Even though I am 47 years old and have not played a “real” competitive basketball game in almost 25 years I still tend to look at the game through the lens of the player I used to be. When I was playing I loved to compete. I wanted to win and I was upset if I didn’t. In my family photo album there’s a great picture of me sitting against the bleachers after a summer tournament game almost in tears. I clearly recall being upset with my teammates after that game because in my mind they didn’t want to win as badly I did. I remember walking home in the snow after a game during my sophomore year in high school where I scored only two points and played poorly. I kept wishing I could go back and replay that game as the snow landed on my head. I often tell people the story of how my friend John and I used to ride our bikes to each other’s houses across town and play games of one on one to 100. We both wanted to win those games as badly as we wanted to win anything. I tend to remember the tough losses and poor performances more than I remember the great wins.
One of the most frustrating parts of coaching for me has always been helping players develop their competitive fire. Here are some ways that you can boost your own competitiveness or that of your team.
Understanding the purpose of why you are playing the game allows you to summon the passion and resilience to compete when things get tough. The desire to improve, maximize your skill set, or defeat the opponent across from you provides the fuel you need to compete relentlessly. The purpose of competitiveness is not just to be able to win more games, but also to be a better player.
Keep track of winners and losers. Chart your results from day to day. Make competition with yourself and others into an everyday occurrence, not something that is just reserved for game day. The more opportunities you have to practice being competitive, the more you will be able to improve your ability to compete.
The most competitive players I ever played or coached against have always brought their intensity right from the beginning of the game, practice, or drill. Make it a habit to start strong and finish stronger. Otherwise, by the time you get started the game may already be lost.
One on one teaches you to compete better than anything else. There is no one to blame if you lose. You take all the credit if you win. The game boils down to the essence of competition, me vs. you to see who is better. You’ll develop your skills and no matter what the results you’ll see your competitiveness increase. Win, and you’ll want that feeling more, lose and you’ll begin to hate losing.
Many times we think of competitiveness as only being physical. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best competitors look for a mental edge on their opponent. During a game or practice you should constantly be evaluating and studying situations. This allows you to make better decisions. As an example, just knowing which hand your opponent would prefer to dribble with is an advantage that you can exploit, but you must be aware of that fact first. Competitive players know their role, know their assignment, and know their team’s plays or system. You must make split-second decisions during each moment of the game. It’s often your decision-making skills and the adjustments you make within the game that determines whether you win or lose. Mental preparation before a game, in-game mindfulness, and self-analysis after a game will help you gain a competitive edge over an opponent who doesn’t think the game. Good players think all the time. Especially after a loss. That’s how you learn not to lose very often.
Some players are naturally more competitive than others, but no matter where you fall on the competitiveness spectrum you can constantly be aware of the need to remind yourself to compete. Using self-talk, these reminders will help keep you primed to be in your most competitive mode more often. Over time, this type of self-talk will help competing become a habit.
You can’t “get up” for the big game, and then go through the motions a week later during practice. One big effort is not enough for sustained success. True competitiveness results from a persistent and relentless approach to everything you do. Every pursuit must have meaning and be tied back in to your purpose so that your competitive drive eventually wears down and defeats your own limitations leading to more victories over your opponents as well.
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