Have you ever played at a level that you did not want

Da li ti se nekada desilo da ne igraš na nivou kakvom ti želiš tatjana mamula
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On The Success Journey Exercising Yoga, Meditation and Visualization

Have you ever played at a level that you did not want? Have you ever played one game so well and another so badly that you could not believe it was you? Has it ever happened that you understood what your coach told you in the locker room, and then, when you got out in the court, nothing happened as agreed? Have you ever missed a certain hit, certain point? Have you ever been angry with yourself, your team mates, your coach, the referee? Do you know that numerous sports people do not know how to breathe properly, and that they would be achieving significantly better results had then been able to improve that? Did you know that the state of sport fitness lasts for 2 to 3 months? Did you know that LeBron James, Baron Davies, Blake Griffin and other NBA players practice stretching, i.e. sports yoga, which is also included in curricula of some universities?

Did you know that Phil Jackson did meditation and visualization with his players in Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers? Did you know that Michael Jordan and Ronaldinho attended ballet classes to strengthen their spirit, breathing, and body balance? Do you know that stretching, i.e. sports yoga is ideal after severe sports injuries and surgeries, and that NBA and NFL players practice yoga preventively so as to reduce the number of injuries?

I started with intensive stretching at the first year of studying at university in America (in 2000). This mostly happened after the games when I had not played as I wanted and when I had expected much more both from myself and my team. I would stretch by myself for an hour, thus calming myself down in awkward situations, relaxing my body and eliminating discomfort from my head and heart. At that time I did not know much about yoga and the methods Phil Jacksons applied in his work with the Chicago Bulls in 1990s. At the fourth year of my university studies, a friend gave me a book by Phil Jackson, “Sacred Hoops”. In this book he speaks about various methods he had to invent in order to motivate and unite Michael Jordan, superstar, and Kukoc, Pippen, Rodman, BJ Armstrong, and others.Phil Jackson and other coaches use meditation against negative aggressiveness in players in contact with the referee, opponent and supporter provocations, and stress issues occurring outside the basketball court. It is well known that people who are perpetually under stress frequently practice yoga (bankers, businessmen, paramedics).

Besides the compulsory yoga, the visualization method was yet another method applied by the great coach. BJ Armstrong and Scotty Pippen practiced it twice a week, and some 20-30 minutes before every game. Rodman practiced visualization at matches, during 15 second, 30 second, or one minute time-out periods. BJ Armstrong said: if I am able to visualize a real situation which may happen, then I will be able to do all that at the game. The Chicago Bulls’ coach made his players lay on the floor in the locker room, imagining they are shooting and scoring, jumping for every kicked-out ball, successfully intersecting opponents’ passes, realizing attractive dunks, passes, playing 2-on-2 game, different moves featuring 1-on-1 game; when the same situation occurs at a game, they simply react, there is no “off” and “on”, said Jackson; everything is familiar because they have “seen” it already.

Having read the book, I decided to try something similar myself. I had also been disappointed with the coach and minutes of playing. In the previous three games I had played for about 20 minutes and was wondering whether visualization could help me too. Could I score a lot of points for a short time on the court? The only thing I could do was try and visualize real situations which could occur to me at matches such as scoring, slowly passing by other players, advancing the ball between the opponent’s legs, scoring three points while being fouled, playing pressure defense and breaking up the dribble, and intersecting the opponents’ passes. Visualization did not last longer than 15 minutes, but in my thoughts I scored 25 points, gained 10 balls, and performed 15 jumps.  Believe it or not, each move I imagined came true: I played for 12 minutes, scored 22 points, gained 6 balls, and performed 8 jumps. It seemed too easy so I even got frightened a little. I even felt as if I was cheating other players, as I had already seen it all. For the following game, I thought there was no need for visualization as I would be “playing” the film from the last time. Certainly, this is not how it works. Same as everything else, visualization has to be done regularly. As far as visualization is concerned, it is important to be realistic and not to imagine something which may not be achieved on the court. Visualization does not work only in sports, but also in work and everyday life. This is different communication in front of a group, communication with the boss, coach, someone you care for, or when learning. It is very important that the individual does not develop only physically (muscles), but also spiritually (mind). We all know that “spirit” dies last.
Taking into account the beginnings of my “unconscious stretching” from 2000 in America when my shooting rate for three points was 62% and when I was the first ranked in the whole NCAA1 for two months, I have been practicing yoga for 16 years already. I became more familiar with stretching as yoga in Poland in 2005, when I was collecting various books from others, while in 2006 I started with yoga classes and meditation in Sweden. The success of my free throws at that time was 98%, and I had the first miss after 70 free throws performed; my average score was about 18 points per game.
In the summer of 2006 my mother died. I suspended both basketball training and yoga for a while. I did not care about anything and felt indifferent towards everyone and everything. Thankfully, this lasted only for a month. In the end of 2006 I went to Cyprus to play basketball, and continued practicing yoga and meditation, which I still do. This was my way to encounter discomfort, problems, joy and sadness, which also seems to be the way employed by Jordan, Rodman, Jackson, and others.
Nowadays, a sports person is required to be integrated because it is only such balanced individuals that can offer their maximum at sports events and continuously surpass themselves, not only in physical, but psychological terms as well. Most importantly, yoga, meditation, or visualization always needs to be practiced only in presence of a professional in the area.

Tamara Ružić, Basketball coach Udominate Basket from Sweden

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