By Greg Bach
During Stanford’s run to the women’s basketball national championship last spring the pressure surrounding the journey was off the charts.
Do-it-all forward Ashten Prechtel found the perfect antidote for slaying that March Madness stress.
And delivering big for her team.
“I try to channel the stress into other things,” she told us. “So instead of focusing on it being stressful I looked at it as exciting, that it’s a challenge, and it’s something I’m looking forward to.”
Her approach worked: in the NCAA title game – a thrilling 54-53 win over Arizona – she stepped off the bench and had seven points, eight rebounds and three assists. And in the national semifinals – this one a one-point win over South Carolina – she came in and contributed nine points and eight rebounds.
Prechtel’s approach to the game is one all young athletes in all sports can learn from and employ when they step on courts and fields to compete. She doesn’t start but has embraced her role coming off the bench. She’s supportive and encouraging when she’s not in the game, and she’s always ready to produce when called upon.
Just ask Louisville about that.
In their Elite Eight showdown with a Final Four berth on the line, she didn’t play in the first half and Stanford’s season was on life support, trailing by 12 points at halftime. In the second half she played big minutes, scoring 16 points on six-of-six shooting from the field to fuel the team’s comeback. She also had three rebounds, four assists, and a pair of blocks.
“My mindset is that I want to be there for whatever the team needs from me and just to be supportive of everyone else,” she says. “When your name is called you have to be ready, but in the meantime, we’re a team so we want everyone to do well and the team to win so that’s the main goal.”
Prechtel and teammate Hannah Jump spent their summer sharing their insights and experiences to help youngsters participating in programs offered by Skyhawks Sports Academy, a national youth sports camp franchise that provides a variety of fun sports for children ages 4 to 14 while focusing on teaching life skills through sports.
The two interned at a camp in the Bay Area, where they focused on providing positive messages, helping them manage the ups and downs of playing sports, and making sure all kids left each day with a smile.
“Especially for kids now, a lot of parents can provide a lot of pressure for them to perform well and have them specialize in one sport early,” Jump says. “So we want them to keep in mind that they are here to have a lot of fun.”
Of course, when kids are learning new sports or struggling with one they love, confidence deteriorates and frustration strikes. Jump helps campers by sharing some of her experiences and how she navigates through them.
“I relate my own stories to them and tell them that while I am a Stanford women’s basketball player I also have bad days of shooting,” she says. “So it’s not just happening to you, it happens to all of us.”
Those encouraging words are used with her teammates too, throughout the season.
“Once somebody gets negative thoughts in their head it affects their play and that affects the team,” Jump says. “We’re always high-fiving and keeping the energy high and just being there for each other. And if someone is having a bad day just giving a gentle reminder – not in front of the whole team – just to keep their head in it and that they’ve got it.”
Both players have fond memories of their youth sports journeys, which made their summer of helping youngsters discover the joy of sports so rewarding.
Prechtel credits her mom. “My mom was one of my first coaches and she taught me the fundamentals and she’s one of the reasons why I love playing basketball now,” she says. “I learned to love basketball before I was actually good at basketball.”
And Jump, who was born in England and came to the U.S. when she was eight, fell in love with the game after her dad signed her up for a local program so she could meet other kids her age.
“Playing sports growing up I learned how to be coachable and how to take criticism, and I was put in many leadership roles,” she says. “So all of that together really influenced the player and person I turned out to be today.”
Amid all the practices, games and workouts, memories of those game-day drives still resonate today with Jump.
“One of my favorite memories is all the car rides with my parents to and from sports practices and games and getting to spend a lot of good time with them,” Jump says. “On the way there they gave me a lot of encouragement and on the way back, whether I played well or not, it wasn’t a silent car ride. My parents were super encouraging and knew that if I didn’t play well I didn’t want to talk about it so the conversation went other places.”
And as the pair look back on their summer of coaching and connecting with kids, they’ve had as much fun as the children they’ve had a chance to work with.
“I enjoyed seeing them every day,” Jump says. “I enjoyed seeing how they interacted with each other and the leadership roles that they take that kind of develop throughout their groups; and then just the growth I would see from a Monday to a Friday during a one-week camp. They learn so much.”
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