Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Interview - Aaron Smith

I  recently had the chance to interview Aaron Smith, author of "Thursday Night Therapy" about the book and his participation in the Thursday night basketball that is the subject of his book. He gave some very interesting answers.


1. What motivated you to write about the Thursday night basketball game?

My degree is in journalism and I worked as a sports editor and sports writer in the newspaper industry. I've always been drawn to the human interest stories in sports journalism; I craved writing those types of stories over simply covering and reporting on games. I enjoyed the deeper meaning of sports and how it affected those who play and those who watch the games. When I got involved with this group of guys for Thursday night basketball, I quickly felt how important and how meaningful this tradition was to these guys. Basketball wasn't just basketball. As the group closed in on its thirtieth anniversary, Fran Niehaus, my father-in-law and founder of this game, asked me to start jotting down and recording some stories for the guys to commemorate this long-standing tradition. As I got into the project, it became apparent that turning a few stories into a meaningful book that explored not just the stories from the games but also the psychological and even spiritual side of the weekly tradition would be the way to go.

2. If you were told that your game is a similar style to that of an NBA star, whose game does yours resemble?

Let it be known that I've NEVER been compared to anyone close to the NBA, so it would be pretty difficult to say my game resembles that of any professional basketball player. When I played in high school, I couldn't dribble to save my life. But I could shoot and I could play defense. If teams played zone, my job was to shoot and hopefully get them out of the zone. Other than that, I was only in the game to play defense and try to slow down the other team's best scorer.

The great thing about this Thursday night group is that we all play against each other so often, we know what each other's strengths are and we know how to stop each other. That has forced us to adapt and change our game. I've had to learn how to dribble and drive and finish inside because they've worked toward taking my three-point shot away. It's fun to see how all of our games have changed and adapted over the years. We have short guys who can drive and finish in the paint and we have taller guys who have extended their skills beyond the three-point arc. So to answer your question, my game can be similar to a spot-up shooter like Kyle Korver on some nights and on other nights when I'm forced to drive and finish or drive and pass, I would like to think the style is similar to Paul George, someone who can shoot if he needs to, but looks to drive and create for his teammates.

3. How has participating in the group been therapeutic to you personally?

Playing in this game really has affected my life for a few reasons. One way has been just to offer a release of pent up energy and stress. With three young children and everyday life challenges coming at me constantly, it's so important for me to have a release. This Thursday night game is that release. There is nothing quite like the feeling of running off that stressful energy. Any negative energy that has built up for a week just simply vanishes on the court. I write about that in the book; when I get home from these games, perspective has been altered. Problems that seemed stressful before don't seem that big anymore. Annoyances I may have had with the kids before Thursday night really don't matter after playing hard for three hours. It certainly is a "reset" button, as one sports psychologist puts it in the book.

Secondly, playing in a lot of pick-up games in college and immediately after, I started to hate basketball because of the constant trash talking and overly physical play. The joy of basketball was quickly removed when playing that style of basketball. Playing with this group has renewed my love of the sport. The game is played the right way. There is no trash talk. There are no purposely hard or over-the-top fouls. The game is played with respect for each other and respect for the sport. Early on when I first started playing with this group, I played with the attitude it took to survive random pick-up games. But now, after about 10 years of playing with these guys, my perspectives are back in order. My attitude has changed. The joy is back on the basketball court. I needed that.

4. How do you feel about other games and this type of benefit? Meaning that for those of us who would not be talented enough to join a basketball group like yours, would playing a different sport have the same results?

One of the main benefits of this group is the camaraderie and the friendships. A lot of our lives are spent nurturing professional relationships with clients or patients or bosses or colleagues. The rest of the time is spent nurturing family relationships. Just as important, but lacking in many people's lives, are the relationships with friends. This weekly get-together ensures that we'll have an opportunity each week for male bonding, camaraderie, and spending quality time with our friends. I think it is important and necessary to carve out time to spend with those we call our friends.

It doesn't have to be basketball. For some, it's golf. Or tennis. Or cards. Or simply carving out time to get lunch with friends once a month or so. I would encourage anyone to find their game or their sport or their group and make it a point, a necessity, to get together regularly.

5. Please feel free to share anything else about your book or your basketball group.

I'd just like to thank my father-in-law for inviting me to this game. It has meant a lot to me. And thanks to all those who show up on Thursday nights to play each week. It truly is remarkable that this game has lasted thirty years, and several of the players have played the entire three decades. The guys in their sixties are an inspiration. They make me want to play basketball for the next thirty years.

During my research for this book, it was great to see that we are not alone. There are games all over this country just like this. Some meet on Saturday mornings every week. Others play regularly with the same guys during extended lunch breaks. One of the sports psychologists I interviewed for the book also plays basketball with a group of guys, and that game also has lasted nearly thirty years. And every player in one of these groups talks about the same therapeutic release they get from playing. For me, it has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of this group, and it was an honor to tell their story.

--Aaron M. Smith

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