When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see? Are you tall, short, fat, or skinny? When you participate in sports do you see yourself as slow-footed, weak, lacking excellent coordination or jumping ability? Unfortunately, many young athletes look at themselves and assume that their body type and other physical attributes necessarily limit their ability to succeed in sports.
But there’s a principle called compensation—and just as it applies to other aspects of your life, it also applies to sports. The basic idea is that a physical characteristic that limits you in some way also provides you with an advantage.
For example, you may be shorter and heavier than other players on your basketball team. You may find it difficult to defend the lighter, quicker players in open space and you’re seemingly too small to rebound against the taller players. But if you’re observant, you may also notice that your extra weight and low center of gravity provides you with an advantage in certain situations. When you set a screen, defenders have a difficult time getting past you; should they make contact, they “bounce” off you. When you post up a taller, lighter player with good jumping ability, you find that you can easily push them with your hip and gain the position you need close to the basket. You can also easily “seal them out” so you can receive a pass underneath and put the ball up for a layup. Likewise, when you rebound the ball, you notice that you can get the inside position and leverage your low center of gravity and weight to push your more athletic opponent away from the rim—letting the ball come down to a point where you can grab the rebound.
Understand the different ways that you can physically succeed within your sport. Small players are often quick; heavy players are usually wide and strong; slow players may have a quick first step (or anticipate well). Know your physical strengths and use them to your advantage.
Likewise, know your weaknesses and minimize their exposure. As you get older and the level of competition increases, compensating for your weaknesses becomes more challenging. But even at the highest level, there are superstars who are extremely weak in a few areas but compensate for their deficiencies through their exceptional strengths.
One example is Steve Nash, the All-Pro NBA guard. By most basketball standards, Steve Nash has outstanding natural attributes and excellent athleticism. But at the NBA level, he’s small and lacks the necessary quickness to defend well. He compensates for these weaknesses with exceptional ball-handling and passing skills (he’s ambidextrous), along with an excellent outside shot. His unique mix of attributes has led to his two-time selection as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. His basketball IQ and ability to make other players better on the offensive end continue to amaze—even as he approaches the end of his career.
You should also recognize that the principle of compensation applies across different sports. A certain body type or set of physical characteristics may be a weakness in one sport while a strength in another. A tall girl is unlikely to find success in competitive gymnastics, but may excel in volleyball or basketball. A slower, larger boy may struggle in sports that put a premium on speed and quickness, but fare well as a lineman in football where size and strength are important.
Keep an open mind to all of the possibilities; always consider how you can translate a supposed limitation into an advantage.