A few weeks ago I was asked, “If you could have a conversation with your future self or your past self, which would you do?”
I don’t know why but I didn't even hesitate, I would go back to my younger self. I feel like there is so much to tell her, to reassure her and just support her. To be honest, I’d just love to give her a big hug. High school was a great time but there are also struggles that go into being a female athlete with big dreams. Being from a small community I was pursuing something that hasn’t
been done. I dreamed of playing Division 1 Basketball and there was no blueprint for that. My family and I were creating our own. So at times I felt insecure because I was chasing something different with no idea if it would turn out in the end. I was putting all my time into the gym, tournaments and anything that had to do with basketball.
We knew what people were thinking, that we were just wasting our money/time doing all that AAU jazz but turns out all those weekends and all the sacrifices that used to make me feel stressed or insecure were exchanged for a full ride scholarship to a D1 Basketball Program. It was worth it and if I could go back these are five things I’d tell my younger self…
1. Don’t be Afraid to Stand Out
You’re the hardest worker, in an empty gym. Music playing and just you and the court. You can go as hard as you want without being judged. I know it’s your favorite but here’s what I challenge you with, stop trying to blend in when it comes to your team. Greatness isn’t supposed to blend in, it’s supposed to shine, so might as well shine bright! If you want to stay after practice to get extra free throws up, stay. If you want to come early to get extra ball handling in, do it. Don’t let others make you feel “weird” for doing it, just like you shouldn’t make them feel weird for not doing it. You will find that everyone has different goals and dreams, but that doesn’t mean you have to waver on your actions because you’re afraid of standing out.
You’ll see that if you start doing these things, some of your teammates may join you. You will grow into the leader you want to be. You don’t need anyone’s permission to work hard, just be you.
As for the High School extracurriculars, i.g parties and drinking. Stay true to yourself and stay away from it all. There’s plenty of time for that when you’re older. Sure, maybe that makes you the “lame” one but I promise once you make that decision, you’ll stumble across some of your best friends. These will be the friends that believe in you and support your dreams. To this day, they are still your best friends. So remember you don’t have to fit in, greatness isn’t about fitting in, it’s about being different. Be different, be proud of who you are and continue to chase your dreams.
2. Your Sacrifices are Worth it
Your sophomore year of HS Mom will ask you if you want a new pair of basketball shoes for AAU or a new Prom dress. Stop stressing, pick the shoes, you’ll look just as cute in the borrowed dress from your friend. In HS it might feel like you’re always left with these kinds of “HUGE” decisions. This or that. Basketball or “fun”. These decisions that feel like the hardest things in the world become much clearer later. You’ll trade in some of those summer pool parties and bonfires, for your weekends traveling the country for AAU. I know it seems like you are always missing out but I promise you, you aren’t.
You’ll soon find out why these aren’t even sacrifices at all. You’ll be introduced to the greatest group of people through AAU and a Coach that will develop you into the player you dream of becoming. So continue to trust the process and trust your gut whenever you’re given a, “this or that” situation.
3. Your Dreams Aren’t Too Big
Remember when you were 11 and you overheard that classmate’s Dad say, “Ya she’s good now but wait until everyone catches up to her.”
That’s usually how the story goes. A young athlete is more athletic than their classmates so they shine when they are young and then everyone catches up to them. Well, let me just tell you, he’s wrong, that’s not how your story goes.
Don’t let anyone belittle your dreams or your potential. There’s never been a D1 basketball player from your HS? Doesn’t matter. You want to become a Pro? Let’s freakin’ do it. Not only do I want to tell you to keep dreaming but girl, dream bigger! I want to encourage you to vocalize these dreams. You don’t have to downplay your capabilities and your visions for ANYONE. Speak them into existence and you’ll see how once you start verbalizing your dreams, you’ll be able to separate the people that believe in you from the people that don’t.
Surround yourself with the ones that believe and forget about the ones that don’t. Keep working and I promise you anything is possible.
4. Strong is Beautiful
Let me just state the facts, weightlifting is important. I know, you’re wondering how can these little noodle arms and legs even put on muscle but trust me, with some hard work and dedication it’s possible. Stop worrying about looking like a bodybuilder or a boy because that’s just not the case. Being strong is beautiful! Weightlifting will turn into one of your greatest advantages as an athlete. It will allow you to stay injury free and make you stronger than your opponents.
So go to bed early, there’s nothing cool about staying up late or functioning on no sleep and continue setting that alarm for 5am. It’s worth it and believe it or not, these morning weightlifting sessions will become some of your favorite memories.
The weight room will turn into a place where you feel comfortable and confident. You’ll be introduced to “Team Swole” which consists of your Assistant Bball Coach and a couple of guys that will become your greatest friends. Don’t sweat being the only girl. Stay focused and dedicated to getting better. They will inspire you to build muscle and become your biggest hype team.
And when you feel rushed from the weightroom to the class room and your hair goes into its signature wet messy bun and you’re wearing sweatpants and a hoodie for the 4th time this week. WHO CARES. I can’t say this loud enough to you. I know in the moment you feel like you should be dressing all nice for school and maybe some days you can, but my message to you is you don’t have to. Dress how you want and don’t stress about it.
5. I am So Proud of You
My last message I want to leave you with is, I am so proud of you. Honestly. I want to thank you for overcoming all adversity and being the most dedicated athlete. I am proud of you in ways that I can’t even explain. The sacrifices, the hard work and everything that went into becoming the person I am today. I know you’re supposed to idolize people that are older than you but I look back at the young girl that had a dream and just freaking moved walls to make it come true and well, I couldn’t be more proud. I’m proud because now I get to be an advocate for young females that might face some of these same challenges but only because you never gave up.
These are five things I sooner or later figured out in HS and they all came with their own challenges. HS is tough because if you don’t follow the waves you’re different and different is weird. No matter how “cool” sports are, classmates may still have ways to make you feel like the odd one out. I was always well liked and extremely confident but that didn't mean there weren't times where I was insecure or unsure about my journey. I was on a different page than most of my classmates, not that my page was better, but it was different. I hope if you are reading this it gives you some hope and some promise that you don't have to fit in. Always be kind, always smile but don’t shape your dreams based on the people around you. Girls, greatness isn’t supposed to blend in, it’s supposed to shine, so shine bright!!
- Laken James