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Or Sela’s Basketball Career and Working Practices: Making Compromises and Performing Under Pressure

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Or Sela’s Basketball Career and Working Practices: Making Compromises and Performing Under Pressure
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When I was 15 years old and after having played a few successful seasons in the regional northern leagues, I started to receive scholarship offers from the best high schools. The basketball high school league is very popular and well-developed in Israel. All the big schools compete between themselves for prestige and exposure, and the league is broadcast every week on the national governmental television channel.

I knew that if I wanted to become a professional basketball player, I needed to play in this league. The level, publicity and opportunities to improve were hugely attractive for an aspiring professional. The television ratings are quite high and the live audience is full of students, teachers and local community fans. Schools do everything they can in order to win the championship; they hire the best coaches, provide private teachers, pay players’ tuition and taxis to ferry them every day from home to school and back and even pay the rent of a flat. What I found to be the nicest thing is that the school grants the students a few hours break in order to go to the high school team games which take place during school time. That’s what I had been offered and of course I accepted.

I knew that in order to become a basketball player I needed to leave my comfort zone and move away from home.

The problem was that I lived in a small village in the north of Israel. No school near my home plays in this league, so I would need to leave my parents’ house and live in a city. I was 15 years old with determined goals and took the risk and compromise. This was the first time I realized that in order to achieve your goals, you sometimes have to make compromises if you think the outcome will be worth it.

Moving out of my parents’ house at 15 was the hardest thing I have ever done. Not only moving from a small village to a city but also from a school with 200 students to a school with 5,000. I knew that in order to become a basketball player I needed to leave my comfort zone and move away from home. During my first meeting with my future coach and school principle they asked me:

“why would you want to leave home for basketball when no one can promise you that you will become a professional basketball player?”

My answer was:

“I would like to try”.

Even though I knew I might not become one, it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.

I was facing a similar situation when I finished my studies in Berlin. I had lived in Berlin for two years with my brother and had built my life there. It’s not easy to come from a different country with a different culture, language etc. and to make yourself feel comfortable and at home in a new place, but I had succeeded. I felt good and I loved being there so of course I wanted to find a job in Berlin. A few months before I finished my master’s degree I received two job offers. One from Microsoft in Munich and one from eBay in Berlin. The jobs were similar, but with one difference – at eBay the job was in customer service B2C and at Microsoft, the job would be customer service B2B. My intuition said go to Microsoft, which in my opinion (then with relatively little exposure or experience) was a better company and better fitting to my experience with B2C. On the other hand, the attraction of staying in Berlin and choosing eBay was great.

In the end I chose to leave Berlin and to take Microsoft’s offer. I compromised my private life for something I believed was good for me. It was really hard to start building my life all over again having left my girlfriend, brother, friends, basketball team and everything I knew outside of Israel. After seeing many colleagues of mine relocate (especially working for international companies) I understood that local flexibility was part of the business. Was sacrificing something important to progress the best choice for me? Only time will tell if this move took me in the right direction, but it definitely opened up the opportunity to find out and that’s an important step.

Was sacrificing something important to progress the best choice for me?

Back to my basketball career, the second insight was that I had to learn to perform under pressure. A few weeks after I moved to the new school our first game of the season against the defending champions was broadcast live on the national government TV channel. I still remember how much pressure I faced back then. From playing in front of maximum 200 people to 2,000 plus on TV. Dealing with pressure is something that every athlete must learn how to manage and overcome when there are factors outside of the actual game that can affect your performance.

The ability to perform under pressure in basketball gave me the chance to deal with pressure easily outside the court. My friends and classmates used to be very stressed before important exams. For me it is not even an issue since I was used to dealing with much more stress through the basketball games.

The best example I have outside basketball is from working experience as a customer service analyst in the biggest credit company in Israel. The company made a huge internal transformation to become more customer-service oriented. The company had been a monopoly for 30 years and one year before I started to work there, the regulators in Israel opened the competition in this sector, which, unsurprisingly, caused the company big problems. After investing millions in a project which took one year, the company’s CEO and VP of customer service wanted to win the prize of the best customer service company in the finance sector in Israel. All the time and money invested concluded in a 10-minute presentation in front of the best CEOs and board members in Israel. My manager, the VP of customer service, wanted to take a few people with him so he could show the judges that all the employees were really engaged in this project. After interviewing a few team leaders who apparently could not deal with upcoming pressure he came to me and asked me to participate.

“You are quite a relaxed person who doesn’t get intimidated easily, right?”

“Sure why not”.

So I was due to present one and a half minutes out of a company total of 10 in a big conference room in a five-star hotel along with the CEO, VP and one chairman in front of a few judges. My company won the prize. Although my one-and-a-half minute presentation was a little part I feel that it helped.

I don’t think I would have been able to do that without the skills I acquired in basketball.

The bottom line is, there are risks worth taking, and compromises worth committing to if they can be seen to help in the long run. This often means undertaking a lot of pressure. This pressure can be dealt with, and once you know how to deal with pressure, the skill can be transferred to all life situations.