There are many behaviors that are common among great basketball players, especially those that end up playing at a high level. Here are brief descriptions of 7 of these behaviors to help you as a player, coach, or parent understand what is necessary to truly be an elite player.
The gains from difficult training and countless hours of working on your craft may not be apparent after a week or two. It may take an entire summer or longer to see the work you put in pay off in some tangible way. Just like a lumberjack cutting down a tree. It takes repeated swings of the axe until finally the desired result is achieved and the tree is down. It was not just the final swing that felled the tree, it was the patience to keep swinging repeatedly. Great players realize that they must sacrifice now in order to achieve a greater result in the future. To quote Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, the great athlete must do “x” like crazy now in order to achieve “y” later. Our society doesn’t encourage delayed gratification, but great players understand growth doesn’t happen overnight.
This quote from Jerry West sums up the need for consistency in training, “If you only work hard on the days you feel good, you’ll never accomplish much.” Great players understand that one great practice, one great play, one great game, or one great tournament doesn’t make them great. What makes them great is the ability to produce at a high level consistently, day after day, regardless of the circumstances. That means consistent championship practice habits. What you do as a player every day translates into the type of player you are or will become.
I believe that great players have a vision for what they want to achieve. The recent article, The Rocky Road of Success by John O’ Sullivan tells players to ask themselves, “What am I willing to sacrifice to achieve my goal?” I was willing to sacrifice many other things in my life to achieve my basketball goals as you can read about here. Great players set goals and then do what is necessary to achieve them.
Great players get that way because they WANT it. Not because their Dad wants it, or their Mom wants it, or their Coach wants it. They are great because they WANT it. I have worked with thousands of players and the ones that were most successful were those that were driven by their own inner desire to be great. They looked at training or practice as an opportunity to do something they loved, not a chore. They weren’t looking for praise or a trophy or a handout, they simply loved practicing, playing, and getting better.
I’ve written about the growth mindset before, but all great players have a tremendous thirst for knowledge. They want to be coached. They want to be challenged. A coach can never give them enough feedback. They read about the game, they watch the game, they take every opportunity they can to learn and grow. Quoting Kevin Eastman VP of Basketball Operations for the LA Clippers, “Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all.”
One of the things I miss most about being a competitive athlete is feeling TIRED. I know it sounds weird, but in my life now as a parent, coach, and teacher I rarely, if ever, feel physically tired. I am often tired, needing more sleep or feeling general fatigue, but I am talking about being totally wiped out after a practice or game. Great players love that feeling because they know that they left their best effort on the court. When I played at Kent State we used to have practice at 7 am on Saturday morning in the pre-season after a long week of 3 hour practices. Usually the practice involved an intrasquad game that pushed me to the limit. I loved the feeling of being physically fatigued when that Saturday practice was over. Great players love that feeling and push themselves to get to that place where they feel physically exhausted.
I’ve written in detail here about grit as well, but great players without grit don’t exist. Every player faces moments when things don’t go their way, they have a bad game, their training feels unproductive, or something in their life outside of basketball feels too daunting to overcome, but those with grit are able to push through those rough patches and come out better on the other side.
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