For some reason, my high school teachers and my coach wouldn’t praise me. They wouldn’t criticize me either. But they felt it was OK to tease me. Well, it was. Teasing for me was water off the duck’s back. In any case, I would rather be teased than not mentioned at all. I remember one season, they had the award ceremonies to give out the letters for that year and they were given out by the Vice-Principal who lived just a little up the hill from us. And rather than praise me for my feats he teased me, saying, that I made a pretty good rooster, since I would wake up the whole neighborhood at six AM shooting baskets, and if there was such a thing as a rooster in reverse, I would make a good one of those too, since people knew when they could no longer hear me shooting that the sun had gone down.
I don’t think any of that was true. I would continue to shoot well after the sun had gone down. You didn’t need to be able to see the basket to shoot the ball; you just had to know where you were on the court. I stopped shooting mostly because when it got really dark I was deprived of the pleasure of seeing it go through the hoop. And I don’t think I ever got up at 6 AM to shoot baskets, though some days on the weekends I would start pretty early. And maybe they could hear me a little bit since I had a backboard made out of plywood and it would produce a thunking noise, sort of like a bass drum. But I can’t believe I woke up the whole neighborhood, though, I guess he must have heard something so as to make up this rooster bit.
But the point here isn’t that I got a letter or was teased while getting it, but that the Vice Principal knew I practiced day and night. And I did from eight 8th through 12th grade. I practiced whenever I got the chance out back on my dirt court off my plywood backboard. I didn’t have great ability. I didn’t grow as tall as I had hoped I would; I was skinny lacking strength and not that good a jumper. I never dunked the ball. Not because I couldn’t get that high but because I couldn’t palm it. My hand wasn’t big enough. I would get it up there and drop it or bang it off the side of the rim and put myself at risk in doing so. But I figured if I practiced enough I could make the team. And I did and I lettered two years.
Practicing is its own art form; and as such, I became a pretty sophisticated practicer. People who are sophisticated practicers know there comes a point when the person devoted to practicing practices missing. This might seem odd. Surely, the point of practicing basketball is to practice making the basket. Why, yes, of course, but the long distance practicer will tell you that sometimes one misses in an interesting way, and one decides to see if one can miss again in that particular way. The very, very sophisticated practicer may do this at any time; in my less sophisticated and less athletic way, I practiced missing mostly when I was tiring. OK, so I was too tired to make it, but in the meantime I could practice missing. Sure the point is to make it go in, but barring that–at least momentarily–one could keep at it and set as one’s goal–making it go exactly where one wanted it to go.
Practicing, from the perspective of this particular philosophy of practice, insures that one never actually misses. And that–that–is what keeps you going after the sun goes down.