When I was a wee 8 years old I made the decision to try out for a travel/ AAU 5th grade basketball team (a team with girls 2 year older than me on it). Yes, I was young, but it was decision that I wanted to take basketball and training seriously and that it was something I loved and wanted to push myself at that precipitated in too many more future decisions to further dedicate myself to the sport that brought me so much joy and feeling of accomplishment. In middle school I set my sights on varsity high school basketball, and in high school I set my sights on division one college basketball. I was always working for the next level and when I came to the end of my college career, I was faced with the realization that perhaps I had reached my threshold for seeking further advancement in the thing I had dedicated the biggest parts of my heart, soul and body to. For many collegiate athletes this end of the road experience can trigger many questions of identity, passion and feelings of uncertainty about the future, and for me I definitely felt some of these things as well. I always believed the trajectory of my relationship with basketball would be linear, with each new step bringing more rigor and more responsibility. However, you never really know where life will take you.
Coming to Northern Ireland to play basketball has given me an opportunity to take a step back, to look at my relationship with the sport I love through a new lens. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would not take back the experience of being a collegiate athlete and I think the high investment led to such a strong sense of purpose that is truly unique and special, but I am happy to have basketball now without training every day, sometimes multiple times a day, film, scouting reports, game day preparations, etc., etc. The change has been quite interesting. Here, we only practice a few times a week, we don’t watch film or do weightlifting together, we don’t have one on one sessions with our coaches, and well, we only have one coach during a game. Sometimes we show up with very little idea of what the other team does well or who their key players are. Had you told me this is how it would look, I would think you might be crazy. How can we play a team and not have practiced running their plays, watching their key players, studying strategy? Well, if the other team hasn’t studied us then we both approach with similar levels of knowledge and hence the game flows in a sort of trial and error fashion. Furthermore, not worrying much about the opponent beforehand eliminates a lot of the anxiety or worry about how you might handle a player that is much better than you and instead you sort of figure it out in a gamete situation. I think the offenses here have a greater advantage simply because the defenses haven't particularly prepared to stop specific actions. It’s interesting because in many ways the spontaneity of the game is what makes it fun. With practice only a few times a week, there is room for trying out workout classes (which we did for the first time this week), choosing to come get shots up because you feel like it rather than because you have to, off court training – which with the chronic injury I have is very important – and other things of the like. Our team atmosphere is competitive but not cutthroat. When we win we are happy but when we lose the world doesn’t feel like it’s going to come crashing down on our heads. When I think about sport and investment levels and what is optimal, I think to sustain a love of a game or to sustain a healthy balanced lifestyle, the way they do it out here is really conducive to that sort of atmosphere. No wonder we play teams with 30-40 year old women on them! It is perhaps not a question of what is better but rather just an interesting perspective into the ways the differences can impact teams and individuals. I have found that even though playing ball here isn’t on the linear trajectory I once believed only inevitable, that I have found a new way to enjoy the game, one that doesn’t consume all of me, but that still values and appreciates the experience of playing the game.