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By Daniel Carlin | Focussing on what counts in the game – some lessons from the journey so far

Daniel at Westmont College. By the time he was done Daniel had a dominant career with Westmont, taking them to a national NAIA championship and in the record books of a few all-time statistical categories at the school.

Preface by Janx….

Isaac White’s blog had an impact on many people that read it. After reading Daniel’s blog below I feel this blog can impact many too. I can vouch that Daniel lives the values he speaks of. Daniel is a great man and I think he has so many experiences in the sport already we can learn from. His blog highlights 3x“take-aways”:

1. Build a support network of the right people 2. Control the controllables 3. It’s more than just about you

He relays these take-aways with some great, practical examples and stories to help us understand why these values are important.

Before I hand over to Daniel a bit of background on this man.....

A few years ago I was Director of Coaching at Central Districts Lions and Sean Carlin was President through that period. At the little fledgling club at the time Sean Carlin and I used to run what we called High Performance Information Sessions. The purpose of these sessions was to change the culture of the program where parents and athletes were able to make more informed goals around their junior career planning and goal setting. During these sessions we also addressed the type of culture we wanted to develop in the young men and women in the club. Sean would do a rather dramatic presentation using a lighter, piece of paper, candle and a bowl. In this presentation he would light the paper and it would burn out instantly, quickly. He would then take the candle light it and let it burn. At the end of his presentation he would ask what was symbolic about the candle burning vs the paper. The fire was the challenges we experience in sport and the candle was a metaphor. Because the candle had more “substance” it was still burning long after the paper had being disintegrated. This is how I see Daniel, he is like the candle.

Centrals had had very few elite juniors pass through in its history before Daniel and there was probably a mindset among its players of; if you played at the club you would not make higher level programs – EG: State teams, National Teams, NITP, AIS etc. What was impressive was that Daniel was able to break the mold and inspire a raft of future players to the club from across the region and show that a Centrals player COULD infact succeed. He has since gone on to play for Australia in U17 World Championships, gain an Centre of Excellence at Australian Institute of Sport Scholarship, play college basketball and take his team to the national NAIA championship game and suit up for our local professional club, the Adelaide 36ers, last season.

I’ve asked Daniel to blog on his journey in the sport. I feel that Daniel epitomises the high moral value, good teamwork, hardworking, overcoming adversity values and ethics that elite team sports build in young men. I could not be more proud of Daniel today and am really looking forward to hearing on his journey in basketball, his off court interests and his future plans. Daniel is a guy that I will always enjoy the “airport moments” with.

Over to Daniel….

U17 World Championships. Daniel was a very key performer for Australia at the first every U17 World Championships held in Hamburg, Germany in 2010.

I was very excited to be asked to guest blog and share some of my experiences and lessons learnt along the way, it gives me the chance to look back and reflect on what has been for me an amazing and unique journey so far.

I've been extremely fortunate to have played a game that has shown me the world, given me nearly all of my closest friends, and taught me more lessons than I can count. Hence if I tried to tell you all of it this blog would be way too long, and I am sure everyone would get lost trying to read it. So after a few days of thought I have narrowed it down to three main points that have probably helped to guide me the most, not only on the court but away from it as well. I'll build on these three and hopefully that will keep me organized enough that you can follow along and have some take-aways that may help you on your own path.

1.Build a support network of the right people

I can't stress how important this is, the people around you who's words have the biggest impact on your life and the decisions you make is crucial to not only your own success but your general state of mind. By developing a support group around you it can help to relieve some of the pressure off of yourself and also allow you to see certain point of view that you may have otherwise missed. In this group you need people who are looking out for what's best for you. Keep in mind this sometimes means telling you no, or they don't agree with you. As I have gotten older this has become more clear for me but growing up, especially towards the end of high school and even my first year or two at college it was a lot more difficult to pick and choose who was giving me advice based on what would be best for me or what would benefit themselves.

As a junior player coming up through the ranks I did nearly everything a junior player can do. I played club ball, school ball, was a part of the NITCP Program, represented SA at every Nationals from u/16s to u/20s. I played in ABA (now premier league) starting at the age of 16. I went to the AIS, I represented Australia at the u/17 FIBA world championships, and between Years 11 to when I left for college I probably heard from 50+ US Colleges ranging from strong interest to just keeping tabs. That's an awful lot for a teenager growing up and still trying to figure out who they are but that was my reality and is the reality of many of our elite players coming through the junior levels now. Luckily I had some great people around me to help guide me through. The first people who were closest to me where my parents. Both of them being elite athletes in their own sports definitely helped me a long in my own journey. They helped me set my goals, and would constantly push me to achieve them even when I became disinterested or my motivation began to wander. They were always the first people to keep me in line. Without them there is no way I could have achieved what I have. I also had great coaches who really cared about my personal growth. The first coach was actually the guy who runs this blog and I'm not just saying it because he allowed me to be a guest blogger. Janx was always there to talk me through my goals and help me work to achieve them. Whether that was through individual workouts, or just making time to help me mentally focus on what I was trying to achieve. The next guy who helped me out big time was Scott Whitmore. Scotty was my ABA (Premier League) coach and it was my first time being in a men's program. I was fortunate enough to be around a great system and group of guys that helped guide me in the right direction, not only as a player but as a person.

Jumping ahead to my senior year of college this was probably the first time I realized how valuable it is to create a strong and positive environment around myself. During this year, I was engaged planning a wedding, working towards finish my degree, and also captaining my Westmont team. Again it was a lot on my plate but I think it is this year that I truly learned the importance of relationships. Along with my built in support of my family and fiancé (now wife). I had weekly meetings with my coach along with my other two co-captains, this open dialogue allowed us to create a great unity throughout our team which helped us go further than any previous Westmont team before us. I strongly believe that an open relationship with your coach/coaching staff is necessary to success at any level you play at. I also ran a bible study with some of my teammates. Along with the obvious study it was a time we set up every week where we could be open up and talk about how we were going in all parts of our lives. We were there to offer each other support, advice and prayer. This group really helped to keep me up. Knowing you have friends and teammates who have your back in all areas of life is really extraordinary. The last relationship that was really important to me that year was the relationship with my pastor Ryan Reed. We would catch up once every couple of weeks and just sit down and talk life. He would mentor me and help me answer questions that I couldn't on my own.

To close this segment of thought I would say do your best to surround yourself with people who will build you up. Knowing I had teammates that would be there for me regardless of basketball was very important to me. Also find yourself a mentor. Many of you reading this will be placed in some kind of leadership position in your life. I found that all great leaders have mentors. By seeking the knowledge of someone who has walked the path further than you, it makes it easier to know the road ahead and also gives you the ability to help those around you who may need similar direction.

2. Control the Controllables

This saying has become somewhat of a motto for my wife and I. I find myself repeating the phrase when either of us gets a hand we don't really like. It is one of the biggest lessons I have learnt on the court that has transferred to all other parts of my life. The reality is sometimes things don't turn out the way you've planned or hoped. A lot of those times these things are completely out of your control. When this moment happens you have two choices, the first option is to play the victim. This usually comes in the form of an excuse, looking for others to blame, or any other way you can avoid taking responsibility for what has come your way. The other option is to be the aggressor. When you take this stance the first step is the acceptance of the situation. After this you begin to own it, it might not be what you wanted but it's what you have. From here you can attack your problems. Maybe it requires some new goals but you are now in the driver's seat and have the ability to still create the best possible outcome for yourself. Some other things to keep in mind is that personalities can be contagious, and in some cases poisonous. Victims will drag others down, while aggressors will lead and inspire. I have seen and have been a part of teams who have too many victims. They are unable to ever maintain control because they can't accept responsibilities. On the flip side I have seen and been a part of teams full of aggressors. They are successful because they aren't concerned about anything other than their goals. They have the ability to learn from mistakes and continue to progress.

I have been on both ends of this. In some tough self reflection I would say that my freshman and sophomore years of college I was a victim. My first year of college I attended Casper College, which was a junior college in Wyoming. To say I had a shocker of a season would be an understatement. For a guy who on average shoots on average 50-60%, I shot around 37% from the field that season. This was probably a direct result of the attitude I was approaching my basketball with. It was my first time playing at the college level which was a big step up for me. Another issue I had at Casper was my mind was always focused on what lay after Casper. I never focused on what I needed to in the present moment while I was there. This lead to poor performances, and as a result less court time. I never took responsibility for my play. Rather my thoughts were, if I only got more touches.. or if I only played more.. As a result I never got as much as I could have out of that year and left Casper on a bit of a sour note. I was fortunate enough a couple of years later to have a conversation with both my head coach and assistant and apologize and express my gratitude for the time and opportunity that they did give me in what is a fantastic junior college program.

This victim mentality followed me my sophomore year. While perhaps not as drastic it definitely did prevent me from reaching my potential on the court and also in other areas such as the classroom. Lucky enough I was able to pull myself out of it and learnt how to become an aggressor. By my Junior year I refocused on my goals both individually and our team goals and wouldn't let anything derail me. As a result I played at a much higher level, saw my grades increase across the board, and found myself in a much healthier state of mind.

With the chances for Aussies to head over to the US for college continually increasing, there is no doubt that many of them will faces challenges thousands of miles away from home. For those kids I would say always be the aggressor, don't look for an easy way out. When times get tough it might be easy to want to transfer, or maybe even come home but if I had quit after my first year or two I would have missed out on two of the best years of my life. Perseverance is an important quality if you hope to reach success.

3. It's more than just about you

This is probably the biggest one. If you know it, you are probably a great teammate. If you don't, people probably hate to be on your team. Being a team player is huge. This is also not just for on the court. Again I have played with enough teams to know when a group buys into a bigger picture and a larger goal, that team succeeds. A team full of individuals who only look internally is destined to fail. I think the reason I love basketball so much is that as a team sport I get to come together with a group and achieve more than I ever could by myself.

I remember when I was at Westmont an alum who also happened to be a South Aussie as well, Robin Eley, came and spoke to the team about what he called "Airport Memories". An Airport Memory is essentially that point in time when you bump into someone you have played with. If you guys have been on a great team and achieved something special together you will catch up, exchange stories, and remember the good times. If you haven't and were a part of a dysfunctional team then you will probably pass each other by with very little conversation. The point of his talk was that creating those memories and those relationships is what being on a team is really about. (That was all very paraphrased so Robin if you read this I hope I did it justice). This has constantly stuck with me and ties back into my first point of creating relationships. My senior year at Westmont this mentality really became fulfilled. That year our team was full of freshman and sophomores, with very few upper classmen. We were picked to finish 7th in our conference and from the outside looking in it would have appeared to be more of a rebuilding year. However we all bought into our team goals and the process it would take if we really wanted to achieve them. It didn't matter if you were a freshman, transfer, or senior you stepped up, did your role as best you could and didn't complain about it. As a result our team had cracked the top 25 poll nationally and were able to make it through the whole National Tournament before unfortunately falling short in the championship game. While this was definitely a heartbreaker our team achieved so much more than any imagined. Along the way we created plenty of "Airport Memories" and will forever be one of the greatest teams I have ever played on.

For me, the moment when you buy into a bigger picture is such a freeing one. I've seen a number of guys so focused on their own performances that even when their team wins if they have played a bad game they are unhappy. When you are a part of something bigger you get to constantly celebrate the success of your team and your teammates. When you win, everyone wins. When you lose, you can still be unified in your disappointment and use it as motivation to propel yourself forward. The best teammates I've had are not ones who rush to check the stat sheet after games, but are the ones who will get around their team mates and build them up. It might be trying to lift them up after a loss, celebrating with them after they've played a great game, or even help give them some advice and direction if they are struggling. It doesn't require any extra energy to be a better teammate but it can be the difference between winning and losing seasons.

To close this last point, basketball is a team game that is meant to be enjoyed among friends. I've heard it time and time again from guys who have had much longer careers than I have, at the end of the day the wins and losses will fall away. You won't remember how many points you averaged in this season or another. Besides a few memorable games they all kind of blend together. What will be left are the relationships you've made over that time. The bonds you have built with teammates that will last for a lifetime. I couldn't agree more!

That pretty much does it for me, hopefully you've made it down this far and have found a piece or two that you can take away. What's next for me as Janx asked, honestly I don't know the full answer to that. Currently I am a free agent and working out where I will be playing next. Over this next year I'm also looking to learn more about the world of coaching so hopefully I can become involved in a few more things locally to learn from some of the great coaches we have around Adelaide. My wife and I do plan on returning to the US where I can hopefully continue that coaching journey and my education as a graduate coach. That being said, I will also be searching out those opportunities over the coming year as well.

Where ever you are along your basketball journey I wish you all the best,

Daniel Carlin

Adelaide 36ers. Daniel suited up for the Adelaide 36ers in a number of games in the 2015/16 season, straight out of college.

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