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What does it Take to Be an Olympic Basketball Player?

Posted Date: 7/24/2012

Deron Williams, U.S.A. Basketball Team

No stranger to taking home the gold, Deron Williams, the point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, returns to the USA Basketball Team. What makes Deron’s journey to the Olympics unique is that, unlike many Olympic events, basketball is a team sport. Dr. Alan Hilfer, Chief Psychologist, states that team play, especially in teams that require interconnectedness, like basketball, require cohesion. “Teams do well when people trust each other and know each other,” emphasizes Dr. Hilfer. “A player must develop a connectedness to his teammates so that he can trust them to perform to the best of their abilities and that they can trust him to do the same.”

Unlike athletes who compete in individual events, basketball players must consider how they will perform independently, as well as within the team.  Known in sports psychology as ‘cohesion,’ a team of people becomes united in pursuit of common goals. “The psychology behind sports teams and the concept of cohesion emphasize sameness,” states Dr. Hilfer. “True team players can give up individual roles and identities so they can enhance the functionality of the team. When teammates are dissimilar – for example, if competition occurs within the team – team performance is threatened.” That’s not to say that a player cannot fulfill individual tasks or choose unique strategies to achieve their goals. “Players benefit from teamwork by communicating in the same way, not from being the same as one another,” emphasizes Dr. Hilfer.

After a disappointing bronze medal finish in the 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball named Jerry Colangelo the Managing Director of the team and gave him the sole responsibility of selecting players.  Leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski made it clear that players had to commit to three years of summer training. The hope was that players would develop as a true U.S. team instead of a group of all-stars battling for the spotlight. The members of the 2012 USA Olympic Basketball team have been able to invest time and effort training together. What makes Deron Williams and other Olympians so successful is how they approach teamwork. They understand that teamwork is a skill that can be honed and improved. “Elite athletes view teamwork as a skill – similar to physical skills, such as shooting three pointers or dribbling,” explains Dr. Hilfer. “It must be practiced, learned and perfected.”


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