Female basketball star unexpectedly teaches a poker lesson

When Candace Parker rose from high school fame to stardom at the University of Tennessee, and then to the pros with the Los Angeles Sparks, everyone knew she’d be good for women’s basketball. Who would expect that she could also be good for your poker game?

After Candace and Lisa Leslie propelled the LA Sparks to another victory last month, I reached for one of my journal entries. Although I don’t follow sports regularly, aside from poker and the occasional round of golf when Tiger plays, the 6’4″ Parker caught my eye during the 2008 Olympics.

When I surfed to the gold metal women’s basketball game between the USA and Australia, Candace was at the free throw line. She was the new girl playing for USA, and the announcers wouldn’t stop talking about how she beat out five male competitors in high school to win a dunk contest. My ears pricked up and I put down the TV remote.

The setup for each shot at the free throw line was a masterpiece and I was blown away. I studied the screen, just as I do when I want to get a better look at a poker player during a televised final table. In poker, I look for any telltale signs that will help me the next time I face that player in a live poker tournament. In other sports I look for lessons that help me strengthen my game.

The way Candace Parker handled her actions at that free throw line spoke to me. She was the perfect model of calm, consistency, and preparedness. It was a life lesson that flows seamlessly from the basketball court to the poker table.

This is what I observed during that 2008 Olympic game. Every time Candace would go to the free throw line and prepare for the shot, she would do the exact same thing. Exactly! You could call it his personal ritual: He settled on the line, bounced the basketball three times, touched his right fingertips to his upper left arm, took one more bounce, and shot. Over and over again, you heard that familiar hiss of the ball as he hit the net.

Actually, his touch on the arm intrigued me more. Some might say she was just wiping sweat off her fingertips, but I’m convinced she was actually a physical anchor, helping Candace trigger a positive outcome.

Today, Candace Parker is a role model for how to excel in any skill and be a star. This is the lesson she teaches: combine a repetitive, consistent setting with a calm, focused approach; anchor your success with a physical trigger.

Whether in business, life, or sports, find what works and repeat it. Use a physical anchor to indicate consistent and desired actions. Try it at the poker table and for life.

By the way, yes, at 6’5″ I played basketball in high school and, yes, I was very good. More on that another day.

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