Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Secret to Great Achievement - You Really Gotta Wanna

The 2011 NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament turned out to be one of the most unusual. Not a single No. 1 seed made it to the Final Four!

For Virginia Commonwealth to advance, they had to beat Kansas, arguably the most talented team in the nation. And yes, my favorite No. 1 seed, Duke, was blown out by Arizona in the Sweet 16. And for the second year in a row, lowly Butler defeated superior teams to make it to the Final Four.

How does this happen? How can superior teams lose to teams of lesser talent when so much is at stake?

The answer is simple. They didn't WANT it as much as the underdog. They played with less hunger and ferocity. In the NCAA tournament, desire nearly always trumps talent. Kansas knew they were a much more talented team than VCU and were so sure of victory that they didn't play as hard as they needed to. That's why so many fan brackets turn out to be wrong. Who can predict when a great team will play with less intensity than the underdog?

It's a lesson that's repeatedly learned and forgotten.

I have this memory of players of the losing team sitting at a table answering questions at a press conference. One of them says glumly into a microphone, "They just wanted it more than we did. They outhustled us."

When I was a "plebe" (freshman) at West Point, underclassmen were required to eat at rigid attention unless the "table commandant," usually a "firstie" (senior) gave the plebes permission to "fall out" (eat in a relaxed, normal manner).

During my first summer there, I endured a phase of basic training called "Beast Barracks." One day while eating lunch, a chocolate cake was brought to the table. In accordance with tradition, the table commandant ordered a plebe to cut the cake. The guy on the spot this time was my classmate, Al, who sat across from me. "Mister, you have ten seconds to cut ten equal pieces. Go!"

Usually, the result was a mess. If the plebe actually cut ten pieces, instead of say, eight, they were of varying sizes. This allowed the upperclassmen to heap criticism on the plebe while helping themselves to the larger pieces.

But that's not what happened that day. Al completed the task in five seconds, not ten. And all ten pieces were of equal size. It was a practically miraculous accomplishment. The table commandant was so impressed he said, "Good job! All you plebes fall out and enjoy your cake."

Al was a stocky, powerfully built guy, and he eventually played Army football on special teams. I admired him, and once I asked him what he thought was the key to success as a cadet. He didn't hesitate. "My high school football coach told me the secret to success is desire. You gotta wanna. If you really want it bad enough, you can do almost anything."

And by the way, his cake-cutting skills foreshadowed his future. He eventually became a highly successful plastic surgeon. I think he must have wanted that pretty bad, too.

So whether we're talking about sports, or life, or work, that's the secret. If you "bring it," you can win. Not just talent - but desire. Not just in spurts - but for the entire game.

In the second half, Arizona out-rebounded Duke even though they were a much smaller team. They drove to the basket with a kind of ferocity that Duke wasn't familiar with. Arizona brought the SHOCK, and Duke responded with AWE. This is the real reason Duke was blown out.

It's why in 1983 North Carolina State won the national championship, even though they had a poor won-loss record and wouldn't have been invited to the tournament if they hadn't played themselves in by winning their conference tournament.

It's why in 2010 a less-talented Duke team surprised everyone by winning it all. They played ferociously for 40 minutes in all six games. I know because I watched them all. It was great.

And it's why in 2011, in spite of the predictions of the experts, VCU and Butler were in the Final Four - not the top four teams in the nation.

By the way, if anyone reading this has any kind of connection with Mike Krzyzewski, please give him a link to this article. I'm a HUGE fan, and I suffer the pain of defeat almost as much as his players do. The best coach in the nation must know a way to inspire hunger and ferocity in his players when it matters.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength. (Images used with permission)


Kathleen Scott said...

Good post--truth; and the stories brought it home.

About the Duke loss, this too shall pass. Look ahead to next year's class and a fresh go.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I really do agree with that--if you really want something badly, you can get it.

Watching KY and OSU play basketball the other night, I could see that KY had a lot more fire.

Unknown said...

I agree 100%. When u really really want to do something, it gets done. Infact, there's no way it wont, provided you are sure u want it and ur determined. Half hearted attempt can rarely get u the desired results. A good article