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Michael Beasley: Man-Up and Play Ball

Twenty year old Michael Beasley was the second overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft. In August, Beasley, who plays for the Miami Heat and finished his rookie season as Miami’s second-leading scorer behind Dwayne Wade, checked himself into a Houston rehabilitation facility to seek help for psychological issues and apparent drug use.

While it is hard to imagine someone throwing away this amazing opportunity, it has become a much too familiar scenario for younger athletes who are placed in positions with money, power and fame. The whirlwind learning experience of professional athletics can either provide a trajectory for maturity and success or can be a quick decent into personal and professional ruin.

In the case of Michael Beasley, was it possible to predict he would have a hard time handling the pressures that suddenly appeared when he hit the jackpot by being such a hot commodity in the draft? In 2009 Beasley was fined multiple times for violations of team policy and right before rehab he posted disturbing comments and a photo that indicated possible drug use. Just a few years earlier he was an amazing high school star, but he attended six high schools in four different states. As a psychotherapist, I wonder if some of these events could have contributed to feelings of instability. If Michael came to see me as a psychotherapy client, I would keep this history in mind.

As someone who counsels young athletes in a variety of sports, my concern peaked as I read Michael’s story. The following is an open letter to Michael Beasley and any other young athlete who chooses to make the transition to professional athletics.

Dear Michael:

I don’t believe that you want to throw away this opportunity. I think you love basketball and want all the benefits that come with success. Your tattoo of a large basketball on your left shoulder surrounded by the text, “married to the game” is an example of your close identity with the sport.

With this in mind, I offer you the following ten steps. These steps are not only essential for your success and longevity as a pro basketball player, but will aide your development into the man you can become beyond the sport.

Ten Steps For Professional Success:

1) Recognize The Opportunity You Have Been Given

You’ve completed the athletic pre-requisites to play professional basketball, racking up impressive awards and setting records both in high school and in your year at Kansas State. You’re now in the enviable position to challenge yourself and hone your skills as you compete against the greatest players in the game.

You’ve come this far, now honor your hard work, dreams, and talent and do what it takes to put drugs/alcohol to rest so you can get on with the gift you offer to the game. You need to act quickly, though, because time won’t wait for you and there are lots of young talented players and veterans looking for a window to get their shot on a team.

This window of opportunity won’t remain open for long. Miami Heat President, Pat Riley recently said, “I’m not going to forgive anybody’s transgressions just merely because they are 20 years old.” Can you blame him? Miami Heat is paying you 4ml. plus a year. Remind me again where else you can collect this type of coin as a college drop-out? The good news is basketball is what you love and are emotionally connected to–take your shot Michael.

2) Have The Courage To Confront Your Fears

Psychotherapy is a great and confidential place to sort out and face the emotional demons you carry from the past that may be presenting stumbling blocks to your success in the present. The franchise, management, your teammates and fans are not your enemies. Identify and explore the stumbling blocks you create or have brought from your past into your present. Drugs and alcohol are great distractions which numb you from your fears. Numbing is also the fastest way to extinguish your potential for beneficial growth.

Check out ex NFL super star quarterback, Warren Moon’s new book, “Never Give Up On Your Dreams.” Moon is the only player ever inducted into both the Pro Football and Canadian Football hall of fame. As a seven year old he lost his father to alcoholism and became man of the house caring for his mother and six sisters throughout his life. In his football journey he fought coaches who tried to dissuade him from becoming a quarterback because, at the time, it was believed a black man didn’t have what it took to lead an offense. Moon became a well respected and winning quarterback in spite of death threats, racist taunts and the prejudice that he endured throughout his career.

Moon didn’t let his fears, resentments or burdens prevent him from reaching his professional dreams. In his book he credits his decision to go into psychotherapy with bringing clarity to his life. You might want to try this.

3) Create A Real Support Team – Versus A Coat Tail Posse

You have one foot on the big stage and people are eager to go along for a ride on your coat tails. Hanging out with people who encourage you to take risks that can damage your public/professional image isn’t the support that will help build your future. Your athletic talent and competitive success has given you this opportunity. Surround yourself with mentors and friends who also have earned their way to success.People that have earned their success can give you advice and support to help you cultivate your career. If you happen to be an anti-establishment kind of guy you will wield more influence in making changes in your industry by first bringing positive attention to yourself.

4) Be A Team Player

In high school and college you can be the big fish in a smaller pool of talent. Currently, you are a newbie in the biggest, strongest, most competitive environment of your sport. You need to build up your competency in this new arena. Develop relationships and credibility with your teammates and prove to yourself that you are worthy of transitioning into this new role. Be a team player. Your sphere of influence is representative of the franchise, the management and the sport of basketball. Teammates depend on your committed preparation and involvement to succeed on the court.

If you don’t fit into the team culture of this franchise, make yourself attractive to other teams. Management takes note of the assets players bring on board. Examples of doing your job include: scoring points, making assists, good defense, works hard in season and off season, adds positive image and energy to the franchise, gets along with co-workers (teammates).

5) Develop A Professional Game Plan On And Off The Court

It’s useful to realize no one owes you anything and you are not a finished product. You are at the beginning of your career. Players aren’t drafted as high as you unless scouts and coaches recognize ability and potential. That’s your value card.You have abundant access to resources through your agent and through the franchise.Use these valuable resources to develop a professional plan for yourself on and off the court.

Accept where you are in this moment. Know what obstacles you are creating and what obstacles are coming from outside of yourself both on and off the court. Find the best physical trainer, nutritionist and sport psychology consultant to work with. Make sure the people you hire to be a part of your personal team are people who can advise you and who are willing to confront you when they feel you are slipping off the track of your goals. Sit down with each of them and map out your professional needs. It is best to have a pre-season, in-season, and post-season plan. All these can be modified to adjust for unforseen needs that arise.

Even with a wildly successful sports career, you will retire from basketball a young man. In your off seasons begin lining up opportunities to talk with players in a variety of sports who have transitioned into business after their playing days. Being 20 years old it’s hard to think this far ahead, but if you begin your research now you will have a better understanding of the value of your position as a player.

6) Don’t Feed The Media

You have already made a few slip-ups with some things you have said to the media: “I’m 20 you can’t expect me to be 30. I am going to make mistakes, do dumb stuff and learn. How mature you want me to be?” Mature or not, do not create the opportunity for negative press. When speaking to the media, remember that what you say will follow you. Even in the heat of the moment, you always need to be thinking about the image that you want to present about yourself and your team. If you whine about the team and your teammates the media will be more than happy to take this and spin it to entertain their audience.

You will do well to not take the things that the media writes about you personally. The media’s job is to sell information and stories. Save your story for the auto-biography you are entitled to write at the conclusion of your career. At the completion of your career you will be in a position to articulate your message to fans and upcoming players who can learn from your professional journey.

7) Take Risks That Benefit Not Derail You

This section may seem a bit harsh, but at 20 years old your brain is not yet fully developed. The last part of the brain to develop are the frontal lobes, which govern the area of risk taking and awareness of consequences. This works for you and against you. Smart risk taking on the court is exciting and can pay off. Poor risk taking on and off the court can leave you by the side of the road without a job. Avoid becoming an asterisk in professional sports. What do you envision on your epitaph as a player? “He had great potential but due to immaturity succumbed to the pull of temptation and threw it all away.” Or “He had a messy beginning but developed into a player who impacted the game, the fans, and realized his potential as a player.”

8) Charity: Do Things For Other People

This may feel like a stretch for you right now, but think about the ways your position as a player enables you to inspire and offer hope to others through your acts. The NBA has multiple opportunities for you to associate your name with charities and causes that give purpose to your life. Talk to other players or participate in activities with them and find out how being involved in this way has helped enrich their lives. At some point it will dawn on you that the game of basketball and what is represents is much bigger than you.

9) Watch Out For Relapse

Once you complete your rehab program stay on track and take care of yourself. This includes not beating yourself up emotionally or lashing out at others when things don’t go the way you plan. It also includes ongoing help and support through things like psychotherapy, 12 step meetings and talking with others who have been through what you’ve been through. It sounds like you’ve gotten a good start during your rehab program. Stay alert to the signs and symptoms of relapse. Increases in your frustration level, belief that everyone is against you, resentment, misdirected aggressiveness, impatience, cockiness, self-pity, focusing more on what is wrong in your environment instead of what you can do to change or succeed within it are all warning signs of relapse and should be heeded.

10) Develop A Vision Of Where You Want To Be In The Next 3-5 Years

This needn’t be set in stone, but create a vision as to your goals as a player and beyond. Then make sure that every decision you make fits with that vision. If the decision doesn’t advance the steps towards your short and long term vision/goals, reconsider acting on that decision. Develop an array of safety values that give you time to think before acting.

These Ten Steps are suggestions for you to move forward in your career. Change will not come easily, although I believe making the effort to change will bring you more reward than you can imagine. It is essential that you make a total commitment and do the work you need both personally and professionally. If you skip out on the work and don’t give yourself every opportunity to succeed – there’s a good chance you will fail. It took time to build your playing skills it will take time to build your professional life. You’ve arrived this far and I hope you make the choices that provide the best avenues for you to discover how good a player you can become.

As of this writing, Beasley after a month long stay in a Houston rehab center has rejoined the Miami Heat and is taking part in the voluntary off season work-outs.

*This article and additional information can be found on www.accessathletes.com

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