Friday, March 18, 2011

When It Comes to Winning, What Matters Most Is Heart

As I write this post, my favorite college basketball team, the Duke Blue Devils, are warming up for their first game in the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament. You may remember that Duke had an improbable run through the tournament last year and won it all. I'm still on a high about that. They weren't the best team in the tournament, but they played with so much heart in every game that they outlasted all six of their opponents.

Nolan Smith & Coach K
This year, the Duke team has much more talent. At least five players on the team will eventually have NBA careers. One is Kyrie Irving, the top freshman in America and is ranked third pick in the NBA mock drafts. One is senior Kyle Singler, who does it all for 40 hard minutes every game, last year's NCAA tournament MVP. Another is senior Nolan Smith, first-string All-American, ACC Player of the Year and winner of several national player of the year honors. And deadly 3-point shooter Seth Curry, younger brother of Stephen Curry, star NBA point guard. Duke also has three talented "bigs" at 6' 10" and taller. One of these, Ryan Kelly, has a super-high work ethic and basketball IQ and a sweet 3-point shot. Then there's Andre Dawkins, a lights-out 3-point shooter. And there's more talent on the bench. So Duke is balanced, big, talented, athletic, experienced and deep. And they know how to play lock-down team defense. They have what it takes to beat every team they will face and win it all.

But will they?

As I've said before, it all depends on whether they come to each game wanting it more than their opponent. It turns out that the crucial factor in winning is none of the things I've already mentioned. It's between the ears. Duke will have to play more ferociously than the other team to win. It will have to bring heart.

That's the way it is in the NCAA tournament. It's a simple fact, and yet it amazes me that some of the big teams don't get it. They show up thinking they can just run their plays and win. On the first day of the tournament, favored teams Louisville and Vanderbilt lost to Morehead State and Richmond, respectively. And Kentucky beat Princeton by only 2 at the last second. Amazing.

I'm hoping that Duke "gets it" this year, too. In years past, I've seen super-talented Duke teams lose to much lower-ranked teams. They just didn't believe they could lose to an inferior team. But the other team played their hearts out, and that's why Duke lost and went home to watch the rest of the tournament on TV.

I'll be rooting for Duke to play with maximum intensity against lowly Hampton University, even though no 16th seeded team has ever beaten a No. 1 seeded team in the history of the tournament. Today my team plays during work hours. So yes, I'll be one of those millions of employees who is robbing his organization of productivity. Sorry about that. But a Duke fan's gotta do what a Duke fan's gotta do.

On the bright side, I may be so impressed with Duke's desire and intensity that it will inspire me to attack my own projects with the same high levels of energy - which would more than make up for the lost hours.

Can I write with the same drive and purpose that winning teams deliver for 40 minutes? Yes, I can! This is how people achieve something wonderful.

But will I? Will you?

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .


Gibson Goff said...

That's great insight, Denny. Two things, quotes come quickly to mind - and I can't remember whom to credit them to, but here they are:

*Any given team, on any given day [can win].

*You'll be surprised what you can accomplish, if you just allow yourself to!

Keep up the great work, Denny. I appreciate the motivation.

Steve DeVane said...

Hi Denny,

This post reminds me of my team (and one of Duke's rivals), the N.C. State Wolfpack and their run through the NCAA tournament in 1983. In the words of that team's coach, the late Jim Valvano, "Never, ever give up!"