Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rookie to Veteran

 Our scudetto dinner -- celebrating our championship!

  Somewhere along the line I went from rookie on the team, to team vet. The team 'baby', to team 'mom'. The young and spry one, with her whole career ahead of her, to the not-so-spry-one, with her career coming to a close.

  I don't know exactly where the transition point occurred, but I've been fully towards the side of 'experienced' for quite some time now.

  I look back on the things I did, the way I was as a rookie, or a younger player, and laugh a little. I recognize the ways I have changed as my career has progressed, and of course you think you've changed for the better.

  Even so, it's always fun to look back.

  One thing you always wish you could do is ease the growing pains of the the younger version of yourself. To educate her on a few things: the expectations on the court, the ways of the leagues, how to be better prepared, how to take care of her body, and living abroad in general.

  But I suppose that's the whole point of being a rookie. It's your time to learn. Nearly every experience is a new one. And no one can give you the answers. You have to figure it out for yourself, and adjust accordingly. You either figure it out, or you head home.

Mental Adjustments
Warming up for my first game as a pro!
  I was blessed with an amazing team my rookie year in Italy (Como). We had an incredible group of professionals who couldn't have been better role models for me. I was lucky to have them to learn from. And I think it was my two years in Como that really shaped me as a professional, and set the tone for the rest of my playing career.

  I looked up to my older, more-experienced teammates, and admired them a great deal. I remember wondering how they 'did it' on a day-to day basis. Their consistency. They were always there, physically and mentally. No matter what. I strived to match them.

  So between my rookie year in 2003-2004 and now, I've hopefully grown into a player the younger girls on my recent teams look at in a similar manner.

  I've never been the 'team mom' type, and I never will be. I'm not the rah-rah cheerleader. But I will lead by example.

La Comense strolling the streets in Sicily.
   As a rookie, I didn't understand the expectations that were on me as a player. I was happy to be on a successful team. I saw the team's success as my own success. But at some point, the team (president, management, coaches, sponsors) wanted a high individual return on their investment.

  It took me several years to figure out, especially as a foreigner, you have to produce, statistically speaking. If you're on a winning team, all is well. But the second your team loses and you're not meeting individual expectations, there will be hell to pay.

  It wasn't college anymore. We had a team system, but it wasn't nearly as strict as the one I had played in at Colorado. It took some time, and some adjusting, but after several rough patches, I got through it.

  I took everything on a day-to-day basis my first few years. I didn't see much of the big picture. If I wasn't playing well, was home sick, or had just had a spat with my coach, it was the end of the world. Now, I brush it off, and know things will bounce back in the other direction as long as I keep plugging along.
Celebrating our championship!

  I also went from from not understanding at thing, whether it'd be specific things in practice, how leagues/championships function, or just day-to-day life as an American in Europe.

  On the court, this where I relied on my teammates again. If I didn't understand (because of language), I had to pay extra attention to them, to figure out what was going on. Practice wasn't going to stop just for you. I eventually learned Italian, and didn't have to rely on watching to understand.

  But the same can be said for my on-the-court adjusting with every team I've ever been on (eight countries in 10 seasons means a lot of different languages!).

  I learned the importance of the league championship because of how my teammates reacted. We won the Italian Championship my rookie year. And I didn't quite understand the magnitude of it until I realized just how important it was to my teammates. It was rare. And the only championship I've won as a pro.

My team vets -- they showed me the ropes!
  Another mental shift was probably the most important one I made. It was what allowed me to make a career out of basketball. It was realizing it was okay for me to be a basketball player.

  Prior to understanding this, I felt pressure to being doing something more 'grown up', and to know exactly what I wanted to do when I was done playing. While in my head I thought, 'I am doing what I want to do'!

  Now, I understand that a career as basketball player is a short one. And it's not a career that everyone gets the opportunity to experience, so I am making the most of it. And while life after basketball is still a daunting one, I'll tackle it, just as I've tackled every other crossroads in my life. 
Anything For a Little Extra Sleep
  I remember timing, to the last possible second, when I'd have to leave the house for practice. Heaven forbid I get there too early. In Como, I'd get caught on a regular basis, at the train tracks on my way to the gym. And each time, I'd freak out that it'd make me late. Thankfully, I never was.

  Or timing my morning routine to a T, so I didn't have to get up a second too early. At some point I started setting my alarm two hours before practice, no matter what.

My German team in the oldest gym ever. At least it seemed like it.
  I used to look at, morning practice especially, as something you just had to 'get through'. Your body was tired. You were sleepy. It wasn't even a full practice. You just had to get through it for an hour or so, and then you could hurry back home, have lunch, and try to have a nap before evening practice later in the day.

  Now I look at any practice as a chance to get better. If I'm going to be there, I might as well either get a good workout in, or sharpen up my skills, and make it worth my time. Also, being ready for practice means getting there in plenty of time, so you no longer find me waiting until the last possible moment to leave my apartment.

  One rookie mistake I never made was being late to practice. Something like that is international, and I had been well-trained in my four years at Colorado.

Physical Adjustments
  Mental and physical adjustments go hand in hand. My first few years, I was very insecure as a player. I was unsure of my game, and how I was going to contribute to my team. Every week was different. I was inconsistent. And I felt the pressure to play better.

  Maybe as I grew to understand the expectations placed on me, I've grown to have 100% confidence in what I do, and how I play. I'm comfortable with what I do on the court, and the things that I bring to my team. I'm not trying to be someone I'm not. I just try to be the best player that I can be. 

Wolfenbüttel, Germany.
  This might go without saying, but like many rookies, I never stretched. Before, during, or after practice. Now, there's really not a time I'm not stretching. Ask my teammates. You have to take care of your body if you want to last in this profession.

  Another huge change has been my attitude about my conditioning. Until my third year as a pro, I never did any extra work during the season. Whatever we did in practice, I though, that was enough for me.

  Over time, I grew to take pride in my conditioning, and my body. I learned that my body was the way I earned a paycheck. And an unhealthy body wasn't going to do me any good.

  The same can be said for my eating habits. Across the board, I've become a much healthier person from the time I was a rookie, until now.

Off the Court
  Adjusting to life in Europe off the court had just as many bumps as my on-the-court adjustment did. In my first years abroad, I complained constantly about the things you couldn't get in Europe. The midday closures. How impossible it was to get anything done (it took a month to get a phone line -- and internet -- installed in my house, for example). I'd get 'America sick' very easily.

Adriatic Sea -- in Croatia.
  To be honest, I have no idea how I survived my first two years in Italy. For one, I had dial up internet (no Skype, etc)! And 10 TV channels (all in Italian). I guess that explains why I can speak some Italian. And again, a testament to my teammates.

  I think my life was much more structured my first few years as a pro. We had two-a-days every day, the entire season. This was my life: practice, eat, rest, eat, practice, eat, sleep. Then do it all over again the next day.

  These days, I try (try, being the operative word) not to sweat what I can't control. I appreciate the pace of life in Europe a whole lot more than I did when I first played in Italy. Things are much simpler. 

  I distinctly remember having countdowns (until the day I got to go home), and eagerly crossing days off the calendar. Sometimes the countdown started as high as 70 days! It wasn't that I disliked my time in Europe, it was that I felt that I was constantly 'missing out' on something since I was always gone.

Hanging with teammates in Poland.
  Now, I'm not really in any hurry. I've found ways to meaningfully make use of my days. And I no longer feel like I'm always missing out because I'm in Europe. I look at my experience here just as as valuable, if not more so, than anything I would be doing in the US.

  I remember the day I got my first pay check as pro. My coach was actually the one who pointed it out to me. Up until that point, it didn't dawn on me, that I was actually a professional basketball player. I loved the game, loved to play, and I was just proceeding with the next step in my career.

  And I've been extremely blessed to do so. I look at my years in Europe as an enormous time for individual growth. You learn to believe in yourself because it's just you out here. Day in, and day out, you're the only one you can really rely on.

  Though my ten seasons in Europe, I've probably experienced every scenario you can as a basketball player, positive and negative, on the court and off. I've learned to make due, adjust, and have had an overall positive experience, no matter what. And it's made me a better-prepared, more well-rounded person because of it.


Post a Comment