How university helped me love playing basketball again

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I played better than ever by taking off the pressure and just enjoying playing basketball.
A photo of Benjamin Marks.
Benji Marks

Getting involved in sport is one of the most popular and rewarding university experiences. Yet, for many of us, our relationship with sport exists in waves of motivation and indifference. Before starting at UCLan, I was firmly in the mindset of the latter.

For context, I joined UCLan to study for my Master’s degree, with basketball being my chosen sport up to this point. I had played organised basketball for two years during my undergraduate degree, so I wasn't a beginner, but still had less experience than most players on university teams. The first year consisted of casual and leisurely play, with the second year being more competitive. Unfortunately, my second year was riddled with injuries and frustrations, meaning I could not play or progress the amount that I had hoped. This made me lose interest in playing basketball, especially in a competitive setting. In my mind, my short-lived basketball career had run its course.  

Coming into UCLan, I was sure that competitive basketball was not an option for me as I was out of practice and ambition. Playing basketball leisurely, if at all, seemed like my most viable option. I reluctantly attended trials, just to get to know other people who were interested in basketball. Long story short, I ended up playing well enough to be invited back for another session and was asked to join the UCLan Basketball 2nd team to play competitively for the upcoming season. Amazingly, this was my best year playing basketball to date, in terms of individual quality and overall enjoyment. I did not expect this at the start of the year, and it was down to one thing: taking the pressure off.

The basketball trials welcomed beginners and experienced players.
The basketball trials welcomed beginners and experienced players.

This started at the trials, which included a mix of beginner and experienced players, with all abilities in between. Coming into the trials, I was in the mindset of “I will just focus on enjoying myself without expectation of making the team.” As mentioned, I was happy to play for fun this year. The trials were organised very effectively, and everyone was made to feel comfortable regardless of ability. The more experienced players were happy to help the beginners, creating a welcoming environment. This allowed me to enjoy the session without pressure to perform. Due to this (and a lack of personal expectation), I played better than I had expected and was not hard on myself when I made mistakes. This carried on throughout the trial sessions and beyond. 

Once I had joined the team, I enjoyed the opportunity to play basketball and was content just to be part of the training squad. Yet, due to this lack of pressure and my focus on enjoying the training sessions, I played well enough to earn myself a spot in the gameday squad. Throughout the season, this mindset led to more game appearances and serious improvements in my overall play. The excellent coaching allowed me to retain this low-pressure mindset, whilst improving my basketball ability.

What started with a lack of motivation, turned into a massively successful season for myself and the team. This demonstrates the outstanding effect that letting go of expectations and decreasing pressure can have. Now that the academic year is coming to an end, I feel grateful for the opportunities I have been given. I would encourage anyone looking to play a sport at university to employ these same principles, in order to enjoy your sport as much as possible.