By Greg Bach
Allisha Gray, one of the top players in the Women’s National Basketball Association, knows all about facing – and beating – adversity.
And young athletes can learn a lot from her approach to the game.
Gray, the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year a season ago, has been a prolific scorer throughout her career. But during those games when the shots aren’t falling she doesn’t waste time sulking or displaying bad body language.
Instead, she figures out a different way to help her team.
“When you are a scorer it definitely hurts when you aren’t making shots because it seems like you aren’t helping your team out,” she says. “But there are other parts of the game that you can turn to where you can contribute just as much. You can play great defense, rebound and make steals. There’s more to a stat sheet than just points, so you just have to go to other parts of your game to help your team.”
That’s been Gray’s approach at all levels of her journey: from leading her Washington County (Ga.) high school team to a state championship to helping South Carolina win an NCAA championship in 2017.
It’s about the team and finding ways to contribute beyond knocking down shots. It’s a mindset that coaches of young athletes in all sports should focus on with their players.
Gray also revealed that digging in at the defensive end of the floor ignites her offense. “It’s one of those things where I like to get going defensively before I get going offensively,” she says. “So if I get a tipped pass or a steal that’s what helps get my offense going.”
TRAVELLING THE RECOVERY ROAD
During the summer, prior to her senior year of high school, Gray was widely recognized as one of the nation’s top players.
While practicing with the USA U18 team she suffered a horrific injury, tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her knee that forced her to miss her entire senior year of high school basketball.
And even make her question if she wanted to continue with the sport.
“It was tough,” she says. “I got down on myself immensely and I was really sad. I got to the point where I wondered if I even wanted to come back and play basketball.”
Thanks to the support of family and friends, she realized she wasn’t ready to give up on a game she had loved playing for so many years and surrender her dreams of playing professional basketball.
And she also didn’t want to let down those youngsters who looked up to her and admired her style of play.
“I was ready to give up the game,” she says. “But then knowing all the little girls out there who looked up to me as a player I didn’t want to let them down, so that definitely motivated me to work hard and get back to the player that I was.”
She has done exactly that, too. She started all 34 games for the Dallas Wings in her inaugural WNBA season and averaged 13 points a game.
She posed all sorts of problems for defenders who had the unenviable task of guarding her, and she played tenacious defense as well, enabling her to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
“Winning that award was a big accomplishment with all the adversity I went through,” she says. “I tell kids all the time to continue working hard and don’t get complacent because there is always somebody in the gym working to be better. So those days where you don’t feel like going to the court there is always somebody in the gym who is working hard to get better than you.”
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Add these tips to your coaching toolkit to help young athletes broaden their outlooks, enhance their emotional health, and compete with honor