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Feel Like A Sissy? It’s Alright!

Many of us fall for this trap. We put ‘looking good’ ahead of ‘being effective’

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If you are a basketbal fan, you’ve probably heard of Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was an all-time great NBA basketball player. Standing tall at 7’1’’, he had several records to his name. He was the first player to score over 30,000 points in his career. He held the record for the highest number of points in a season. And in a historic game in March 1962, Wilt scored a 100 points – becoming the first player to score a 100 points in a game. An achievement that remains unmatched till this date.

Wilt was a great basketball player. But there’s an aspect of his game that holds interesting lessons for all of us.

Despite a career average of over 30 points a game, Wilt had a problem. He was very poor with free throws. Imagine! A player who could get past defenders with ridiculous ease and score points from all over the court, struggled to put the ball through the hoop from just 15 feet, with no defender to obstruct him. His free throw conversion rate was 50.1 per cent. A terrible number when you consider that the average in the NBA was about 75 per cent.

So what is a free throw? When a player is ‘fouled’ – or unfairly obstructed from taking a shot at the basket - he gets to take a shot at the basket from 15 feet, with nobody from the opposition team allowed to come in the way. Simple. When lining up to take a free throw, players typically hold the ball at eye level and then with the palm placed at shoulder height they aim for the basket. That’s what most players do.

Most players. Not Rick Barry – another all-time great. Rick preferred to hold the ball between his knees, and throw it underhand. Perfectly legal, but a method shunned by most big-name players. A method that was derisively referred to, as the ‘granny style’. But for Rick, it was effective. His career free-throw percentage was 89.3, with a high of 94 per cent in one season. Granny style, but very, very effective.

With a free throw percentage under 50, Wilt decided to give the underhand method a try in the 1962 season. And it worked. In that famous game where he scored a record-breaking 100 points, he converted 28 of 32 free throw attempts. A conversion rate of 87.5 per cent. All done, granny style.

You’d think Wilt would have stayed with that underhand technique that worked for him, and improved his career conversion rate thereafter. He didn’t. Next season, he went back to shooting overhead – not underhand – and his conversion rate slipped again from 61 per cent that season, back to about 50 per cent.

Why did he do that? Why would a great basketball player pass up on a technique that dramatically improved his game?

“I felt silly” said Wilt. “Like a sissy!” And because he felt that way, he went back to a better-looking – but less effective – technique.

Many of us fall for this trap. We put ‘looking good’ ahead of ‘being effective’. We care too much about how it looks, or about what people will say. And in the process, we compromise our effectiveness. Our own greatness.

Are you sometimes guilty of doing that too? Do you compromise your effectiveness – only to look good or to please people? Think about it.

Feeling like a sissy may not be such a bad thing after all.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Magazine 28 October 2017 leadership sports

Prakash Iyer

Iyer is an author, speaker and leadership coach , and former MD of Kimberly Clark Lever

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