Right, left, one, two, swish! And an uproar of glee. It was entirely my world, with my glory, with my trophies.
When I first joined my old school, I was a mediocre basketball player. Though I made it on the team (barely), I was clearly the worst in the squad.
I couldn’t cross-over, my shots were always out of aim, and most of all, I was afraid to receive a pass.
The worst part was that no matter how much I practiced, I was not improving. I felt like a failure compared to other girls, especially when I was compared to our team captain.
Trough my imprudent 6th grader’s eyes, the tall and pretty 8th-grade girl was a perfect model to look up to. She was hard working, always kind to people, and well respected by both peers and teachers.
With envy and admiration, I tried to be in the court every spare moment, either practicing a layup or just dribbling my way throughout the court. Whenever I lacked motivation, I would always whisper “again, do it again” to myself. I wanted to be better than anyone else.
I worked and worked, relentlessly, unsatisfied.
Then slowly, step by tiny step my mistakes were corrected. From then on, everything was straightforward, though uphill. I no longer warmed the benches the whole game but stood on courts as part of the starting five. Eventually, I was appointed as the new captain and even won against my predecessor in a one-on-one game.
I was definitely proud of myself, for bearing all of the hard times with determination. This pride grew every time my shots passed through the ring, and I began to feel like I was the best on the squad, and trusted only myself to make shots – if that meant playing a one-man game.
It did not matter whether my coach was yelling at me to shuffle with my teammates, it did not matter if I was completely blocked by my opponent, I had faith in myself and my hard work to compensate.
But then things started to go wrong: I started to get called for fouls, I began getting tired by the end of the first quarter itself, and my coach started to yell at me almost exclusively, saying, “you’re supposed to play as a team member, not as a captain!”
“I know, I know, I get it!” I would snap back. I let his words enter from one ear and ooze out from another. I did not understand what he was trying to say. I was confused whenever he differentiated the “team” and the “captain,” since I thought the captain is the one who is leading the team. After all, no one was as good as me now.
One afternoon before our regional tournament, my coach called me aside and said, “Listen, I know you are one of our best players. But you have to play as a team member tomorrow morning. Okay?”
“Okay, Sir. I will.” I replied in annoyance and walked away in fury for not being “recognized” as the “best player” in school.
Provoked, my ego rose in defensiveness and this botched everything. My tournament, my trophies, my position, everything. Blinded by my own pride, I was not aware of the consequences of playing a one-man game. Our team did not even make it till the quarter-finals that day.
In the same afternoon after the tournament, I collapsed with humiliation. The groud felt like a bog ingesting my shoes and regurgitating out shame and failure.
“Victoria!” I looked up, and my heart sank. My coach was sitting on a plastic chair in the corner of the gym. I walked up, with drops of sweat trickling on both sides of my temple, as my heart beat louder than the bouncing sounds of the balls. I stood timidly in from of him like a sinner.
“Sit out today. You are not allowed to play.”
Thump! A ball dropped on the ground, so did everything else which I built up until now. Grumpily sitting next to his chair, the only thing I could hear was my hard work crumbling down.
“Do you know why I made you sit out today?
“Because I am a bad player?” I respond with an eye roll.
He sighed. “No, it was to make you see how basketball is supposed to be played. Look at the girls play,”
“I am looking at them.” I protested
But he insisted, “Don’t just look, observe”
He stood next to me silently, and I started to observe as he told me to. And to my surprise, it appeared to me that even those whom I thought of as worst players were doing just fine.
Something is off, I thought to myself. I paid more attention to every individual’s performance, trying to figure out what was happening. Just a couple of days ago, I knew that half of them could not even receive a pass properly, but at the moment, there were hardly any flaws I could pick up on from anyone.
“What do you see?” our coach asked. And then, I realized that “teamwork” was what I was missing.
It didn’t matter whether the person who I passed to was bad or not, it was the willingness to cooperate. It was not only about who made the shot or who missed, but it was also staying on the court as a team, together.
And at the end of the final quarter, it did not matter whether we lost or won, if we walked through the game as a team, holding up each other with our trust, patting each others’ back even if we made mistakes.
After all, it was all about the relationships and the teamwork involved, not the numbers on the scoreboard.
“Sir,” I asked, “can I play as a team?” without a word, he gestured me to proceed. As I sprinted towards the half line, I heard my coach yell a Hindi saying, “if you work together, you earn success.”
“I will remember,” I replied in Hindi, with a smile.
Until this day, I still keep my promise to my former coach, to remember that success is driven through teamwork, not by an individual.
Edited by Rohan Menezes