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7 Tips for Aspiring Athletes from Legendary Basketball Coaches

By Harry Parsons on March 13, 2018 Coaches Print

When you’re a coach, you have a uniquely important job to do. It’s not just about making sure your team wins. It’s also about understanding people and individuals well enough to properly motivate and encourage them to persevere, even in the face of adversity.

As courtside excitement continues to build for March Madness, consider the following motivation lessons from some of the world’s most noteworthy basketball coaches the next time you need a push to get in the game.

1. Stay humble throughout every stage of your journey.

Phil Jackson famously coached several world-famous basketball teams from 1989-2011. They include the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls, and the Los Angeles Lakers. He also credits his father with teaching him one of the most important life lessons he ever learned.

Jackson’s father used to keep a sign on his desk that read: “The bigger your head is, the easier your shoes are to fill.” He also taught young Phil the importance of staying humble and not letting yourself fall too much in love with your own greatness, no matter how great you may eventually become.

2. It’s not who you are. It’s how you play the game.

At the collegiate level, Jim Calhoun was the coach of Connecticut’s impressive basketball teams from 1986-2012. Over the course of that time, he scored an impressive 629 wins. He also loves basketball for being a fantastic equalizer.

“Basketball doesn’t care what color your skin is. It doesn’t care what language you speak or what religion you practice,” Calhoun said. “It doesn’t care if you’re big or small, fast or slow. It just asks you to play, to compete, to lose with dignity, and to win with humility.”

3. Never underestimate the power of having people in your life that believe in you.

Since 1972, Bob Hurley was the basketball coach of the legendary St. Anthony (New Jersey) High School in Jersey City until it closed in spring 2017. He also understands the importance of having the right guidance in your life, especially when you’re still very young. The right encouragement at the right time can make all the difference when it comes to living up to one’s true potential.

“I think everyone can be better than they think they can be,” Hurley is quoted as saying. “I don’t let them dictate that. I dictate that.”

The next time you think you’ve hit your limit, ask yourself an important question: “Would your mentor agree with you … or would he push you harder because he sees more in you than you see in yourself?”

4. Becoming successful is all about hard work and applying yourself.

Bob Knight coached several noteworthy college basketball teams from 1965-2008. They include Indiana, Texas Tech, and Army. Knight was a huge believer in the power of hard work and tough love when it comes to achieving your goals, an attitude that was reflected in his impressive 902-win record.

“People want national championship banners. People want to talk about Indiana being competitive,” Knight said. “How do we get there? We don’t get there with milk and cookies.”

Success in competition only comes when you push yourself beyond what you think your limits are. Do so consistently, and you won’t be able to help but see results.

5. Talent is only part of the equation when it comes to achieving your goals.

John Wooden coached in college basketball from 1946-1975 for UCLA and Indiana State. Over the course of his career, his teams made 12 appearances in the Final Four and scored a total of 10 NCAA titles. Some people make the mistake of thinking success in competition is all about talent. Wooden knew otherwise and passed that knowledge along to those he coached.

“Ability may get you to the top,” he said, “but it takes character to keep you there – mental, moral, and physical.”

In other words, success is a two-part equation. Only the first part is about how good you are at what you do. The rest of 100 percent is about unbeatable integrity.

6. Be competitive and give it your all, but keep things in perspective.

Dean Smith coached the University of North Carolina’s legendary basketball team from 1961-1997. He scored 879 wins, two NCAA titles and 11 appearances in the Final Four over the course of his career. He also stressed the importance of taking games just seriously enough, but not going overboard.

“If you’re going to make every game a matter of life or death, you’re going to have a lot of problems,” Smith said. “For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”

In other words, yes, every game matters and you should always give everything you have to be successful. However, it’s important to keep things in perspective as well. Don’t sweat every loss. Pick yourself up and focus on the next challenge.

7. Success is never guaranteed.

Hubie Brown is famous for coaching a number of noteworthy basketball teams from 1976-2005. They include the New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks. Not only was Brown named NBA Coach of the Year twice, but he also made the NBA Hall of Fame as a contributor. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about what it takes to reach and maintain success.

“No matter how good you are, at the top of your game, always remember that you’re a half a step away from the street,” Brown said.

Success isn’t a “set it and forget it” type of deal. Getting there is half the battle. Maintaining that success is the other half. Never assume that it’s indefinite. Ongoing success requires vigilance and continuous hard work.

Of course, these are just a few of the many fantastic lessons we can learn from the nation’s best basketball coaches. You can learn even more when you research the history and backstories of some of our nation’s best and brightest regional basketball teams. Get in the game today.