Mental strength. It's something all coaches talk about and harp on. Most of the time, mental strength comes from years of mistakes, injuries and trust. But sometimes athletes don't even know that they have it.
When I was in middle school, there was a game that showed me just how tough you have to be in the game of basketball.
Since basketball is an indoor sport designed to keep folks active during the winter, there are a few illnesses, such as a cold or strep that always hit a team. During this particular game, I had lost my voice from a cold and was unable to utter a sound.
During the first half of the game, we were struggling. It was something like 32-12 and I had eight of our team's points and was a little frustrated, but still felt like I was contributing. Going into the locker room, I was prepared for a speech to pep up the team and to figure out a plan to work around whatever offense the other team was running.
That is not at all what happened.
Our coach, a younger guy who had no sisters, began yelling at a bunch of seventh and eighth graders because we were having trouble scoring. Then he locked on to me, pointing at me and saying "this is your fault".
Needless to say eighth-grader Chloe who had eight of 12 points was confused and embarrassed. He began demanding what I had to say for myself. I pointed to my throat and tried to explain that I was sick.
Fortunately, one of my teammates was deaf and could read my lips, translating my silent words to the coach.
He waved his hand in frustration and walked out of the locker room.
I began crying and my teammates, who were equally embarrassed, patted me on the back and said "we got this" and "its just a game".
Fast forward to high school, when we were playing in the Regional Tournament. At the time, we were playing a rival, the Southwest Missouri Eagles. Throughout the season we had traded wins.
But in this game, we were down one with just seconds left on the clock.
Our coach called a timeout to draw up our last second hail Mary play. It was a baseline inbounds and we were going to run 'line'. Coach looked at me and said "get the ball to Chloe". I nodded excited and pumped to get the game winning shot.
We broke the huddle and as I walked to my spot, the moment when I was humiliated in the locker room by a former coach screaming "this is your fault" played in my head.
In that moment, I could have let that memory get to me. I could have let that coach's lack of ability and cruel, misplaced words get to me.
I shook it off and focused on the game at hand.
The ball was given to my teammate on the baseline. She slapped it to start the play. We scattered and I ran straight towards the ball. The ball was inbounded. I caught it and got off a 7-foot jump shot. I landed and watched my shot... It hit the inner-left side of the rim and rimmed out hard. The buzzer sounded. We had lost.
I dragged to the locker room, waiting for the impending "thanks a lot, Chloe"s that were sure to be coming my way.
But there was none of that. Coach wasn't mad, I had done exactly what I had been asked to. My teammates weren't mad, they knew that missed layups and free throws forced a last second hope.
Coach applauded our efforts, said there a few things to work on and left the locker room.
I caught up with him after changing my shoes, thanked him for giving me the last shot and apologized for missing the shot. He laughed and said that the shot didn't matter. I had gone out there and done what he asked me to and the mental toughness I had displayed any time it came down to the wire was what made him give me the last shot.
That honestly left me completely bewildered. I didn't think I was all that mental strong. I had doubts up until the ball was slapped. But when the moment came, that mental strength came through and even though I missed the shot, I had won the respect of my coach and teammates.
We finished in third at Regionals that year, but that season was about so much more than a championship. It was about growing as a team and preparing for the seasons to come.
Chloe Goff is a former college basketball player and a former Branson performer who enjoys a plethora of activities, most of which make her sound like a walking oxymoron.