One possession at a time

Confession time: I had written the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball off. With about six minutes to play in their first round NCAA tournament game, the Bonnies trailed by 10 points. Time was ticking away and their opponent, Florida Gulf Coast, was hitting all kinds of shots. And my internal dialogue was moving well into the future.

Nobel effort, Bonnies. But what the heck am I going to write about this game? How do I want to frame my story? How am I going to change my plane ticket to return to Buffalo from Tallahassee.

I really should have known better. As I was killing off the season, the Bonnies got to work, played disruptive defense and knocked down shots. And just like that, the game was tied and headed to overtime. Then the Bonnies ran away with the win, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. What was the key to the dramatic comeback?

“We needed to take it one possession at a time to get back in it,” senior guard Jessica Jenkins said.

The cynical voice in me asks, Are two or there possessions at a time possible? But taking it one play at time isn’t an easy thing. To focus on what’s in front of you is a rather simple concept, but it can be difficult to execute on a consistent daily basis, whether you’re a basketball player or not. It’s a corollary to the guiding concept of one of my favorite books, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my  brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.

How many times do I get my mind all caught up in the enormity of a task? Or get anxious about something I have to do in the future? Or dwell on a mistake or miscue from the past? This has to be a rhetorical question because there are far too many examples to count effectively. Heck, just refer back to my internal dialogue when Bona was trailing late in the game. I wasn’t focused on the moment, on the task at hand, which for me was writing a live blog. I was doing my job but my mind was wandering to the game story I’d have to write, to the interview questions I needed to ask, to travel plans I’d need to adjust. Bona did its part to shock me back into the moment with its dramatic rally. The questions, the story, the logistics, those will all work itself out.

I am at my best when my focus is on what’s in front of me in any given moment. And what’s in front of me changes constantly, even if I feel a sense of familiarity. It’s a lesson I learned from the Baja trip and exploring the Sea of Cortez: No two dives are exactly the same. The ocean is constantly changing. And so is everything in front of me. If I just take it one possession at a time, if I just go bird by bird, everything falls into place.

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