The following was written by Florida State Associate Head Coach Stan Jones, the longest tenured assistant coach in the ACC.
It has been my experience from coaching at all different levels, the teams with the most talent win a high percentage of all games, but if you evaluate their roster, you also find the team with the most competitive talent wins the championship. There are five attributes that I have observed over my career in true competitors:
- They play at the same level every game.
- They handle mistakes – their own and the mistakes of others.
- They show enthusiasm and desire for every game.
- They are the team catalyst.
- They never quit, no matter what.
Play at the same level every game: This behavior is easily observable but what most people aren’t able to see is that they play that way almost every day in practice. The year I coached in the NBA, veteran coach Johnny Bach, told me how when he was coaching the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan would not ever let his team have a bad practice. He demanded everything be competitive and got more focused if it appeared the coaching staff was stacking the competition against him. I truly believe this saying that I tell our players continually, “Good players show up in big games, the best players show up in every game.”
Handles mistakes – his own and those of others: My dad always told me that the best lessons in life were learned from your own mistakes. But he also added to that, that a person will not live long enough to make enough mistakes to prepare themselves for great success so the truly great successes were wise to observe and to learn from the mistakes those around them were making. Legendary football coach,Jimmy Johnson once said, “A losing team looks for excuses. A championship team looks for solutions.” And I truly believe when you lock in on studying great competitors you will see a different look in their eyes and with their countenance that ‘ok’, you got me on that one but let’s see what happens on the next play. I also believe that when a teammate makes a mistake the great competitor knows how to channel that mistake toward the betterment of himself and the betterment of his team.
Shows enthusiasm and desire for the game: It has been my experience that the great competitors truly love the game and rarely get enough of it. They are constantly watching others play. They cannot go too many days with working on their own game. And when you watch them play, you can see that they are purely passionate and take great enjoyment from being in the competition. I tell our players all the time, the great entertainers before a performance, no matter how many nights they were on the road, before the curtain went up found a way to get amped and loved putting on a show for their audience. They took no performances off because of the love of their craft and not wanting to let down anyone who would take time to come be a part of their performance. Vince Lombardi put it like this, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength or a lack of knowledge but rather a lack of will and desire.” I agree with the old Packer coach!
Is the team catalyst: The dictionary defines the word catalyst as, a person or thing that precipitates an event or change. As well as a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic. I don’t think I have ever seen a great competitor who was unwilling to step to the front to do what it took for his team to be in a position to win. A great moment that I observed, happened in the ACC tournament back in the 90’s when Wake Forest was locked up in a classic battle with North Carolina that would determine the conference champion. Deacon great, Randolph Childress was having a terrific game and during the overtime period one of his teammates took somewhat of an ill-advised shot that caromed out of bounds leading to a time out. And as the camera panned to head to the commercial, Childress is shown talking to his teammate and you can read his lips as he said, “Give me the ball and I will decide if we win or lose.” That comment took the pressure off his teammate and they went on to win the game for the ACC title. A great quote to share with a player you have that is growing into a catalyst was said by NBA player, Shane Battier, “One day I had an epiphany. I said to myself yes I am different. But instead of that being a bad thing I can have the best of both worlds. I learned to love to be unique.” Words of a great competitor.
Never quits, no matter what: Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said, “The difference between average teams and the very good teams is that good teams do not surrender to fatigue.” That is also true of great competitors. They have a motor that does not let them get tired, either physically or mentally. In fact, when the struggle gets this most intense or the more desperate, great competitive people find almost a superhuman resolve. They become more resilient to adversity and more inspirational to the people they are in the battle with. When you find this characteristic in your team or in one of your team members, cherish it. It is the rarest of all the characteristics of great competitors. This never say die attitude usually carries a team through those moments in tournament play where you are taking the very best shot of your opponent and you have to find a way to survive and advance. Look back on those championship seasons you have enjoyed, you will find this characteristic will jump out at you along the journey of that season and it will bring a smile to your face.
So having said all that, I truly believe competitiveness is a talent. I do believe that it can be developed but that process must start at a young age. In today’s basketball, I think we are losing some of this talent due to the playing of too many meaningless games with no emphasis being placed on becoming competitively great. My challenge to those coaches reading this blog is to lead by example with your own competitive spirit and by developing a teaching method in your program that demands your team members to maximize their competitive talent. Be the best!
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