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Crafting a Comeback: Starting with Layups and Free Throws

Just couple days ago, the daily quote app sent a quote of the week to my phone:"you're going to fall down, but the world doesn't care how many times you fall down, as long as it's one fewer than the number of times you get back up." This talks about resiliency and the power of comebacks. People always talk about comebacks. Business leaders talk about how they turn around a near-bankruptcy business. Motivation speakers talk about how individuals overcome challenges and succeed in their lives. Politicians use comeback slogans probably more than anyone else. Maybe it's because sports have been in my mind these days, I'd like to talk a bit more about comebacks in sports, particularly in basketball.

Although people talk about comebacks, less discussed is the way to achieve comebacks. To need a comeback, one has to be in a low position first. The transition from this position to the ultimate success requires more than just one-step. To demonstrate these steps in a little more depth, I resort to basketball for demonstration.

In a typical basketball say NBA game, it is common for a team to be 15 points behind and finally come back and take a win. When a team is 15 points behind, what it has to do first is to stop the "bleeding." The team needs to make sure that the 15-points difference does not get bigger to 20 or more. This step may have been referred to in other disciplines as "damage control." What such step entails from the players is the ability to keep up with the game, and to simply keep up with the scoring and keep up with the defense against the rival players. However, what is at the crux of this step is more psychological than technical. Facing a 15-points difference certainly adds pressure to the players who are probably desperate to reduce the difference. Especially when the game comes down to a sensitive period of time, usually second half of the game, the amount of the pressure upon the players increases as the remaining time decreases. To play under pressure is not a negative thing and sometimes extra pressure could bring better performance out of the players; nevertheless, to play with desperation almost secures a loss. In NBA, timeouts are often used as a tool to clear the players' minds and to prevent them from playing with desperation.

After controlling the damage both on the scoreboard and more importantly psychologically,the next step is to reduce the difference on the scoreboard. How to start this process and how to maximize the possibility of the success of this process are what motivates the writing of this article in the first place. To reckon the best strategy to come back, it is crucial to realize the respective merits of technical power and will power. They can by no means exist without syncing with the other; nevertheless, to facilitate comebacks, the players usually start by leveraging their will power. What this immediately translates into is stronger defense and more physical offense. On the defense side, to play tighter defense is much a matter of altitude than technique. This is famously said by Tony Allen, one of NBA's most diligent defense players. What physical offense means is usually to increase scoring in the paint and avoid jump-shots or 3 points that is usually quite unreliable as they requires more technique than layups. What is more efficient than layups is free-throws. Besides giving a higher chance of scoring, free-throws can stop the time clock from running. This is good not only strategically as it can buy more time for the players, but psychologically too as it disturbs the previous flow of the game and gives the players a chance to breathe and clear their minds. More free-throws opportunities usually come as a result of more physical offense, a product of will power, which is easier to be set in motion in a comeback situation than technical power.

The solution to kicking off a comeback therefore is making free-throws. Toughening the defense while making sure to gradually close the score difference. Setting a comeback in motion requires "damage control" and subsequently calls for an efficient way to score as well as to prevent the opponents from scoring. To score efficiently does not necessarily mean quick-scoring, in fact, trying to score quickly when the team is 15 points behind is very dangerous. What efficient scoring means is to buy time while scoring in the easiest fashion -- through layups or free-throws. After the amount of score difference is reduced, the pressure will be on the opponent's side because the players have set in motion a momentum that demands an immediate answer from the opponents. How strong the opponents' response will be depends on each case. If the opponents are disciplined enough to counteract the comeback, the comeback may not succeed; otherwise, a successful comeback will be inevitable. It is not within the scope of this article to examine from the opponents' side as to counteract the motion of a potential comeback.

A comeback happens in many areas of human existence. Personal life, professional life, spiritual life, all will encounter a setback. However, a setback is essentially "set for a comeback." This article demonstrates what it entails for a beautiful comeback to start. It requires more mental toughness than technical skills, and a smart strategy to leverage on one's will power. Through a simple demonstration in basketball, this article hopes to provide inspiration to practitioners in many other areas who could refer to the wisdom learnt from a basketball comeback when crafting comebacks in something else.

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