Ever since I can remember, I reveled in the simple joy of shooting a basketball. To me there was no greater feeling than the smooth release of the ball from my hands and the sweet swish sound it would make sailing through the net. Unfortunately, that sensation was all too elusive for me growing up. That smooth release that I had idealized as a child was often supplanted by a heaving of the ball, as my torso twisted to the left or the right and my eyes blinked as it came time to release it from from my hands. Instead of traveling in a smooth arch with a good spin, the ball would flat-line toward the basket and sound a terrible clang off the rim, signaling my defeat.
Despite my best efforts through the years to correct a pattern of behavior that accompanied me to some degree or other in nine out of ten shots I attempted, I could never fully overcome the interference to my jump shot and resigned myself as a young adult to forever be an inconsistent jump shooter.
In the summer of 2016, after finishing the second term of my first year of training to become an Alexander Technique teacher, I decided to take a week off from my other passion, teaching the classical guitar, to better incorporate the Alexander principles of inhibition and direction on the guitar and on the basketball court. My first day back on the court was predictable. The old habits were still alive and well within me when I decided to take a jump shot. My torso still wanted to twist to the left as it came time to shoot, which negatively affected the ball’s trajectory. What I learned this day was of immense importance; I learned that not only did I twist my torso when it came time to shoot the ball, I felt the left side of my torso pull down, my lower back narrow and my left hip pull forward as my legs tightened, which made it difficult to bend my legs.
Suddenly, connections to the Alexander procedures began to click. The bending of the knees in preparation for the jump shot was nothing more than an upright monkey; just like all the procedures, inhibition and direction needed to come first. I began thinking of a jump shot as doing a monkey. I practiced inhibiting the desire to make the shot and paused anytime this desire entered my mind. I practiced thinking of freeing my neck and sending my head forward and up, while allowing my back to release away from the basket. Immediately I noticed ease and a strong co-ordination that followed. I also noticed that at the critical moment, my attention would abandon these newfound directions and predictably return to focus on making the shot. My habitual tension returned and unsurprisingly, I missed the shot. As I continued my practice, I found if I could succeed in inhibiting and directing through the critical moment, I almost always made the shot and made it with a swish.
This gave me great hope! Although I was still wildly inconsistent, I felt for the first time I had the power to change. If I could consistently inhibit and direct at the critical moment, I could consistently make my jump shot anywhere on the court! I practiced diligently with my inhibition and direction over the next few days with slow, but steady progress. On the 4th day of practice I decided to incorporate the ideas of rhythmic movement and flow with language introduced to me in Pedro De Alcantara’s book Integrated Practice. I began thinking of direction as a rhythmic event that can be continually refreshed and renewed. I practiced this form of thinking in walking for quite some time the night before and its effect on me through the following day were quite profound. I started my practice not by shooting but simply dribbling the ball while thinking of a triplet rhythm and giving direction to myself on every down beat. I made a point to allow my legs to move with the rhythm. Suddenly, the collapse in my left side decided to take a holiday. I found myself no longer having to inhibit and direct myself out of this habit, the downward pull was simply gone, like it never had existed! I found myself in a sense of euphoria, having never before experienced such a pure and easy flow of oxygen.
I began to shoot the ball: the first shot flew out of my hands with a quick and effortless response from my wrist, legs and arms. The ball missed its target but only marginally, and the typical analytical and judgmental response to my miss no longer seemed necessary. It was as if another part of my brain had made the adjustment without me. I decided to shoot again—inhibiting was no longer difficult; it just seemed to flow with the rhythm of my directions. The ball again left my hand with a startling quickness and I experienced responsiveness in my whole body as the ball floated into the net! Even with the positive result I felt no need to react to the success. I shot again…..swish! And again…..swish! At this point I decided to try my luck at the three-point line. The change in range would normally have triggered a huge reaction on my part. Not today. It was as if all the habits that interfered for years were gone and no longer needed inhibiting! I shot again with an even greater quickness and a powerful elevation from my legs, the twist in my torso was now a distant memory as the ball traveled with a nice arch and spin, splashing through the net!!
For what seemed like an eternity (though in reality was about 5 minutes) something else in me coordinated my movements. I no longer had to focus on how my body should move, it just moved itself and never in the exact same way, and yet the result was always the same.
I have not experienced anything like that before or since but looking back on it, it taught me the true and profound power of the means-whereby and how it can help all of us fulfill our potential.
Blog by Travis Chastain
Photo by Travis Chastain, used with permission