I am the most self-conscious person I've ever met, or that the amount of confidence I have in my abilities is like a melting ice cream cone. At first, just like when you first get an ice cream, it's cold and refreshing on a hot day. However, after awhile it becomes a disaster; the ice cream melting down the cone and on your hands. Quickly becoming a race against time and the elements, in which, you can never seem to win. Even after you throw away the ice cream, your hands are still sticky. The wet wipes never seem to get all of it, and it takes a good scrub under the faucet to be fully cleansed of the sticky nightmare (even if it's just in your head). I feel great when I'm starting something out, but once I really get into it, my confidence just disappears. That little voice inside me seems to drown out the sea of people telling me “you can do this”, or “You're so talented”, or “just believe in yourself you're almost there”. Why? For the entirety of my life this question has perplexed me.
I can remember in High School and into my college career, being up at the plate 3-2 (full count), tie game (bottom of the ninth), my stomach sick with nerves, my heart beating hard enough to feel in my eyelids, my hands shaking so bad that if I had a cup of water to hold, it would be spilled all over my shirt. Sometimes, yes, I was the hero. Others, I struck out , or hit a hard line drive that the center fielder amazingly caught diving through mid-air. I can remember the soul- crushing feeling of defeat that took over my body. The air and breath being snatched from my very lungs. Not talking to my parents or anyone on the team for days after. Defeat, whether in life or the sports arena is truly hard to swallow and sometimes we never fully recover from. Then I remember the times I was the hero. The joy and the adulation, feeling like you're riding a wave that will never peak or crash to the beachhead. It's an intoxicating feeling, but for someone who is less than confident it's all too quickly snatched away from you. For me, I would always think, Ok now if you screw up people will say “oh we knew it was just a temporary thing”. They’re going to lose faith, and you’re going to be the loser or “class clown” that everyone expects you to be. If you’re not this good all the time people will no longer care, in other words. A messed up way to look at it maybe, but that's the way my brain works. As I sit and reflect, like old men do, I realize something I may have overlooked before. When I was in those pressure cooker situations, the times I did the best (football or baseball) was when I believed in something greater than myself. It was a surreal feeling, like someone else took control of my body at times. Ask anyone who has made an amazing play or did something that defied human nature and you will get the same answer. I GUARANTEE at some point, whether it be a game or fight, they will tell you it felt as if something was pushing them on-wards. Like they were not in control, everything seemed to be in slow motion. I think in life, as in sports, you must believe in a cause or an entity that is greater than yourself. That's when we seem to be at our best, so to speak, as human beings. I know in my case this is definitely true. When you are defending a cause you believe in, or working a job that you love, and changes lives, we experience that same sort of driving force. Something that can't be explained opening doorways, or for a sports analogy here, gaps in the defense you would've never seen on your own. I'm not saying this is god, or Buddah, or the universe, or whatever you believe or don't believe in. I'm merely making the case that, as history has shown, we are pushed to greatness when we are fighting for a cause that transcends our own needs. It's clear that human beings are capable of extraordinary things when they aspire to things that are greater than themselves. Whether you’re Mugsy Bogues, setting an example for the small kids of the world, or you’re Billy Miske fighting for your children's Christmas presents. Life, as in sports, rewards those of us who believe in things that are bigger than ourselves and uses such motivations to govern our actions.
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Former construction professional (Superintendent for 10+ years), who understands and values an "honest day's work". Enjoys softball (And baseball, but softball now that I am old), constant gym sessions, and anything that pushes me mentally and physically. After all, life is a strive for improvement and knowledge. Meaning, in order to "climb the next rung in the ladder", you must be focused on improving yourself. If you aren't striving to reach "the next best you" in life, then what's the point?