Please join me for a fun series. My mission, and I’ve chosen to accept it, is to write a post based on each letter of the alphabet. The English major inside of me is very excited about this project…and my inner nerd is even more fired up! Keep checking back as I tackle the intangibles of sport…from A to Z.
John Wooden defined competitive greatness as being at your best when your best is required. Competitive greatness isn’t required during warmups, but it will be during the scrimmage portion of practice which may have a penalty attached to it. Competitive greatness isn’t required in your first game of the season, but it will be during a conference match that will determine whether or not you make the post-season. Competitive greatness isn’t required when the score is 0-0 against your arch rival, but it will be when the score is 23-23.
So what is it exactly?
3 steps to being great when greatness is required
Take patience to cultivate. Teaching players how to manage their emotions, thoughts, and body when the outcome of the game rests on how they perform is the toughest skill to teach in sport. Embracing competition and being competitively great are two very different things. I’m sure we’ve all had the player who saw themselves as an athlete, carried themselves as an athlete…but unfortunately wasn’t that skilled of an athlete. Performance is the key component here. It’s our job as the coach to give our athletes the tools they need to calm their emotions, to perform physically, and most importantly, to have positive self-talk in crunch time.
Embrace challenges. My teams enjoy competing at the end of practices, they really look forward to it. I’ve noticed competitively great players enjoy the mental aspect of the game: exploiting an opponent’s weakness, staying calm in stressful situations, and relaying vital information to teammates which will aid victory. Even their physical approach to the game is amped up. They’re over-the-top fired up when their team wins a point. They grab their teammate to make sure they have eye contact…if only to tell them how awesome the previous point was. Competitively great players find “the zone” and bring others along with them.
Perform under pressure. A few years ago, my team was losing a match…down two games, one more loss and we’d lose the match. They fought the opponent off in the third game, down 1-2. Now they were starting to believe. They kept fighting and won game four, tied it 2-2! Until this point, we were just battling and that was the team’s whole focus. With the tide turning in our favor, this was prime competitive greatness territory. In the time between games, I told them this was their time to be competitively great. I even defined it for them: do what you always do…nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary, don’t go and try to do something you’ve never done before. Being competitively great means doing what we’re counting on you to do when we’re counting on you to do it. We ended up winning that match 3-2.
Some players never experience being competitively great, but continue to shrink under pressure. Let’s challenge our players to get out of their comfort zone and take a chance at greatness. We all want our athletes to experience the joy that John Wooden says “comes from being involved with something that challenges your body, mind, and spirit.”