All athletes train and practice. It is integral to high performance.
But what distinguishes great athletes from good ones is how they train and practice.
Kara Lawson – Head Coach of Duke’s Women’s Basketball Team and former Olympic and WNBA champion – believes that, no matter the skill level or type of challenge, athletes will be successful if they work hard and compete.
“Hard work is: I give you a task, I give you constraints on said task…and I force you to do it,” Coach Lawson explains.
We all know what that looks like. You go into a gym or out on a field and bust it. By the end, you are breathing hard with sweat pouring down your back and your muscles all jelly.
Hard work comes from your coach who tells you to hustle, who scolds you for not hustling enough, and who expects you to hustle more next time.
It can also come from you. Going for that run in the rain. Getting an extra hundred shots in after practice. Heading to bed early and eating right. Hard work is the strength of your will and self-discipline.
Working hard is a learned behaviour – something you gain from experience – that you can track over a period of time.
Always measure yourself to know you are working your hardest in each training session and practice.
As you improve, you increase your goals. Today, you shot 250 jump shots. The next time 275. You made 55% of those shots. Next time it is 60%. You do it again. And again. And then when it comes easy, you find the next challenge.
But working hard is not the whole story.
Coach Lawson continues, “Billions of people work hard…but not everybody is wired to compete.”
Competition is different; it is a zero-sum game. There is a loser and there is a winner. And to compete is to refuse to be the loser or to, at least, exhaust yourself trying.
Coach Lawson suggests that competition is intrinsic – it comes from within. Whether it is weight lifting, team sprints, or scrimmages you are trying to be the best of you and your peers.
Hard work is relative to what you can and cannot do individually. Competition is to strive to be superior among others – think Mamba Mentality.
Liken your skills to a sword. To ready a sword for battle, you hammer out its flaws, expose it to extreme heat, and grind it until smooth. A sword’s strength comes from its perseverance over other formidable forces. The greater the force the stronger the sword.
Competing in practice is how you correct your weaknesses and hone your skills in preparation for battle.
Even at the NBA level, players distinguish hard work from competition.
On NBA Countdown, Jalen Rose lamented that he and Vince Carter could have had better careers if they had competed harder. Paul Pierce, on the other hand, said Michael Jordan and Kevin Garnett’s Hall-of-Fame-success blossomed from their competitive edge. They treated every single practice like it was a game against their greatest opponents.
Hard work and competition do go hand-in-hand. Without hard work, you will struggle to compete. Without competition, your hard work will lack results.
That said, you will not always be perfect. You will fail. In fact, failing is the bridge to getting better.
Coach Lawson tells her players that there will even be practices where you won’t show up to work hard or compete.
And that is okay, she says, just “make sure it doesn’t happen two days in a row.”