What Kobe Bryant’s Shooting Coach Can Teach You About Writing

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Basketball camps were a staple of my summers while growing up. But there’s one day that often stands out. There were so many amazing life lessons learned in just a few minutes with Dave Hopla.

Dave Hopla is a bit of a legend among serious basketball players. He worked with Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen. Sometimes entire teams called on Hopla to help them improve their shooting.

On that day, I was 11 years old. e were told we had a special guest and to sit around one of the hoops. So I sat cross legged just beyond the three point line. Hopla walked up to me. He lobbed a notebook in my direction. “Here,” he said, handing me a pencil. “Keep track of how many I make and how many I miss.”

Then he started shooting. And let me tell you. The guy is a robot. I marked tally after tally on the “make” side.

So you might be asking yourself, what can we learn about writing from an athlete? Well, if you take inspiration from artists, musicians, and other creatives. Then why not athletes? They spend years honing their craft. They work tirelessly to perfect their skills. Then they showcase them when given the opportunity. There are so many parallels between athletes and writers that you can identify any number of metaphors.

Repetition breeds success

Hopla started shooting from in close. At 3 feet from the hoop, he was automatic. I remember hearing a kid behind me say something like, “Well even I could make shots from there.”

And almost as if Hopla heard him, he stopped shooting, wedged the ball under his arm and turned us.

He told us about the importance of focused repetitions close to the hoop to start. The purpose was to focus on mechanics, to build momentum into our shooting. He basically said, “If you can’t make it from a foot away, what makes you think you’ll make it from way out there?”

“The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write.” — Ernest Gaines

As writers, we sometimes get wrapped up in the world of publications and submissions and query letters. But for Hopla, the lesson was the repetition. For him, it was about repeating the right mechanics over and over. Doing so meant that when the time came for more difficult shots, his body would know exactly what to do.

Greatness is in the work

Hopla started backing up. He’d worked up a sweat at this point, using an armband on his forearm to dry the sweat that had started beading on his forehead.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”― Octavia E. Butler

And while he backed up he continued to nail shot after shot. This was when he relayed a version of this story about the first time he met Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, an undrafted high school kid on his way to stardom, had called Hopla and asked for a workout.

Hopla agreed and set up a time early in the morning. When he showed up to their work out, Bryant had already been there and had already built up a full sweat. It turns out Bryant had gotten up almost an hour earlier and had arrived at the gym before Hopla to get extra shots in.

“Kobe has a sense of urgency with everything he does. Every rep, every shot, every drill is important to him. He takes advantage of every opportunity to get better. Kobe is never satisfied with his game and is always looking to improve. That hunger is what makes him great.” — Dave Hopla

Do you treat every writing opportunity the same way Kobe Bryant treats every drill he’s in? I know I’m guilty of failing at this. Some mornings I loaf through my writing process barely focused on my task. I get half as much done as I should.

So here’s my challenge to us as writers (and no it isn’t waking up earlier in the morning, although maybe it should be!), can we commit to attacking each writing day with the type of focus Kobe Bryant did to his workouts? If so, imagine what you might accomplish.

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It’s clear that to be great, we need to practice greatness. We’ve all seen the highlights of Kobe Bryant dominating NBA games. What we don’t always see (or hear about) are moments like this. Where Bryant, an 18 year old kid, woke up at 4:45 in the morning to get to the gym early before a workout with a legendary shooting coach.

Let’s build a version of this into our daily routine. That obsessive drive to get better, to improve in our writing. If we can apply that level of tenacity to our writing that Kobe did just to that workout, imagine what we might accomplish in a day.

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle

Missing is inevitable

At this point, Hopla had backed up to about 18–20 feet. He’d made over 100 shots in a row. Then, one clanged off the front of the rim, then the back, and fell out. A gasp emerged from everyone.

What did Hopla do? Nothing. He caught the next pass. Made the next shot. And proceeded to make the next who-knows-how-many.

As writers we sometimes see failures (literary agent passes, publication rejections, or even a piece that just doesn’t quite come together) as these monumental roadblocks. Don’t let those moments slow you down.

I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward. I reflect with a purpose. — Kobe Bryant

Did Dave Hopla reconsider his entire shooting form because of this missed shot? Did he question his life as a shooting coach because the ball didn’t go through the hoop? Nope. He just shot the next shot.

Shooters gotta shoot. Writers gotta write.

Have specific goals or you’re practicing to fail

“Hey,” Hopla pointed at me, “don’t count these next few shots.” Then he turned to everyone and said, “Lots of shooting coaches talk about what to look at when you shoot. Some say, ‘Look at the front of the rim.’ So let’s see.”

He turned and clinked a handful of shots off the front of the rim. Not a single one went through the hoop.

After each one, he pretended to celebrate. “I did it!” he shouted. This got a chuckle from us campers. (Side note: aside from his ridiculously high shooting percentage, this was probably the most impressive thing he did that day. I mean, he was able to hit the exact part of the rim he was aiming for over and over).

As writers, we often have goals. We have daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, and career goals. How often are those goals exactly what we want to achieve?

If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail. — Kobe Bryant

My suggestion is to read a book like 12-Week Year or Vivid Vision. They discuss having a clear vision for yourself. Then, make day-to-day decisions that make those specific goals a priority.

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Track your work

At the end, Dave Hopla held out his hand and I gave him the notebook. He counted (and counted and counted) and relayed to the crowd how many shots he made and how many he missed. Then he held up the notebook and leafed through, showing us all the previous days where he’d tracked his shots.

Athletes are extremely competitive. Writers should be, too. And I’m not saying competitive as in trying to beat one another. During the drills that Hopla put Kobe Bryant through that morning, Bryant wasn’t trying to beat anyone. He was trying to improve.

But how will you know if you improved if you’re not meticulously tracking your stats? Be your own statistician. Decide on a goal or a metric. And

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