The 2017 Senior Perspectives is the 12th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
Judson Woods, Club Men's Basketball
Hometown: Leawood, Kan.
House Affiliation: Lowell
When the final buzzer sounded, signaling the end of my high school career, I was overcome with emotion not only because I would never again take the court alongside my classmates, but also because at that moment I realized that I likely had played my last competitive game of basketball. Without a single offer to play in college, I didn’t have another season to prepare for. I was well aware of the college intramural system that awaited me, and I knew deep down that those games would not come close to simulating the experience of a real college basketball game. So as I prepared to start my freshman year at Harvard, I expected to give up my love of basketball for four years of intellectual growth. I anticipated dedicating my days to lectures and classroom discussions, my evenings to professional networking events, and my nights to long hours in the library.
However, when I walked by the table for the Classics Club Basketball team at the student activities fair freshman year, I discovered that my playing days weren’t over quite yet. Joining the club basketball team gave me another opportunity to develop myself as a player and continue on the trajectory that I had established during my high school career. Contrary to what I believed would be the case, practices and games were anything but easy. Every time I stepped on the court, I competed against high-level athletes who had excelled in high school and possessed advanced knowledge of the game. With an official head coach leading the team, I was held accountable for my performance during practice and games and risked losing playing time if I didn’t give full effort at all times. And most importantly, there was an expectation to win every game we played. Even if we were playing a weeknight exhibition during the middle of the season, losing was unacceptable.
Because of this atmosphere and the teammates I was fortunate enough to play alongside, club basketball influenced my development more than anything else during college. Much of my personal growth over the past four years can be attributed to my experiences on the club basketball team and any improvements I made on the court were mirrored by simultaneous advancement in other aspects of my life. Learning not to overthink my on-court decisions and just play by instinct caused me to worry less about my past life choices and to trust in my ability to navigate the obstacles placed before me. Although I had come into college not confident in my talents, finding a role on the club basketball team and realizing my unique value to the team taught me not to underestimate my capacity to contribute to team goals. While I initially thought my best option was always to defer to teammates, it soon became apparent to me that not asserting myself could negatively impact the team if my teammates expected me to do more. Witnessing how I could affect the outcome of a game with my individual efforts showed me the beauty of expressing my skills to their fullest extent. As players graduated and the team dynamic changed year to year, I discovered the importance of being adaptable to new situations. Based on what the team needed, I adjusted my role in the game plan so that we could remain successful regardless of the other players we had on the roster. This skill will be incredibly valuable to me as I graduate and move on to the professional world.
Of course, one could argue that I took club basketball too seriously and invested more time in the team than is expected for a club sport. After a loss, I would be inconsolable for hours and would skip social events after particularly poor performances to give myself time to reflect. During school breaks, I adhered to strict training plans to ensure that I would stay in shape for when I returned to campus. More often than not, I prioritized basketball practices, games, and additional preparation over other activities and was willing to sacrifice sleep if staying after practice to get extra shots up meant that I would have to work later into the night to finish an assignment or study for an exam. Still, I will never regret how I approached club basketball during my time at Harvard. The countless nights I spent in empty gyms with my teammates allowed me to learn the greatest lesson of my undergraduate career: what I love in life will not be what I receive the most praise for, but rather will be what I choose to dedicate myself to when no one else is watching.