Even as the buzzer sounded with a 92-73 upset, there were still a few fans left waving their country’s flags forlornly in the stands.
It was as if they were hoping for a last-minute miracle and their bodies had gone into shock rather than accept the truth:
The tiny island of Puerto Rico had just beaten the United States in basketball at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Prior to this moment, the United States had won 109 of their 111 Olympic games. Since 1992, when pro players were first allowed on the team, they had been completely undefeated.
Nobody had expected this.
So What Happened?
The analysis began before the game even ended, with opinions flying back and forth faster than the balls themselves. When the dust settled, one thing was clear:the Puerto Rico team had a better grasp of the fundamentals.
Puerto Rico played like a team, careful and steady, rather than a bunch of individual superstars. They took their time, they passed, they guarded, and they scored. Mentally, they were resilient and positive despite what seemed like overwhelming odds.
The United States team hadn’t spent much time practicing together. They slumped and pouted. They argued with referees, they failed to pass the ball during important plays and they rushed to the basket for a slice of limelight … only to miss the shots over and over.
Returning to the Fundamentals
Lots of factors contributed to the difference between players, but the one worth pointing out here is the decreasing time that U.S. players were spending at amateur levels before moving into professional careers.
It turns out that all those boring drills and practice games and mental maturation and sacrificing for the team … actually made people better players in the long run. Go figure.
What’s This Got to Do With Us?
It’s natural to be seduced by ‘shiny objects,’ whether that’s…
… a seemingly direct path to the basketball hoop
… a new business practice guaranteed to make you mega-money mega-quickly
… or any of a hundred to-dos that promise to make you a better human, partner, parent, gardener, chef, athlete, etc.
Usually we try to take on too many of those new tactics, often before we’re ready, and they don’t lead us to the Promised Land.
Instead, they just lead to overwhelm. Before you know it, your path to the hoop is blocked by three towering opponents, you frantically try to pass, but the ball gets intercepted.
Try This Instead
Do one thing at a time.
Master your current set of skills before upping your game with something new.
There’s a really distinct energy when you approach things this way.
When you’re overwhelmed, trying anything and everything, you feel frazzled. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re good enough, or maybe you feel like you’re better than those around you. Either way, there’s a sense of lack – and maybe even frustration or anger – that’s driving your actions.
When you take time to master the fundamentals, you make sure you’ve covered the basics first. Then, because you know your boundaries and priorities so well, you feel like you've accomplished what you set out to do at the end of the day. There’s a sense of fulfillment.
And Then a Funny Thing Happens
Out of that sense of contentment comes a tiny little nudge … of curiosity, of change, of excitement. Like a college MVP moving onto the pros, it’s time for the next phase.
Chances are, there are parts of your life that can be put on auto-pilot because they’ve become absolutely fundamental to who you are and how you do. If not, maybe they no longer serve you and you’ll want to retire them.
Either way, it frees up space, and into that space flows our basic human impulse to grow, strive, and expand.
And that’s the place where true superstars are born.
Here’s to getting back to what really counts,