Many times we realized and gave emphasis that basketball is a miniature game
of life. If we accept the term "you win or you learn”, then after many games (big and
small), we will come out as a winner or more wise.
There have been many times that made me wonder if life gives us lessons for
basketball or it's the opposite. Maybe I see it like that because basketball is my life. I
don't mean that there is nothing else in life than basketball. I agree that there must be
a balance everywhere, but it's true that the biggest part of my daily schedule is
dedicated to basketball.
The inspiration of this article came from one speech given by Richard John, a
successful businessman, who explained how he reached success and then how he lost
everything. At that time, he realized what mistakes he made and he was able to
succeed and reach the top again. I believe that there are so many examples in
basketball worth discussing.
According to Richard John, the main reasons for success lie in the following "8
secrets of success"
1. PASSION for what you do. Don’t do it for money but because you love what you
do. If you do it for love, then money comes anyway.
2. HARD WORK. It's all hard work, nothing comes easily. It's also connected with
loving what you do cause it's the only way to work hard and have fun.
3. BE GOOD. To be successful with something, put your nose down and get damn
good at it. There is no magic, it's practice practice practice.
4. FOCUS. Be focused on what you do.
5. PUSH. Push yourself physically and mentally. You got to push through shyness and
6. SERVE. You've got to serve others with something of value (If he knew that we are
talking about basketball maybe he could say, you have to think about how to serve
7. IDEAS: Listen, observe, be curious, ask questions, problem solve.
8. PERSIST. You've got to persist through failure, you've got to persist through crap
So I am wondering, was his speech was for businessmen or for players-coaches of
basketball? Until now, I had the opportunity to coach a lot of players who made big or
small careers in the NBA/WNBA. I used to ask the same question to everyone. What
was that thing that brought you to that level? What made you become such a good
player? Your talent? Your luck? Your brain? Except for one case, which we will talk
later, almost all of the players had the same answer: "It was the hard work coach. You
cannot imagine how much time and hard work I’ve dedicated to my body. When I was
in college, almost every day I had pain somewhere. I was always feeling tired. But I
was enjoying. And anytime I had the chance to play with my friends, I was going with
them to the playground, despite the fatigue. We talk about "a lot of basketball". I think
that's the reason that I made it to the NBA".
I don't want to talk with names but I am sure that all of us know cases of players that
many believed that they will become very good but they never became what
everybody believed they will be. Maybe for some young players, the achievement of
some small goals made them believe that they already conquered the Mt. Everest, that
they are already at the top and the rest of the way is easy. That group of the players
probably live in their own micro-world, probably surrounded by people who prefer to
compliment them about everything.
At that point of my conversation with my players, I make them wonder if they follow
the same recipe that brought them at the top, because its logical that if they don't then
it will start the fall.
I think that statistically, a large amount of players all over the world, when they reach
at the top, they stop working hard. According to my experience, this is happening
especially with the players from USA, but of course not only with them.
It's like they turn off a button inside them which says "ENOUGH WITH HARD
WORKING. NOW I MUST ENJOY THE TOP".
According to Richard John, all people believe that the road to success is a one straight
way. People that work on the 8 secrets of success reach their goals. But this is where
some of them start to rest.They think that they are already successful and they don't
need to follow the steps that brought them there anymore, and slowly those 8
elements of success collapse.
Money becomes the main reason that they play basketball and not their love for the
game. You can feel it very easy on every conversation. Automatically they feel a huge
gap inside their life which they think that they can fill it with an expensive car and
glamorous life. Somehow the fall already begun without anyone realizing it. Same
thing happened to Richard John, so he went to a psychologist and he explained to him
that he was feeling miserable, that he became rich with a lot of fortune but finally
money never brought the happiness. But money can buy pills against depression. So
he was walking in a path on which he didn't care for his job but for himself.
Eventually, the system threw him out of the market. That was the time that he realized
that he must start again from the very beginning, with all those components that
brought him to the top before. But this time, things were not so easy, it was much
harder than the previous time. It took him 7 years for his business to reach the top
again. Of course in the world of basketball, I doubt if a player or even a coach has this
much time or chances. You never know though, we said that PERSISTENCE is one of
the elements of success, but for sure in that case, time is not an ally.
I think that if we can keep one thing from that story, it is that the road to success is not
one straight line with the 8 elements on it. Reality shows us that the road to success is
a full cycle and the person who wants to reach success and to stay on top must always
walk on that cycle going from one element to the other and coming back to the
beginning without any stop.
Somewhere here I could finish my thoughts, but there was still something inside me
that didn't let me fill the whole puzzle. I keep making myself some questions: So
everything is so simple? so easy? The only thing you need to do is to work on those 8
secrets of success and success will come? and keep it like that for all your career?
And what about some other factors that take place in our life, like luck, environment,
chances? Some people have more chances , or they grow up in a family or in an
environment that gives them more opportunities. If you will be born with doctors as
parents, and you decide that you also want to be a doctor, then it's not going to be so
difficult in comparison with other kids who want to be doctors. The same if you are a
lawyer’s kid and you also want to be a lawyer. Even if you are the kid of some famous
politician, for sure you will succeed in any job you want to follow...(except of the job
of professional athlete. I saw many times kids from poor families to become super
doctors, but I never saw the kid of a famous politician to become a super athlete or a
Many times it can happen that most of the answers, most of the lessons, most of the
basketball moves come from our own players. I don't hide that from them that I
copied moves that I teach now, even some wise quotes, even some tactics which
unconsciously they made. So it was a player again who gave me the answers to the
above questions. I mentioned before about a special case in which a player who
answered me totally different on the question about reaching the highest level. She
answered to me: "Coach, every time that I am going inside the court to play, I don't
see anything else in front of me besides my son. I was poor and I got pregnant very
young. Until that time, I was playing only for fun, anyway I knew that I wasn't a
talented player and probably I will not be able to play on a big level. But all of a
sudden basketball became the only way to provide the milk to my baby. When I am
going inside the court, when I see my opponents, the only thing that I think is that
they will try to stop me from bringing milk to my son. And as you can understand,
there is no one and nothing in the world that can stop me. I think this is what brought
me to this level".
So from that answer, we all understand that a very big issue that we didn't mention is
"the heart of the athlete". Although that in the case of the athlete-mother, the
"motivation" looks like the biggest reason for her success, I strongly believe that
behind the motivation we will find the passion of what she is doing, as say in sports,
the player with a heart.
A famous psychologist, Mrs Angela Lee Duckworth, who made similar references
with Mr Richard John about success, gave her point of view a little bit more simple.
After many researches that took place in different schools and jobs with totally
different directions, she tried to find what is that element that will make people
succeed, and use it as an indication of a forecast for future successful people. So after
many years of success she concluded that it is the GRIT! As she says, "Grit is passion
and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking
with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for
years and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a
marathon, not a sprint". So according to her, these are the people that will succeed in
These are great wise words that can find their place in basketball and with players and
coaches. (Many years later I found out that her book is the favorite book of Brad Stevens, the famous coach of Boston Celtics, which was a big inspiration for him).
That's why I wondered at the beginning of the article, is life a miniature game of
basketball or the opposite? Of course not (or maybe yes), but the only sure thing is
that the examples and lessons of life become examples and lessons in the general life