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Choosing Discipline

Basketball is Psychology XXXV

“Discipline yourself so no one else has to.” - Pat Summitt


Psychologists refer to discipline as your inner structure. You need a strong internal structure to be successful on and off the court.

Self discipline is what separates the good players from great players.

Discipline is what separates the good teams from the great teams.

Self-discipline is your ability to control your feelings to overcome a weakness and the ability to pursue what is right despite temptations.

Discipline is the practice of training people to obey a code of behavior.

Every day you are faced with a series of choices: you can either choose to be disciplined or choose the easy way. If you want to win, discipline is always the right answer.

To disciplined players, there are no “little” things, everything is important. This means year-round there is a commitment, even if it's the offseason and there is no visible payoff.

As a freshman at Tennessee, Abby Conklin had a bad habit of getting the ball knocked out of her hands. During halftime of a game, Coach Pat Summitt stormed past her team and started rummaging around through the equipment room. She came out with a basketball and gave it to Abby. She was going to make sure she was more disciplined at hanging on to the basketball.

She said to Abby, “You’re going to take that ball and you’re going to hold it. You’re going to hold it the rest of halftime. When we go back out on the court, you’re going to take that ball out there and sit on the bench and hold it there too. And then you’re going to take it home with you tonight and hold it.”

Abby carried the ball everywhere- to class and even on roadtrips. Hanging on to the ball isn’t an extraordinary talent, it’s a choice of discipline. Pat summitt’s message was clear: Discipline yourself so no one else has to. Choose discipline.

Disciplined Players and Teams

Disciplined players stay in great shape, lift weights, eat healthy, go hard in practice, and put in extra work-- even when they don’t feel like doing it. Everyone has those days where they would rather stay in bed than go to the gym, but disciplined players remember why they committed to going to the gym in the first place so they go, regardless of how they feel.

Disciplined teams have no tolerance for anything that gets in the way of winning. If someone isn’t living up to team standards, they get held accountable. The word discipline comes from the word nurture, meaning to care for and encourage the growth or development of. You can discipline someone without demeaning them, in fact, it’s one of the nicest things you can do for a teammate. When you hold someone accountable, it means I care enough about you to not let you settle for mediocrity.

Great teams and great players are disciplined in every way. They’re disciplined in the way they carry themselves, dress, run their offense, play defense, and in the way they communicate.

Discipline is different from punishment. Punishment gives you temporary behavioral control, but discipline is lasting. Discipline brings your culture of high standards to life through each individual. Discipline says, “We don’t do that here.” A disciplined team, is a caring team with high standards.

Pat Summitt describes discipline as,

“The internal structure that supports your organization. Used properly, it can help you maintain order without ever having to actually do the unpleasant work of punishing people. It is the basis of leadership. But most important, discipline fosters achievement and self-confidence.

Discipline is the internal mechanism that self-motivates you. It gets you out of bed in the morning. It gets you to work on time, and it tells you when you need to work late. It drives you. It is essential to success, whether individually or in a group.

Nine-tenths of discipline is having the patience to do things right. There is no better example of this than shot selection. You don’t just jack up the ball. You work in an organized way to create the best chance to score.

Not letting an unforeseen bad break, an official’s call, or some obnoxious crowd, take you out of your game plan, is another form of discipline. It takes discipline to understand it is a forty minute game, and that you must do the little things that will allow you to win all game long, not just in the closing seconds. Discipline is what helps you finish a job when you’re ready to go home.

Punishment will only work as a form of temporary behavioral control”

You can be the most talented player, but without discipline, you’ll never reach your full potential.

You can have all the right pieces on a team, but without discipline, you will always underachieve.

Lack of discipline leads to regret.

Everyone wants to be known as a disciplined person on a disciplined team. If we don’t choose discipline, we’ll finish our seasons and eventually our careers with an ache of regret, knowing we didn’t reach our full potential.


You can't get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good. - Jerry West


The benefits of discipline

If each player disciplines themselves, less time has to be spent by coaches punishing them. Which allows more time for basketball.

For example, if one player is late, and coach makes the entire team run, that time is being taken from a productive practice plan. Failing to discipline yourself is selfish.

This is a lot more costly in games. If one player fails to box out, the other team could get a put-back that costs you the entire game.

A disciplined team is an unselfish, productive, focused, and winning team.

So how can we become more disciplined and strengthen our willpower?

Discipline is a choice. It doesn’t matter how lazy you think you are or how much talent you do or do not have, anyone can choose to be disciplined.

Discipline is like a muscle; if you want to strengthen it, it has to be stretched, you have to get uncomfortable and rep it out. There will be times when you don’t want to workout and it would be much easier to go back to sleep; that’s the perfect opportunity to strengthen your willpower. Discipline gets you through those days. The more you practice this, the more disciplined you will become.

Action Steps:

1. Grow your internal structure.

Self-disciplined people are not completely rigid control freaks. Self disciplined people internalize their experiences so discipline has become second nature. Self-discipline, and your level of commitment and engagement is entirely up to you. It can be hard at first, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Choosing discipline might be something as small as going to bed early instead of watching netflix so you can be more rested for practice. You will face thousands of these small, seemingly insignificant decisions every day; choose discipline. Choose discipline over and over again, whether you feel like it or not.

2. Practice being fully engaged in your commitments.

Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker has a saying, “Don’t mistake routine for commitment.” Disciplined players don’t just show up, they’re totally in it- mentally and physically. This is the ultimate sign of discipline. Whether it’s a lift, a conditioning workout, or a 5AM practice, disciplined players never go through the motions. They’re focused on their commitment (why they’re doing it) so they have the discipline to go all-in, even if they don’t feel like it in the moment, they know it will be rewarded in the long-run.


Written by Julie Fournier


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