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Winners Do Thankless Work

Basketball is Psychology LIII

“Very few guys come into the NBA with the idea of doing all the thankless tasks necessary for a team to win. They are usually focused on scoring points and playing enough minutes to pad their stats.”

- Michael Jordan


Let’s say your team has the ball for 50% of the game on average.

Now let’s say coach plays 10 players in the rotation.

It’s unlikely, bet let’s imagine each player is in the game and has the ball for the same amount of time.

50% divided by 10 players = 5%

This means each player only has the ball in their hands for 5% of the game.

95% of the game, you don’t even have the ball in your hands.

What are you doing in that 95% of the game? Most players just can’t wait until they get the ball back. All they think about throughout the game is getting the ball, scoring points, and padding stats. But great players care more about the scoreboard than stats.

If you want to win, you have to be a great player and a hard worker especially when you don’t have the ball in your hands.

(Billy Donovan first explained this concept in a What Drives Winning interview)

Now, I want you to think of what ESPN highlights look like. They show incredible shots, brilliant passes, buzzer beaters, and dunks.

It’s very rare for ESPN to show highlights like saving the ball before it goes out of bounds, setting a great screen, or playing solid defense without fouling, but doing those things is what it takes to win.

Do the thankless work.

When you think of someone who is a winner, you probably think of someone who scores lots of points, but that’s not true. Some people average 30 points a game and never win. Being a winner is not as much about scoring as it is about being willing to do thankless, unseen work. Anson Dorrance said it best, "The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when nobody else is watching.”

A lot of the things that winning requires won’t show up on the stat sheet, won’t get you any awards, and won’t make it to ESPN’s Top 10 Plays. If you want to win, you have to be willing to do the unglamourous, thankless, hard work it takes to win.

Jobs you don’t get thanked for:

  • Showing up early to get extra shots up

  • Setting a great screen

  • Setting up your cuts

  • Helping your teammate up

  • Jumping to the ball

  • Taking a charge

  • Defending without fouling

  • Listening to your coach

  • Knowing the plays

  • Diving for loose balls

  • Holding a teammate accountable

  • Cheering for your teammates while you’re on the bench

  • Passing up your shot for a better one

  • Boxing out

  • Having great body language

  • Always going hard

  • Running your lane in transition

  • Deflections

  • Talking on defense

It’s rare for a player to do all of these things. Most players just want to score a lot of points. You won’t make ESPN’s Top 10 because of these things, but you’ll win. Be rare. Do the thankless work and be a winner.


Written by Julie Fournier

Founder & CEO of Basketball is Psychology


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