I wrote my speech for Class President on a frail napkin in blue sharpie. I scrawled rectangular bullet points, listed reasons why my classmates should elect me, why they should trust me, why I was good enough. I scribbled and scratched and marked every last bit of the already tired napkin, but through all the mess, you could still hear the theme of the speech whispering: I’m good enough, don’t let me down.
On the basketball court, instead of hearing that phrase, I speak it myself. It’s something I whisper every time I shoot a game-tying three-pointer. It’s something I say when time is running out and all I need is the opportunity to make a steal. It’s something I think for 32 straight minutes one night. It was my sophomore year, and my team had made it to Regional Semifinals. It was exhilarating just to be in the building.
The game starts, the first 8 minutes pass, and we’re down by 22.
That was the first time rejection slapped me in the face. These girls were very simply better; they were bigger, they were faster, stronger, better conditioned, more prepared, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. None of these things showed on their faces, however. There was only one thing that did: boredom.
I trained for 6 months to never experience that again. My team met in the weight room in the wee hours of the morning, scrimmaged every Sunday, talked incessantly about the team who beat us, how we would inevitably meet again in Districts, how it was going to be different this time. We posted signs in the locker room, ran every Saturday morning, checked how their season was going on the Internet, and remained perpetually nervous. For months.
After thinking about it for almost a full year, it was time to play the same team again in District Finals. We begged our coach to let us get to the gym three hours early. We had rituals, and team talks, and our starting line-up all prepared and ready for performance.
There was no real way to know, though, how far we had truly come. We had speculation, and statistics, and a whole lot of hope, but nothing beyond that. Our team talk that day consisted of one thing, one revelation that we had all made as a team. There’s that one moment in every hard game where you unconsciously make a decision: to accept the idea of losing, or to refuse to take no for an answer.
We had decided, as a team, to never even let the idea of losing fester, to never let it fully take form.
I whispered that little phrase, “I’m good enough, don’t let me down,” to the ball – even when it wasn’t in my hands. It was nerve-wrecking and pee-inducing. We were scared, but we were relentless, and we were better than they remembered. Boredom wasn’t an available expression.
We lost by 4 – couldn’t return the momentum in time. I was devastated and confused.
We had played the best game of our careers, we were winning against a team to whom we had previously lost by 45, and then we lost it? No. This is not the way the movies end. After being introduced to rejection, my teammates and I met work ethic. Although the loss was dizzying and disappointing, it was real and it was the last straw.
We have one more year and we’re not taking no for an answer.