After opening up the first half of the season in dominant fashion, the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team faced a surprising test in its first conference game of the year against the University of Mississippi. Ranked first in the country, Kentucky (14-0) was outscored by unranked Ole Miss (9-5) in the first half, and ultimately pushed into overtime, before winning 89-86. In its previous 13 games, the Wildcats had not allowed an opponent to score more than 70 points. However, Mississippi was impressive throughout, scoring 100% of their free throws during regulation, and leading several times throughout the game. For Kentucky head coach John Calipari, the game provided a glimpse into the kind of mental challenges his team will face this season, and agreed that the test was good for his players. “Every game is going to be this way. Every team is going to come after us,” Calipari said after the game. “We didn’t play great, but you have to give it to Mississippi, they played…The bigger picture for us…we need to be in overtime games, and I need to see who can do what…I like the fact that we fought. We need these kind of games…We need to get down 10, down 12, and figure out who is who, so we can learn.”
Calipari’s objective evaluation of Kentucky’s performance helped to shed light on his team’s strengths and areas for improvement after a significant test. However, his response also suggested how this type of challenge can be beneficial for any athlete. This is because, as an athlete, games like this will determine how you respond when you are outside your comfort zone or your back is against the wall. For athletes striving to make it to higher levels of their sport, it is important to recognize that your greatest development will occur when you are placed in performance situations that make you uncomfortable. Competing ‘on the edge’ like this will test your ability to find solutions to a problem and figure out a way to use your strengths effectively and find a way to win. For athletes in nearly any sport, your ability to rise to the occasion in these moments is often determined by two important competitive qualities: your resilience and your creativity. Resilience refers to your ability to withstand and overcome adversity. As an athlete, you build resilience by coping with challenges you face in training and competition throughout your career, and bouncing back from setbacks. Whether these setbacks come in the form of a loss, a mistake, failing to make a team, or an injury, they will challenge you to adapt to discomfort and overcome it, and you will often learn things about yourself that you did not previously know. Furthermore, by pushing yourself in training to take risks and try new things, you can develop your creativity, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways. Building creativity as an athlete involves having a willingness to make mistakes, and the recognition that these mistakes provide opportunities for you to learn and improve. With a young team, comprising mostly freshmen and sophomores seeking Kentucky’s next national title, Calipari will continue to watch for the players who can rise to the occasion and manage competitive tests as they arise throughout this season.
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