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November 21, 2013

Tim Kolodziej: Why do you play? Only you know for sure

NEW CASTLE — Why do you play?

Success is not an accident.

You know that, right?

No one crashes into a wall and wins the race.

The guy on top of the mountain didn’t fall there. He climbed.

You don’t buy the gold medals they slip on you at the Palumbo Center. You earn them.

No one just “arrives.” You’ve got to be intentional and follow a path to excellence.

You CREATE your results.

So again, I’ll ask: Why do you play basketball?

I mean, really.

Why do you play?

Why did you take the physical, spend hundreds on the new kicks and run until you puked during preseason conditioning?

Why did you show up Monday for the first official high school practice?

Why do you play?

As you ponder that question, let me offer three things you better NOT be playing for:

1) Your family — Don’t play because your dad or your mom hooped back in the day. That was THEIR passion. If it isn’t YOURS, don’t let them force it on you and live through you. It will lead to a lot of bad days on the court — and even more at home.

2) A girl or guy — Yeah, it’s cool to date the captain of the cheerleaders or have your school’s quarterback watch you play from the front row — just don’t let that be your reason for joining the team. If your play is the reason they’re dating you, drop the drama now — it’s just a disaster waiting to happen. And if you’re dating THEM because of what THEY do at school, that’s another blog altogether.

3) To earn a scholarship — You can’t focus on that outcome and not feel a tremendous pressure to perform. If it happens, it will be a byproduct of your efforts on the floor. And if it doesn’t? Do you really want your career to be defined only by that standard?

When played well, basketball is a beautiful game — jazz-like, rythmic and fluid. There’s a certain joy and sense of awe that comes with simply setting foot on the court.

I hope — I really hope — that you’ll get to experience the “sacred time and space” that former Pitt and Westminster coach Buzz Ridl used to speak of. It’s been years since I played at the high school level, yet I still feel it every time I walk into a gym.

That said, here are just a few of the reasons I think you should slip on the school colors this year. I believe if you keep these things in mind as the season progresses, you’ll have an unforgettable experience — no matter what the scoreboard says.

•The ball bouncing — The sound is like a magnet. I STILL can’t contain myself when I hear a basketball bouncing somewhere. I just want to yell “Next” and jump in there. I’ve got to play.

•The swish of the net — Clean, pure and true. It’s indisputable proof that you squared your hips, finished high, closed with a pose and nailed your shot.

•The squeak of the sneakers — It means someone is cutting or pivoting or screening or getting after it on defense — ballin’ out!

•The front of your uniform — You are representing your school and your community. Over the years thousands of students have walked the halls but you are among a select few to earn a spot on the team. It’s a privilege and an honor. Don’t take it lightly.

•The back of your uniform — If you’re willing to put your name to ANYTHING, do it with excellence. No excuses.

•Your brothers and sisters — Look around in the huddle. You’ve grown up with your teammates. You’ve laughed and ate and played video games. There’s a good chance you’ve even experienced some sadness together. I’m guessing you love SOMEONE on your team like family. Don’t ever let them down because you don’t feel like going hard.

•Your platform — Even though basketball can bring indescribable joy, don’t let the game define you. Basketball is what you DO — not who you ARE.

Your position on the roster will, however, place a spotlight on you. Your attitude, effort and teamwork will be on display for all to see. THAT’S who you are.

As I noted earlier, success is not an accident.

Success is actually a choice.

So, are the habits you’re creating during today’s practice in line with your dreams for March?

If not, then I have to ask the question again: Why do you play?

The ball’s in your court now.

Think about it. Then give that answer your best shot.

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