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Friday, July 31, 2015

Takes More Than Talent

Talent- “Talent gets you in the gym, attitude and effort decides where your seat is.”

This summer we played a league game in which Lexi Daniels made 5 or 6 threes in the game. After the game, an adult came up to me and said, “She is just a natural shooter.” I know what the adult meant, but I don’t think it is really an accurate statement.  Sometimes a player can make things look so easy, it is understandable when people look and think it is just “natural.”

When we say someone is a “natural,” the implication is that they were born this way. The reality is that in sports and in life very few people are naturals. They may be born with certain valuable characteristics, but they work and work to develop that ability.

I believe most successful people get there through hard work. From my experience, successful people possess five important qualities.

Passion-  “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

To become a great shooter, it requires so many repetitions. If a player doesn’t have a passion for basketball, it will be work and not be much fun. In any sport to do the required practice, you must have a love for the sport. Great artists love painting, great musicians love music. To become great at anything, you must have a passion for it.

Molly Watson was one of our all-time great players. She grew up in house filled with brothers, and her father was a successful basketball coach. It would seem she was destined to love basketball. When in junior high, Molly and her father went to a Streaks game on a Saturday afternoon vs. Limestone. Both teams were very good, and the gym was filled. Molly said at that moment she was hooked on wanting to be basketball player. When she got her first Streaks uniforms, she wore it around the house all night. That is excitement. When you have a passion for something, you never have to “work” at it- you are doing something you love.

Vision- “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.” (Abdul Kalam)

Vision is the road map to success. When a player is working in a hot gym, they need something to keep them going, and to keep them excited. A player’s vision is a reminder of why they are investing the time.

The classic about having dreams is the little player in a driveway pretending they are playing in the big game. The player may announce their pretend game, and of course set it up for them to take the game winning shot. This dream of playing in the “big game” for their high school may give them the drive to practice.

In 1996, Galesburg made its first trip to State in girl’s basketball. Past teams had won twenty games numerous years, and had won many Regional titles, but had always fallen short. Finally in 1996, everything worked out and not only did we go to State, but finished 3rd in State. We were walking off the floor after receiving our trophy, and freshmen Jenny Zolper and Sarah Larson were walking in front of me, and they didn’t know I was behind them. With their arms around each other, Jenny turned to Sarah and said, “We’re going to do this three more times.”  I realized how hard it had been to get to State once, so I thought it was a naïve statement by a freshman. It turns out she was right, she went to State three more years. Clearly she had a vision!

Humility- “In reality, humility means nothing other than complete honesty about yourself.”  (William Countryman)

We think of humility as being an admirable trait. In sports, humility is more than just a nice quality, it is a quality needed for growth. Healthy humility is what allows a player to want to be coached, they feel the need to learn. Healthy humility is what makes a player realize they need their teammates, they realize they can’t get to where they want alone. And finally humility is what makes a player realize they have weaknesses that must be improved.

Sometimes humility is difficult for a player who has early success. A player may make the varsity as a freshmen or sophomore, and feel they have it made. Sara Wood was a player with early success when she started on the varsity as a sophomore. She had every reason to be very proud of herself. Instead of being full of herself, she was very critical about her performance. She felt she was not quick enough, not a good enough ball handler, and not a good enough shooter. She spent the spring working on her shot. In June, her shot was completely different, and she could not miss from 18 feet. Although she was right handed, at the State tourney the next year an opponent’s scouting report labeled her as being left handed.

Humility is like having a personal GPS. Humility is the ability to tell ourselves honestly where we are at right now. Sara’s improvement was the result of her humility, she was willing to be honest with herself and recognize a great need for improvement.

Plan- “Everyone wants to win, but only a few are willing to prepare to win.”  (Bob Knight)

We often hear a coach or players after a big win claim they “wanted it more than the other team.” I doubt one team ever wants it more than another team. When it comes to game night everyone wants to win. The difference is how much players want to win when they go to practice not when they go to games. The successful player was thinking about winning in July not just March.

The successful player has their vision of where they want to get, and their humility tells them they are not quite good enough to achieve their vision. So the great player develops a plan to reach their dream.

When I make a “to do list”, I work at it much more enthusiastically than I work on a “to do list” made by my wife or by a boss at work. Great athletes have a plan to achieve their goals. It is ALWAYS more successful if it is the athlete’s plan as opposed to the plan someone else gives them. 99% of the best players I have coached have all had their own individual plan.

Bonny Apsey developed her own shooting routine she did each day after practice. She would shoot the ball, run to rebound, toss the ball out, shoot again. She would make so many shots from a spot then shoot free throws. Then she would go onto her next spot and shoot. It was a routine which took her about 30 minutes. She did this after every open gym and after every practice.

Bonny’s success doing this caused teammates like Molly Watson and Sara Wood to come up with their own daily routine. In all of these cases, it was not the coach initiated the plan, it was the players plan.

Sarah Wood stayed after every practice her sophomore, her junior, and her senior years. Not sometimes- after every practice she stayed. She had a full court dribbling routine and a shooting routine. Her own post-practice.

On our present team, Lexi Daniels developed her own shooting routine. Last year in open gyms I noticed Lexi going through the same routine everytime. She has her own warmup routine, then her own shooting routine. No one told her what to do, she came up with it on her own. Now we have our entire varsity use her routine before practices.

Compete- “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

If it was easy to become successful in sports, everyone would be successful. The old adage is not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times do you get  up. People who are competitive never give up.

Ami Pendry started every game as a sophomore and did not start a single game as a junior. There are players who might have gotten down, and might even have quit. Great players when faced with tough situations choose to compete. Ami kept working and started every game her senior year, and went on to be a very successful college player.

The picture at the beginning of this article was one I took when Lexi Daniels was shooting on the Gun. I took the picture because the total was very impressive. But a week later, I took a second picture. Great players are never satisfied, they don’t just compete against their opponents, great players compete against themselves.  

Great players are never quite satisfied, they always see room for improvement.

Passion- Makes you feel investing time is worthwhile.

Vision- You have the confidence you can achieve greatness.

Humility- You accept you need to change and improve to reach your vision.

Plan- You develop a specific plan of action to reach your goals.

Compete- You are ready to meet challenges, and plan to use them to make you stronger.

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