What Special Olympics Taught Me about My Perfectionism

I attended a Special Olympics basketball game the other night and I learned so much.


My experience with basketball is limited. I played basketball on a team for one season in middle school. I didn’t understand any of it. I was terrible at it. Growing up with a single mom, we never even watched sports. I had no idea what I was doing and it was incredibly frustrating.  


I had a huge respect for the athletes on the court the other night.


I joined the basketball team in middle school, because my friends were basketball players. I was trying to fit in. The coach and the other players spoke in what sounded like a foreign language to me. They would run plays called “Michigan Blue”. I don’t know what that meant. It was a secret to our opponent but it was also a secret to me. Was “Blue” right or left? What was I supposed to do?


Sometimes I was supposed to  “set a pick”. I didn’t know what this meant either. How would standing still help the ball get in the hoop? On the other hand, I didn’t know how to make a lay up. Perhaps this is the easiest, most beginner, way to make a basket? Except which hand was I supposed to use? Which foot did I jump off of? I never got it right. It didn’t come naturally. I was always thinking, counting step 1, 2, 3. It’s a fast moving game, and there was no time for thoughts. I was always two steps behind no matter how hard I tried.


One time, mid season, I flew down the court feeling like I finally understood the game.

It was my time to shine.

For a moment, I was the star, ready to make my shot.

The crowd was going wild.

I took a shot! I said a prayer and SWISH!

I made it.



I perfectly executed that lay up. Dribble with the right hand, step with the right, jump off the left, basket!I got it! Right there in the big gym for all to see. Feeling like an absolute hero, I turned to my coach and team ready to receive all the accolades. They were shaking their heads, covering their eyes, and laughing at me. I was so confused. 


Apparently I was on the wrong side. Why didn’t someone tell me we switched sides? I was so mortified I never did it again. It shook my confidence and threatened my ego. I never wanted to play again. I couldn’t move past it. 


This was in middle school and I am now in my mid forties and I STILL think of that one time I made a basket on the wrong side of the court in front of everyone. I feel like such a fool. It stopped me from learning anymore. This was the same level of perfectionism and pride that kept me from surrendering and asking for help with my drinking problem all these years.


Last night, the athletes often ran to the wrong basket and all they had to do was look at the cheerleaders, their coach, their teammates, and the crowd who were all directing them to turn around. 


How wonderful to accept help. How amazing to not know all the answers, but to know who to look to for guidance. My goodness, if I had just hired a coach to help me, I would have quit drinking so much sooner and with much less pain. I could have accepted guidance on a path I had never successfully traveled. 

This is exactly what I offer my clients. Navigation in their early days of sobriety. I can see they are going the wrong way, and help them reevaluate their plans (and their thinking) to turn back around.


Last night, someone asked if anyone made a shot on the wrong side of the court before and the entire student section said "YES!". This included the star varsity player who just won an award earlier in the day for her basketball skills and talent. 


At one point during the game, the home team was down just 2 points and needed a basket to even the score. A shot was made, no basket, home team rebound. And again. And again. For some magical reason this happened 12 times in a row and our home team never gave up. 


Can you imagine the roar of applause when on the 13th try a basket was made? 

There wasn’t a person in the stands that didn’t jump to their feet with glee. 


There was simply no giving up, no matter how many times it took. The persistence of the team was incredible. Never a doubt that a ball would make it into the basket and perfect acceptance that it would take more than one try. 


A few tries. 

Many tries, if you will. 

Wow, I am inspired.


In ditching the drink, I spent a lot of time beating myself up when I didn’t make it. 


Instead, I could have borrowed from this persistent team last night and possessed a relentless belief that if I kept going I eventually would make it. And I did. Eventually, I did. 


Can you do this? 

Can you learn from these athletes and have a relentless belief in yourself? 

That will take you far.


My favorite basket of the night, was actually one that didn’t even count. A player jumped off the bench, grabbed the ball, ran down the court (without dribbling) and immediately put that ball in the hoop. 


The crowd went wild. It was a totally awesome shot. The only problem was, he was on the bench. We had too many players on the court. The points didn’t count. 


Gotta love that enthusiasm tho. I bet it felt great to grab that ball, not bother with dribbling, and go do what needed to be done and then hear the cheers from the crowd. 


Not every point counts to the outside world. Not everyone will see or appreciate your efforts. Keep going. With enthusiasm.


Reach out if I can coach you, you’ve got what it takes, no matter how many times you’ve put the ball in the wrong basket.


50% Complete