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I was afraid I wasn't good enough, so I just kept working hard: Ray Allen

NBA Hall of Famer and the master of the three-pointer on why one should try to be better when they're good and good when they're bad

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Jul 15, 2023 08:57:46 AM IST
Updated: Jul 14, 2023 05:31:59 PM IST

I was afraid I wasn't good enough, so I just kept working hard: Ray AllenRay Allen, American former professional basketball player Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

'I became good at basketball because I obsessed over it'

I grew up on military bases since my father was in the military. One of the great joys of that is that you get to play every sport on bases. As a kid, I would just go out there and have fun with siblings—I had three sisters and one brother. Even our parents played. Once I got to high school, I didn't know if I would get a scholarship to college—nobody in my family had ever gone to college at that point. But basketball was something that I loved, and I became good at it because that's what I obsessed over.

In those formative years, I've learnt from every person that was around me. When you grow up in the military, you see men who are going to actual war. My dad was dressed in military fatigues every day. He meant serious business when he went to work. It put me in a place where I had to understand that I had a role to play.

'Stay in the moment'

I always wanted to play in the NBA, but I never thought I could because I didn't know what you had to do to play there—was I strong enough? Did I jump high enough? Once I realised I was going to college, I started thinking, and many of these questions came to me. It was in my second year in college when I started realising that I was in a position where I could potentially play in the NBA. I started seeing other players around me who had played in the NBA, and I thought I was as good or better. But it took me to get drafted to realise I had made it to the league. Before that, I never thought past any moment I was in. I just tried to focus on where I was and what I was doing.

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'When in doubt, work harder to overcome them'

I can't say I had doubts about playing in the NBA because I never worried about it. Often, you develop doubts when you think about what you want to do later in life instead of focusing on what you have at that moment. The thing I would doubt about is whether I would win a game at that moment. And when I had doubts about a certain player in high school or college, I told myself that I had to be in better shape than him. I would work on myself, so I don't come up short. So, I would run more, lift more; I would shoot more. Those doubts were good for you because they helped you focus more than you would originally have.

'The more you practice being under pressure, the easier it gets'

I had the highest number of three-pointers in NBA history before Steph Curry overtook me last year. How did I do it every time? You see, people watching a game at the stadium or their homes, holed up around their TVs, go, "Oh my god, it's a crunch situation, how is he going to handle the pressure and score?" But you know what I think when I'm on the court? That I have to do the thing that I've been doing every single day over and over again. When I'm at a gym, I tell myself I have to make 50 free throws in a row and can't leave until I make 50. I put myself into that moment that I would be in the game so that I feel the pressure of what I would feel in a game. In practice, I take myself through a game. And when I get into the game, I take myself back to the practice. Every moment you have, you have to transform yourself into a position you've been in before, so you can feel comfortable and stable in that environment. Handling pressure, to me, is going back to my habits. That's why routine is important.

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'Each member should pitch in to build teams'

Team-building starts with the desire of all your teammates to actually be there. Else, it's not a team of five, it's four and one, and that's no good. In a team, you have to create habits among the players, habits that are understood by others and respected by them. When you are in games, it's about consistency and routine. Even before a game, I used to know how much time was on the clock leading up to a game and where I should be in the locker room—whether I was getting my ankles taped or I was getting stretched, getting my legs worked on, or taking a shower. In that same token, I also knew where my teammates were and at what stages of preparation. That performing of a routine showed me they were ready to go, and it gave me confidence to know they were focused too. If I ever walked into the locker room seeing someone ambling in 10 minutes prior to the start or not following the build-up routine, I'd lose confidence in our ability as a team to go out there and be successful.

'Be great when you're good and good when you're bad'

In sports, where you deal with highs and lows, we always say that no high was high enough, and no low was low enough. Every player has an average. You've got to focus on being great when you're good and good when you're bad. How good is your bad is the key. We all hope to do better than somebody else's bad when we aren't doing good. When you struggle, you have to go back to working on yourself. You've got to watch a lot of films to understand if you were out of position, or if you were jumping late, or if you were flicking it—when you see all those little details, you understand what you need to do better. If you're turning the ball over a lot, you've got to go to the gym and work on the dribbling. If you're missing free throws, work under pressure and practice shooting those free throws so that you get comfortable.

'You have to fail to succeed'

To every youngster, I'd say the most important thing is to understand that the design is for you to fail. Don't let failure make you quit. You have to fail to succeed. When you are told you're not good enough, go and work harder and use that as ammunition to build yourself stronger. If you get fired from a job, you make the next job the best in the world so they know they are lucky to have you. Success always comes through struggle. You've got to forge through that. I was afraid I wasn't going to be good enough, so I just kept working.

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