“Always keep going. The storm eventually ends. And when the storm does end, you want to make sure you’re ready.” – Kobe Bryant.
On January 26, 2020 the sports world suffered a tragic loss with the death of Kobe Bryant, along with 9 other passengers including his eldest daughter Giana, in a helicopter crash. The helicopter was en route to a girl’s basketball tournament, all the passengers on board were either athletes, coaches or parents of the athletes. The death of Kobe Bryant resulted in a magnitude of shock and grief felt throughout the world.
The day of his death 8 NBA games were played; 20 NCAA Men’s basketball games and 51 NCAA Women’s basketball games were played. The day following his death, 6 NBA games were played. To say that these games were emotional for players, coaches, staff and fans is a gross understatement. Not surprising with this tragedy, were the questions players and coaches were approached with by reporters after their respective games:
“How did you feel emotionally at the start of the game knowing of this loss?”
“How were you able to get your team mentally focused after learning about this tragedy?”
“At the beginning of the game you had tears streaming down your face, how were you able to focus on the game?”
Tributes were payed to Kobe and Giana for days at the start of basketball games across the country.
Not long after Kobe’s untimely death, the NBA cancelled their 2020 Season (ultimately the season resumed later in the summer) due to the Corona Virus. Once the NBA cancelled its season, it wasn’t long before other sports followed suit and cancelled their seasons as well. In 2020 hundreds of thousands of people died worldwide from the corona virus, causing most of us to face unprecedented tragedy. As sports start to resume play again, coaches, parents, athletic staff and athletes, need to be prepared to support many in your sport who may be going through the grief of losing a loved one.
Kobe created “Black Mamba” as an alter ego during what he called “the lowest point of his career” as a way to help him mentally face challenges both on and off the court. Using Kobe’s Mamba Mentality, here are some tips to help you, your athletes or your loved ones, face tragedy while competing.
Be Here Now
When we first realize a friend or loved one has passed away, especially when the passing is unexpected, our initial reaction is to not believe it. Then, we start to ask the inevitable, “why?”, and a rush of memories shared with that person hits us. That’s when the emotion and reality of this person being gone becomes absolute. It’s important to accept those memories and not try to push them away. When competing while dealing with a tragedy, check in with your emotions before the start of your competition, allow yourself to acknowledge your grief. It’s OK to acknowledge how bad this is. Now that you have acknowledged it, you have to decide if you have it in you to compete / train today, or do you need to take a day off? Coaches, allow your athletes to make this decision by giving them their space while also reminding them their team needs them and you’ll be there when they are ready to re-join the team.
“You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling.” – Kobe Bryant
As an athlete going through emotional pain, take the game you’re playing, or your training session, one step, another step, at a time. Then focus on the next one. Then the next. This is also a great time to use your cue words to help yourself refocus. As a coach, remind your athletes to take one shot, or one step at a time. Using a team motto or team cue words are helpful to get your team refocused.
At this point in your career, you have probably developed certain “pre-competition” routines (for example: listening to a certain song while you warm up; following a specific routine while getting ready the morning of your competition; wearing the same sox for every competition, etc.). Stick to those routines. They will help keep you focused and mindful of the task at hand. The goal is to try to get your mind to a relaxed state so you can perform and focus without effort. Sticking to your routines, and competition plans will help you reach the goal of mindfulness.
Be Here – Now:
Many players and coaches when asked how they were able to focus during a game immediately following the news of Bryant’s death responded, “Sometimes the only thing you can do is get lost in your work”. While competition isn’t “work” for all of us, it’s good to think about getting yourself lost in something you love – assuming you love the sport you compete in. Trae Young, an up-and-coming NBA player, was supposed to play the night Kobe passed away. During his pregame shooting routine his mom showed up. He walked off the court crying and told his mom he didn’t think he wanted to play. She told him to play with as much heart as he had left, and to play for Kobe. Trae wore number 8 in honor of Kobe that night, and made a shot from half court that he said, “would’ve been impossible to make any other day”.
For 17 years Nike sponsored Kobe Bryant, what else is there to say but, “Just Do It.”
Death of a loved one is never easy. For those of you who are dealing with loss, I am sorry and I hope you find comfort and peace. Do what you can everyday to find a reason to keep going, keep training, keep competing.
“This is the moment I accept the most challenging times will always be behind me and in front of me” – Kobe Bryant