Dear 19 Year Old Faiz,
Get up off the ground, wipe your eyes – he is right, you are not good enough. This isn’t for you. It hurts, I know. Years from now we’re going to do great things, all of which will stem from the scarring this pain will leave.
Nobody cares that you had a spot on the team until they got an unexpected transfer. Nobody cares that you were three weeks removed from being hospitalized from exhaustion. Nobody cares about the work you put in. The three-a-days on top of an active full time job. The 3:30AM alarms. Trying to find an extra 90 minutes by sleeping in your car in the gym parking lot on the nights you stayed until it closed and had to be the first one on the court when it opened.
You’re here wondering if you did enough. Believe me, you did more than enough. You’ll come to learn that. Because it is here that the foundation of your character was cemented.
You’ve been on your strength and agility program but struggled to stay in front of their new guard. You’ve been shooting 70%+% on your catch and shoot 3s in training. But it didn’t show today on-court. Why not? From this moment on your life will be a search to answer questions for what you could have done different, better? This journey is going to lead you to me, thirty-year-old Coach Faiz.
First, you’ll question your body. Were you enough of an athlete to be a basketball player? You’ll search for the best strength coaches of any sport to learn how you could have trained different. This is going to lead you to some of the best coaches from any sport in Canada. They are going to teach you how the body works, how to coach, and how to build an athlete over time. These will be some of the best classroom years of your life. Cherish them.
The understanding of the body, the athlete. This will serve as the basis for you to understand skill development differently. In turn, giving you an understanding for how to train for sport differently. Shortly after, you will find yourself translating Long Term Athlete Development from building an athlete to building a basketball player. You’ll spend time interning at Canada Basketball in Coaching Education. A fly on the wall soaking up everything you can. Your internship will end, but you’ll never leave. They don’t know this. Heck, you don’t know this yet either.
After learning from some of the best coaches in Canada you’ll continue your search to learn from the best. You’ll take eight separate flights in one single month during the summer of 2016. That entire summer will be spent in the gym. 8am to 8pm will be common, watching film during any break you have, keeping a secret that many nights you were unsure where you’d be sleeping. And you’ll learn player development from one of the best in the business. But, something will shift in you as you coach alongside him. He’ll trust you with some of his top guys. You’ll learn you can be among the best. That shift is essential. That summer, you’ll be in the gym with current and future stars of the NBA. You’ll get to watch Beal’s silent work ethic. How detail oriented Lavine gets when learning a skill. You’ll witness the emergence of Embiid and Tatum. See Clarkson and Galloway go at each other in competitive shooting drills. Feel what it’s like to defend a number one draft pick in Wiggins. Observe the focus of an NBA vet like David Lee. You’ll work with pros. You’ll teach G League players how to prepare for the NBA. Here you’ll learn how specific attention to the little details matter, how to build a player for the body they have and the importance of training decision making. Rewind a couple years and this information would have changed the player you were. Fast forward a couple years, and you’ll be applying this with pros of your own.
And a crazy thing will happen, not just here, but throughout your journey. Idols will become friends. NBA Vets, Rising Stars, Olympians past, present and future. By the end of that summer you’ll be hanging around $200+ million of new NBA money. You’ll witness the glamour of it all. The money, the celebrity, and the power. It could be enough to change the meaning of the game for anyone. You’ll head home. But you’ll stop in Iowa on your way for two weeks of camp. You’ll coach a group of young girls and ‘together on three’ your confidence will grow. A few weeks away from potentially becoming a corporate-corrupted soul, you’ll have a mom chase after you in a gym to tell you her daughter had been planning to quit basketball. But she called home the night before and said she had the best coach, loves basketball again, and wants to continue. You’ll turn, run, and get caught crying in a storage closet by one of the best coaches in the world. It’ll cleanse your soul. You’ll be ready to come home and grow the game on local soil.
You’ll bring all this knowledge home. Alongside one of your best friends, you will build one of the best high school programs in Canada. During this time you’ll work with some of the top talent in Canada and be a small part of their bright futures. In fact, right now there are 18 players from your high school teams currently playing NCAA. But it’s not all fun times. You’ll watch kids get cut. For some reason it’s always the kids on the outskirts that you will be drawn towards. Or the ones with the stupid hard work ethic. These kids will come to you for guidance. In a span of four years, six kids that got cut from the National Team come to you. Trust you. And one year later, they’ll make it.
A pattern will emerge of unraveling why you couldn’t make it. You’ll start asking the questions, finding the answers. Then finding an up and coming player who can put the knowledge to use.
Another pattern will emerge as well. Each year, after the season ends you’ll wonder if that was it. If you’ll ever coach again. Are you good enough for this? Are you willing to continue the sacrifice it takes to stay on the path of your dreams? When will it all align? You won’t see the next opportunity, one that will allow you to keep this going.
Finally, when you are truly clueless about where to go next, you’ll get offered your first Full-Time coaching job. Here you will coach and live with young athletes who are on the verge of stardom. It will all be coming together and becoming real. You’ll see the path to making this your future and stop having to ask whether basketball can remain in your life.
Then, one day, you’ll wake up in an ambulance, hooked up to all types of machines, making all types of noises. Too much to even register. And the question will move from if you’ll coach next year to if you’ll ever coach again.
The doctors will see something, something that needs to be removed. You’re headed for brain surgery. They’ll discuss the risks involved. Honestly, I don’t remember what they were because when they said there was a 10% chance you might lose your ability to move your left arm. All I thought was that I might never shoot a basketball again. And at that point, nothing else mattered.
In the next few weeks there will be a bunch of scary words thrown around. Don’t worry, with time you will learn to accept them. They will become a part of you, of your story, of your soul. And there is nothing scary about that.
The surgery was a success. Being tested in the operating room for function of your limbs, the form still looked good. But it wasn’t just the jump shot that remained. Many people assumed that the Faiz they knew would be no more. But through all this you preserved the spirit of a Warrior. Perseverance, perspective and a dedication to challenging yourself to go beyond – skills fostered through sport, were all called upon.
Post-surgery, as you pumped your chest down the hall proclaiming, “I’m a fucking beast!” to everyone you passed (they needed to know). You began your process of healing. The surgeon said it would be a minimum of six months. You were back to your team within the month. No one can ever tell you that you don’t have love for this game.
It hurt to get cut. To be told you’re not good enough. But without that, would all of this have been possible? Trust that this worked out for the best, because it did.
Now sit down for a moment and let me tell you what is most important. I’ve come to learn that your greatest superpower lies right beside your greatest wound. It’s kind of crazy to look back at everything we’ve been through, but I have to admit that this moment here is the deepest pain. Your dream of playing may be cut here. But your superpower is to ignite love for basketball, and help players to rediscover it. Match that with your ability to put them on the path to Mastery. And watch a generation of athletes achieve their dreams.
And they do care. They care when they see how much work you put into this, even though you try to hide it from them. They care when they see how much extra you are willing to invest in them, even though you see it as the least you could do. And they care for you when they see you care for them as a whole person, even though you couldn’t picture coaching any other way. So continue to care in everything you do and for everyone life brings your way.