Chasing Greatness: Ups and Downs of Caitlin Clark’s Superstardom

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I’m feeling a little sad and lacking in understanding this morning. It’s the big question I’m wondering about how to live life, what’s important, and whether the ambition to be the best is fulfilling or hollow. And this really complex conundrum: should we be more or less selfish in our career pursuits?

There’s a young woman out there you’ve all heard of, Caitlin Clark, who is a superstar, and incredibly famous, and these questions are now confronting her. It’s all happening too fast for any of us to process including her.

One day you’re a high school star at Dowling Catholic School in Iowa. Four years later you have security guards wherever you go to protect you from the tens of thousands of people who want your autograph, to touch you, to say they were in the presence of an incredibly talented basketball player who suddenly is a millionaire and sponsored by some of the biggest brands in the world. You’re like Taylor Swift.

I’m feeling this way after reading an uncommonly in-depth profile about what it’s been like being Clark these past few unusual years. The article was written by Wright Thompson. Caitlin Clark and Iowa find peace in the process – ESPN.

Her situation is a lot to contemplate. It makes us wonder if becoming great at what you do is all worth it. It makes me realize that fame and fortune aren’t automatic recipes for happiness and fulfillment.

The author unmasked what it’s really like to be Caitlin Clark beyond all the superficialities such as scoring records and Big Ten championships. Who is this person, truly? What motivates her? Why is she so driven? What worries her? What is all this fame doing to her mind and heart?

In this article, you find answers to all of these. It’s a personal journey of psychological ups and downs, human struggle, and an odd way to live a life being obsessed with being a great basketball player.

Doesn’t Know What She’s Chasing

There’s a passage when she’s conversing with a performance consultant the team hired to help her deal with all the fame and rarified fire to be the best.

She says: “Maybe I don’t even really understand yet.”

“Understand what?” the counselor asks.

“What I’m chasing after.”

Listen to that. She doesn’t quite comprehend what she’s striving towards. To us it seems obvious: to be the best basketball player in college and eventually the WNBA. But what does that mean? What does that get her? More fame? More security guards? Less freedom to go anywhere in public?

I sit here right now chasing something I don’t understand about myself. I think it’s to write from my heart, unfiltered, honestly, with the hopes that it will help people understand life better and maybe want to read more of what I write. I want to be a famous writer, or maybe not that but instead a respected writer, and paid well for it, and none of that is happening in a big way. Maybe one day. If that happened, would I be happier?

But maybe no one will read this and I have no control over that. And I’m not sure this is what I’m supposed to be doing anyway. I don’t understand what I’m chasing. Life is hard to figure out.

For Caitlin, for me, and for you.

The Ambition is a Sad Drug

There’s another poignant and sobering discussion between the consultant and Clark.

He said the search for approval could become “supercharged by her growing fame and success. Praise is a gateway drug.”

The author then writes: “She talked about how she’d become addicted without even realizing what was happening.

“It really is a drug,” she told him. “You’re always craving it.”

“How do you process what you just said?” he asked.

“I think it’s scary to think about,” she said.


“I think it’s sad.”

Becoming addicted to praise is sad. I can relate. When I post a blog and someone likes it, I want to write another one to get more people to press like. It’s a deep need I have. And it’s not something I’m proud of nor understand other than to say it makes me feel relevant and that I’m contributing somehow to peoples’ life experiences.

I think it’s both sad and rewarding and a calling – in other words, complicated.

Trapped in the Chase

Just imagine if today Caitlin Clark announced she’s had enough with all the basketball and fame and just couldn’t take all the change and upheaval in her life anymore. Probably won’t happen because now so many people including sponsors are depending on her continuing to improve at basketball. Whether she wants to or not, she pretty much has to keep practicing.

“Internal motivations to be the best and external motivations to reach records and milestones, to win, to earn praise and approval, overlapped for Caitlin,” the author writes. “Each one feeding the other. She’d trapped herself in a perpetual state of chasing, where achievements brought no peace. Her coaches and mentors helped her see the lie in those dreams. The numbers, great as they were, fun as they have been to chase, weren’t speaking to her soul.

“You just want more of it,” she said.

“That’s not going to make me feel full at the end of the day,” she said. “In 20 years, banners and rings just collect dust. It’s more the memories.”

So true. How many of us care about the trophies we won for athletic achievements as kids? Either been thrown away or crammed in some closet or lost. Caitlin is smart to understand this and seems tuned in to the importance of the personal relationships she’s made with her teammates. They’ll be with her long after she stops playing basketball.


I sit here now striving to improve at my craft and there’s a loneliness to it. None of my friends are here. Trying to get better at something often requires us to go away by ourselves and just practice. For an unfathomable number of hours.

Great athletes know all about this: Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, and Caitlin Clark. Hardly anyone saw them toiling away sweating up their armpits and just grinding away. But they all did it. It’s an extremely unusual way to spend your days. Countless social events you don’t go to. The author asked Caitlin if she was lonely in high school practicing so much by herself.

“I would say I was lonely in the aspect of no one understood how I was thinking. I wasn’t surrounded by people who wanted to achieve the same things as me.”

The way she was thinking was she wanted to be great at basketball and others weren’t focused on that. Pursuing greatness comes with a heavy price and most of us aren’t interested in that. You’re by yourself a whole lot on a path to the top.

Loves the Insults

This basketball meteoric phenomenon shares the same ability to use slights against her as fuel to drive her to higher levels of achievement – the same way Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps did to soar into stratospheric heights of superiority. The article includes a story about a Big Ten coach shouting at her:

“You’re not as good as you think you are!”

The author asked: “Were you nuclear?”

“I still am.”

Insult a highly motivated person and watch them boil. I’ve had bosses criticize my writing and the more they do the more determined I become to prove them wrong. Tell me I can’t write. Go ahead. And I’ll fire more writing right back in your face. Good or bad, you’re getting more and it’ll be with more effort.

Pressuring Teammates/Impatience

Like Michael Jordan, Caitlin Clark is hard on her teammates. Remember when Jordan punched teammate Steve Kerr in the face and insulted Bill Cartwright for lacking talent?

Clark’s got that mean streak, an intolerance for teammates who won’t practice as hard as her and aren’t as needy to win. The author writes:

Nobody worked harder in the gym. She wanted to be great. When someone got in the way of that, even if that someone was her, she struggled to manage her emotions. An engine as rare as hers threw out a ton of exhaust.

Caitlin’s teammates meanwhile discovered her talent came with impatience and temper. She blew up at practice. A lot of throwing her hands up in the air, stomping off the court and simply refusing to pass the ball to an open teammate if she didn’t believe they’d deliver. Why would I pass her the ball when I’m taking more shots in the practice gym?

“I had expectations of them and they weren’t meeting them,” Caitlin said.

The article continues:

Her teammates came to understand that they were dealing with someone like Mozart. She wasn’t rude, nor necessarily nice, just a different species. At one point that year a sports psychologist came in to work with the team. She started going around the room and asking the players when they felt stressed and anxious and how they reacted to those feelings. One by one, the young women described familiar symptoms and scenarios: sweaty hands, a fear of the free throw line, struggling with breathing, anxiety about the last possession.

Finally it was Caitlin’s turn. She seemed a little embarrassed.

“I never am,” she said.

Everyone in the room somehow understood she was being more vulnerable than cocky.

“Stone cold,” one witness told the author. “It was so cool.”

Geno Didn’t Recruit Her

A few weeks ago I asked a friend of mine who knows a lot about UConn women’s basketball why Geno Auriemma didn’t recruit Clark. He gets just about all the best high school players to join his team. My friend didn’t know.

I think I know.

Geno has absolutely zero tolerance for players with bad body language. My guess he saw Clark’s body language playing in high school, which can be pouty and agitated and persistent when she wants to be put back in the game, and he didn’t want her doing that on his team.

She was interested in playing for UConn, but Geno didn’t call.

Who is She, Really?

Caitlin Clark has flaws just like the rest of us. She happens to be a super human basketball player with an inferno-like intensity to be the best and win. Her standards for herself are wickedly demanding. She’s not the warmest person, but polite, eloquent, and tries her best to be good to others.

It must be tough being so determined to show how great you are, then when you get there everyone wants to see you play and talk to you and be around you and that’s not just being great at what you do. That’s something else. It’s called being famous.

She feels some sadness because of all this, and is open that what she’s chasing is elusive and she’s not even sure it’s going to bring her lasting fulfillment.

These conflicting ideas mirror what we all feel everyday. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What do we want? Why do we want it?

Life isn’t obvious. It’s a bundle of maybes and possiblies and probabilities and watch outs and you better figure it outs and do you bests and don’t be mean to others and be careful how you act and what you say.

I admire Caitlin Clark for dedicating herself to being great. Look at what she’s done. She’s motivated an old man to sit down and churn out this 3,000 or whatever words about her because she’s touched me emotionally because she’s doing something very few people do: becoming the greatest basketball player she can be. I had that ambition once but didn’t have her discipline nor talent.

Sounds simple. Sounds trivial.

But so important.

Because it’s life. It’s what we all struggle with.

Caitlin Clark causes us to think and wonder what life really means.

Sammy Sportface

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Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here: Sammy Sportface Has a Vision -- Check It Out Sammy Sportface -- The Baby Boomer Brotherhood Blog -- Facebook Page
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Sammy Sportface
Sammy Sportface
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:

Sammy Sportface Has a Vision -- Check It Out

Sammy Sportface -- The Baby Boomer Brotherhood Blog -- Facebook Page

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