Love conquers all

Former Iowa State star Lindsey Wilson says play with passion, and everything else will fall into place. AP Photo/Mike Shepherd

In two months, the summer evaluation period begins -- the time when hoop dreams are realized and crushed, scholarships are won and lost, and athletes essentially "sit" for the most comprehensive and nerve-wracking test they've ever encountered.

So how do you prepare for this?

Like any test, it helps to practice what will be on the test. But that's not enough. Your mental outlook during this crucial time will be the single biggest determining factor in how you perform. And I have a tip that will help you control your nerves, give you a positive mental outlook and help you play your best this summer and always. It's a little-known secret that very few athletes have fully realized, but it's extremely simple to do and something you've most likely done before. The secret to your performance this summer is this:

Play for the love of the game.
Play only for the love of the game.

Athletes come to work with me on mental performance training for any number of reasons: confidence, inconsistency, nerves, fears and stagnation, to name a few. But most of them boil down to one thing: they've forgotten their love of the game.

Think of when you were a little kid, playing in your backyard, shooting hoops with an older sibling, Saturday morning games at the local community center, playing with your neighbors until the sun went down. You played because you loved basketball.

So you started giving yourself to the game: working out hard, giving up nights and weekends with friends, doing sprints and lifting weights when no one was watching.

And then, like most athletes, you started expecting something from basketball. For all that hard work, you wanted some results: wins, accolades, scholarships. Sometimes you got results and felt great; sometimes you didn't, and it hurt.

This is where most of us go wrong.

We start expecting basketball to give us something concrete. It doesn't work that way. The athletes who are successful focus more on what they can give to the game than what the game can give to them. They realize that sometimes they'll get the results they want and some times they won't. Their effort and enjoyment of playing isn't contingent on that. It can't be. It doesn't work.

A funny thing happens when you play with a love of the game: you play better. When you focus less on results, and more on the process of playing and your love for the game, nerves disappear, the weight of expectations falls away, and the burden of playing for a scholarship or scouts ceases to be an issue. I call it "taking the backpack" off. The backpack of all these unnecessary emotions and thoughts comes off and you play free and light and have more fun than you ever thought possible. Just like you played as a little kid in your driveway.

And you might as well start playing this way because you really need the love of the game to survive at the next level. College basketball is hard. It's fun if you really love your sport, but it will probably be the single biggest challenge of your life. If you only love your sport when things go well, or when you are the best player on the court, college basketball is not for you.

Don't get me wrong, you'll get something from basketball in the long run, something much more important than anything that gets printed in the newspaper, but it might not be this summer, or this year. The true benefits of basketball may be in the less tangible: the pride of giving yourself to something, the joy of working with your teammates on a common goal, the confidence that comes from working hard. When you play for the love of the game, you foster all of these benefits, have more fun, and play better.

This summer play with passion, and everything else will fall into place. In the words of JFK, "Ask not what (basketball) can do for you, but what you can do for (basketball)."

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Lindsey Wilson was a three-time, all-conference player at Iowa State, where she graduated as the all-time assist leader and second all-time leading scorer. Afterwards, she played professionally in the USA, Europe and the Middle East for eight years. Through her company, Positive Performance Consulting, she works to unlock individual and team potential through the implementation of mental performance training tools and techniques. Lindsey also is a Certified Hypnotist (CH) as well as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA). She can be reached at Lindsey@positiveperform.com