What would you say to your younger self?

4 Minute Read or Listen

We all have learned a great deal through our experiences in life, most of these being mistakes and failures! As coaches, we inevitably face the challenge of communicating these lessons to our players in hopes they will avoid our pitfalls. You probably like myself, struggle to find ways to convey these lessons in a way that calls them up.

As I was watching the March Madness games a few weeks ago, I saw a CBS special wherein Coach K (Duke Basketball Coach) read a letter that he wrote to his younger self, which was pretty interesting because I had recently done something similar.

At the end-of-the-year banquet for the church basketball team I coached, I wrote a letter to my 8th grade self which I shared with each member of the team. I also included a small personal note to each of them. Hopefully, the letter was meaningful, having an impact on the young men. Even if they don’t heed the lessons, which is likely, I think it has two other positive effects.

First, sharing a letter to yourself is a way to be vulnerable—to share your challenges and mistakes you made along the way. Sometimes it is appropriate to share the full story behind how you came to learn those lessons and other times just sharing the imperfections is enough to send a clear message: None of us are perfect. We all struggle. Sometimes that message alone is all they need to hear.

Secondly, I relearned a great deal by reflecting on the question: If you could go back in time and tell your younger self anything, what would you say?

Sometimes we need to relearn these lessons just as much as they need to learn those lessons.

Call to Action

Take some time today to reflect on the message you would deliver to your younger self— and be sure to heed that message! Regardless of where you are in life or how old you are, ask yourself, “What would I tell my younger self?” Don’t be afraid to share those answers with your players. Sharing could have a profound impact on them and grow your relationship!

Below are the three lessons I passed on to my church basketball team at the end of this season.

1) Serve Others, Not Yourself. As a young teenager, I struggled with my self-esteem, particularly feelings of inadequacy, and never feeling as if I was enough. I didn’t understand this: Team sports aren’t about you! It’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give. My lowest moments in life happened when I was self-absorbed, focused on what I didn’t have, or searching desperately to find happiness. But self-esteem and happiness come from serving and loving others. So, the next time you are feeling sorry for yourself, go do something nice for someone else.

2) Every moment in life is an opportunity to learn and grow in character. Like all players, I have experienced injuries, hard coaches, losses, and slumps in my performance. Too often, I didn’t view my challenges as opportunities to shape my character and mental toughness. Next time you face a challenge or a setback, or you experience failure, instead of running from the challenge, making up excuses, or blaming others or your circumstances for what happened, ask yourself, “How is overcoming this challenge in my best interest? What can I learn from this experience? How can I grow from it?”

3) Mental toughness is the ability to have a great attitude, work hard, treat others well, and be grateful for what you have in your life, regardless of your circumstances or feelings.1 It is an ability to move your focus from the uncontrollables to the controllables. So, next time someone isn’t nice to you, people around you have a bad attitude, or you’re tired and you start thinking about all the things you “don’t” have in life, ask yourself, “What can I control?” Remember that you ALWAYS have control over your attitude, effort, gratefulness, and the way you treat others.

-J.P. Nerbun

Works Referenced

1. Joshua Medcalf and Jamie Gilbert, Burn Your Goals