luke schenscher

How the mind helps and hinders high performance

Luke Schenscher has just about done it all in basketball. He played for the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA, represented his country as part of the Australian National Basketball Team, and won an NBL championship with the Perth Wildcats.

As an elite sportsman, many people might expect a gruelling fitness regime and intense training to be central to Luke’s success, however he told Bushy Martin on the Get Invested podcast that for him, the key to sporting success was learning to manage pressure and anxiety both on, and off, the court.

Luke’s rise to the top was nothing short of meteoric. At 12, Luke started playing in division five in the local South Australian league, and says he even struggled to catch the ball. In his wildest dreams he never thought he would be representing Australia as a member of the Boomers team before he finished high school.

It was a coach for the South Australian Institute of Sport who first noticed Luke’s potential and convinced him to believe in himself.

“It was self-belief and it was also the idea that if you just work hard enough at something and concentrate on it you can get good at it, whatever it is,” Luke said.

“It was just that idea if you hone in on it, it doesn’t matter how bad you are now, you can just keep working and eventually it will come together and you can actually go somewhere with it.”

But having that self-belief was something that Luke had to continually work on throughout his career. He spent two years at the Australian Institute of Sport and then, following in the footsteps of his idol Luc Longley, moved to the US to play college basketball.

After a quiet couple of years, Luke had a stellar season with Georgia Tech, and soon found himself drafted to the Chicago Bulls – the same team Luc Longley played for alongside Michael Jordan a decade earlier.

After two years in the NBA, Luke was signed to German side Brose Baskets, for the highest fee ever paid by the club at the time. However, Luke found the pressure of the big contract and the expectation that came with being an NBA player overwhelming, and that the pressure was translating to injuries on the court.

“I realised how much my anxiety and fear was causing me physical issues and not helping me heal my knee. Then I looked back over the years at all my injuries and really, all my injuries came up when I was in that fear state and I was experiencing a lot of anxiety.”

Luke had to leave Germany and return to Australia to have surgery on his knee. It was at this time that he decided to address what he considered to be the root cause of his problems on the court: his anxiety.

“That was when I first started to delve into the mental side of things and understanding how the mind and the body are so interrelated. If I want to get the most out of my body, I’m really going to have to tap into my mind as well.

“I realised I was putting all my self-worth into my performance on the basketball court. So if I had a really good game, then I was the greatest person in the world and I was on top of the world … But if I had a bad game, then automatically I’m worthless, I’m a piece of crap, I’m the worst player in the world, I’ve let myself down, I’ve let my coaches down, I’ve let my teammates down, I’ve let my family down.

“So it was that idea of understanding that my self-worth doesn’t come from my performance on the basketball court, it comes from a whole range of things.”

Luke found that meditation was incredibly effective at putting himself in the right frame of mind. He practiced Qigong, a type of Tai Chi, and went on 10-day silent meditation retreats.

“There’s different types of meditations. The first one was just quietening my body and my mind and actually going into my body and starting to feel where I was holding tension … I realised, ‘yep, I’m holding on to tension in my knee because I’m afraid of this happening or that happening.”

Luke got himself strong, mentally as well and physically, and started playing for the Adelaide 36ers. Before long he was invited to try-out for the LA Lakers, one of the biggest teams in the NBA, however a back injury during preparation in the US meant Luke missed the try-outs.

Despite the crushing blow, Luke endured months of rehab, and instead signed with the Perth Wildcats, winning the NBL championship with the club in the 2009-10 season, and going on to play for the Adelaide 36ers again, as well as the Townsville Crocodiles.

Luke now plans to use the mental resilience techniques he developed over his basketball career in his new career as a secondary teacher.

“I feel like it would be a shame if the stuff that I’ve been through, if I don’t use that to help others that are going through similar things.

“So my idea is to be able to give back my experiences and hopefully other people can maybe not spend as long as I did getting caught up in the wrong things, or (I) can prepare them for certain situations so they can get over things quicker and move to a higher level than I got to.”

Listen to the full interview here.

To develop your own high performance strategy, contact the KnowHow team.

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