• Sade Wiley-Gatewood

Body Language and Basketball

Winners project confidence. That is a fact. And it is important you notice my choice of words in saying this. I did not write winners always possess confidence. No one, no matter how talented or secure in their ability, is always confident. However, there is something winners always do: they act confident.

All great coaches and teachers in sport—basketball most definitely included—understand how important it is for their athletes/teams to possess body language that is indefatigable and relentlessly positive. So many basketball players play to the score or the immediate scenario facing them during the ebbs and flows of the game. That is, when things are going well, they are aggressive, shoot with confidence, defend with more energy, support their teammates and engage in the huddle; but when things are not going well or they are in a slump, they hang their head, slouch their shoulders, dial back their aggression on both ends of the floor, complain to officials, feel sorry for themselves or make excuses.

Players and teams who aspire to maximize their potential must learn the importance of possessing positive body language at all times, regardless of the game score or their personal stat line. Positive body language inhibits positive responses for your team. If you’ve missed three shots in a row or turn the ball over, sulking and trotting down the floor or taking a play off on the defensive side of the ball because your shot is not falling on the offensive end, hurts your team worse than the missed shot or errant pass. And positive body language in every moment and situation has an even greater effect on your opponent. When you square your shoulders and walk with your head high, play with constant energy and effort, remain enthusiastic and never hang your head when you miss a shot or have a possession or two that are less than perfect, it sends a message to your opponent that you cannot be taken down; you will not be defeated. And this is frustrating to them.

Mentally tough people exude an ability to play through challenges and never let their disposition give them away. The reality is that there will always be moments within a game (or in life) when a player or individual does not have a ton of confidence, but if you refuse to let others see you second-guess yourself or look discouraged, you have won the body language battle.

However, body language is something that must be focused on every day, practice, game, play…it must become an innate habit because to be mentally strong and permanently possess positive body language requires overcoming human nature. The socialization of human nature makes it a natural response to miss a shot and hang your head or celebrate when you win. These visceral responses must be replaced by an even temperament that never gets too high or too low, because you expect to compete—to win. You can never be too positive, but it is essential that you are positive even when you’re not playing your best.

Body language is an even louder communication medium than using your voice to speak, because body language can be understood and observed beyond close proximity. Your body language is your message to the world; it is a candid glimpse into your most private thoughts.

There is also a psychological and physical connection to your positive thoughts and responses. When you react positively to both an and-one play and a careless turnover—clapping, high-fiving and focused on the next play in good times and bad—the chemicals in your brain and body align to help you perform and respond at your best and most attentive.

Have you ever watched a game and tried to judge which team is winning without even seeing the score? Generally, you can decipher which team or individual is winning based solely on their body language. And, aside from the positive implications being positive has on you and your team’s performance, your capability to remain positive and emit strong body language and posture throughout will frustrate, distract and dismay your opponent. It is okay for you to feel frustrated…but never allow yourself to show frustration. If you can control your emotions and remain positive, it is much more likely you will win. And, when you don’t, you walk off the court satisfied with your effort because it was constant and knowing you will get the next one.

Pat Summitt, the legendary coach at Tennessee, was famous for saying that, while talented players made it easier to win games, she would only recruit players whom she observed to be mentally tough and coachable. Summitt knew it would be difficult to defeat people who never allowed themselves to feel or perform defeated. “I need mental giants, not mental midgets.” Summitt said. She won a record 1,098 games.

Summitt was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type in 2012, and passed away from complications with the disease in the summer of 2016. But, despite her dire diagnosis, Summitt fought the disease publicly and with her signature ferocity. She told players and friends who called to check on her not to pity her, but to fight alongside her. Pat used the last years of her life with good memory to author a bestselling book and to create the Pat Summitt Foundation for Alzheimer’s. The foundation raises awareness and funds with the goal of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. Summitt is a prime example of the importance of a positive mentality in any situation.

Coach Sa’de was the youngest player ever recruited by Summitt, and played for her as a freshman in 2005 and Sophomore year in 2006. Canaan York was a student manager for the vaunted basketball program under Summitt, attending three final fours with the Lady Vols.

By: Cannan York


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