I was recently listening to a podcast with the head coach of the Nevada Men’s Basketball team, Eric Musselman. At the time I am writing this, Nevada is 14-0 and ranked #6 in the country in the college basketball rankings. Coach Musselman and his team are starting to garner national attention and many experts believe they are a legitimate Final Four contender. However, Musselman’s coaching journey to this point was anything but smooth. As he told his story, my mind wandered to relatable experiences in my own life as well as situations that many athletes are currently experiencing or will experience in a season or career.

In 2007, Coach Musselman was fired from his second NBA head coaching gig after just one season. After not coaching for three years, he got back into coaching when a NBA D-League team hired him as their head coach. After a couple of good (and unglamorous) seasons in the D-League, he became a college assistant at two different schools before being hired by Nevada as their head coach. Along this journey, Musselman learned. He became a voracious reader and started his own blog on leadership to reflect on things he learned and experienced. When he was an assistant in college, he took notes on things he liked and didn’t like about the program he was a part of. He enhanced his already deep knowledge in player development, X’s and O’s, and scouting reports while learning about the process of recruiting. Musselman embraced his circumstances, learned whatever he could and become a star in whatever role he had. Years later, another opportunity finally came and as evident, he was prepared for it.

With the right approach, times of struggle and moments of uncertainty allow us to grow and learn about ourselves. We’ve all heard phrases or quotes like this before and as cliche as it is, it’s also true. 

As a coach, I’m pretty familiar with many of the situations and roles that players are in- I’ve been in most of them. There were times in my career as a player where I was the leader of a team, other times where I was the third or fourth option, a fringe player in the rotation, or a reserve who wasn’t in the rotation at all. Like anyone, I enjoyed being a leader and a go-to option on a team- and also like anyone, there were times I was really frustrated when I was on the back-end of a rotation or wasn’t even in the rotation. Each of those experiences were valuable to me, however, the moments of frustration and difficulty were the ones that really allowed me to grow as an individual- they forced me to practice persistence and resilience. I wasn’t always rewarded in the moment or in the short-term, but in the long-term it made me a better coach and positively contributed to my life in more ways than I probably realize. 

Our natural inclination as adults is to not allow kids to struggle. I see and hear different instances of this inclination frequently in athletics. Whether it’s adults playing the blame game and bashing coaches and teammates or even just endorsing a child’s complaints and agreeing with everything they say- we unknowingly take away valuable learning opportunities for the younger generation. Instead, we need to be encouraging them to be a star in whatever role they currently have. To embrace their circumstances and figure out how to make the absolute best of them. We need to guide and help them to take complete ownership of their situation. If it’s something they truly care about, they’ll learn to go the extra mile and put the extra effort forth to bridge the gap of where they are and where they want to be.

Challenging circumstances and moments don’t change for the better when we run from them. They won’t automatically change just by embracing them. Not everyone will turn into a star or end up in the national spotlight, but by attacking moments of challenge with persistence we will unquestionably grow as individuals and become a better version of ourselves.