What Really Wins in the Real World

I’m speed walking to my car. This is something I did so few times in college, speed walking, but today is different. The 3-point king is on campus. That’s right, Ray Allen was going to scrimmage with us. I was so excited to see that silky smooth jump-shot and what I deemed as the world’s biggest calf muscles that I couldn’t even bother to connect my iPod to the car stereo system. Not even Kenny Chesney was needed for this early morning basketball game

I slammed my door shut and hurried towards the arena door. A quick peer into the basketball arena to see if he was down there. Nothing. He hadn’t arrived yet. Relieved, I strolled down the steps down to the court level and made the U-Turn back to our locker room. I opened the door and started to make the walk down the hallway to our lockers.

When I got to the end of the hall, I realized I was wrong. He had arrived. Sitting in the locker room with golden headphones, yes, golden headphones, he looked up and saw me walking in.

He reached out his hand and said, “What’s up man, I’m Ray.”

My response, “Oh really? Ray you said? I’ll try to remember that.”

Realizing that, I was being a sarcastic kid, he laughed and I introduced myself, “I’m Sean.”

It was a pretty cool start to a memorable day. We played a handful of games and I even scored a jumper on the man who has made more three-point jumpers than anyone else in NBA history (disclaimer, I’m pretty sure he didn’t even bother trying to defend the move. Probably because it was so freaking legit).

After the games had finished, we all wanted to pick his brain. Being a shooter myself, I wanted to know how hard he worked on his game and his jump shot in the offseason. So I asked him, “How many shots do you shoot a day?”

His response was something I will never forget, “Zero.”

“ZERO!?!? What the hell do you mean zero?!?!?” I replied

“Well, I’ve been shooting a basketball for about 30 years. I know how to shoot a basketball. Nothing I do in July is going to change the way I shoot during the season. I stay in shape and I pick up a ball a week or so before training camp just to regain my touch. I just know that I’m a great shooter. I know I don’t need to do all that.”

That was a huge moment for me. This is what wins in the real world.

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See as kids, adults paint you this picture. This very, very wrong picture. They say, you can be anything you want to be as long as you work super hard.

I remember sitting at basketball camps as a kid and listening to coaches regale us of stories of how if you wanted to “make it” you couldn’t go to the beach with your friends. You weren’t allowed to go to parties or the movies.

“How bad do you want it?” They would say.

And this is what I did.

I said, “if this is what it takes to get to the NBA, then this is what I’m going to do.”

No beach days, ZERO trips to the movies with friends, ZERO FUN SIR. I spent my time watching NBA highlight tapes and working on my jumper in the backyard. Hell, I didn’t even have a sip of alcohol until I was 26.

And if I had to do it all over again, I WOULD CHANGE EVERYTHING.

I would work so much less, I would go see tons of movies and I would take MANY sips of alcohol.

I spent so much time “caring” about my game, that my performance was the most important thing in the world to me. I put all this pressure on myself because I wanted it so bad that every play was like life or death. In retrospect, I wish I had cared way less and “kinda, sorta” wanted it.

Why? Because in sports, hard work doesn’t always win. Actually, it usually doesn’t.

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Sure there are plenty of examples of hard working guys making it to the top but in my years as a Strength & Conditioning Coach for some of the world’s greatest athletes, I’ve realized that hard work isn’t king at the highest levels.

In six years, it never fails, the guys who are the strength coach’s best friend are the guys that get cut or live life on the bubble. But the guys who never want to lift, these are the studs.

I’ve asked these “lazy” players how much work they’ve done in the past and its, more often than not, very minimal.

So why are we teaching our kids to work so hard in sports?

I do think that hard work can overcome a lack of talent and push you to levels that you wouldn’t have gotten to on talent alone but at the top it’s something else. However, there is a very definitive ceiling to this approach.

Introducing what I will call “Mental Talent.” How can anyone stand on a free throw line in front of 20,000 screaming fans and sink two shots like it’s nothing? How can pitchers stand on the mound in front of 50,000 people and hit a baseball glove at 95mph? Mental talent is how.

Athletes at this level aren’t aroused by “the moment” like the rest of us are. They just do not care as much as the rest of us would and this isn’t something that you can turn on or off.

All that crap about, “you have to really want it” or “you have to be focused” or “you have to flip the switch” is all a bunch of garbage.

What you come to realize is, the more you want to make that free throw, the greater the chance that you will miss it.

If you focus so much on getting a hit, you can guarantee that you won’t get that hit.

There is no switch. This is how these people are. On and off the field.


We ask these questions all the time. We see countless professional athletes go broke after the checks stop rolling in and we scoff at their lack of responsibility after years of praising them for their “killer instinct” on the court.

They do not have the option of only caring sometimes. This is who they are. Most “responsible” people are petrified of giving a presentation to a small group of people nonetheless a stadium full of screaming fans.

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The mental well-being of an athlete is by far the most precious commodity they have. A simple “YOU SUCK,” after missing a layup in third grade can manifest itself into a complete lack of confidence at shooting from anywhere for the REST OF THEIR LIFE!!!

This is not an exaggeration. This is real. It is so important for coaches, especially coaches of young players, to hold that confidence as the most important thing they can coach. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of careers that have been blown because of things just like this.

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So when you are a trainer and you have a guy/gal that doesn’t want to workout ever, consider this article. Consider that they really don’t care and that’s what enables them to be a savage when the lights come on.

Work with them. Don’t try to fight this INCREDIBLE SKILL. You should still try to find ways to get their work done but when they are huffing and puffing and hating every last rep, realize that this is what makes that “killer instinct.” This is real talent.

Be objective. Realize that your cute little warm-up program isn’t the difference-maker in a World Series team.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule. There will always be the Kobe Bryant’s of the world that have that “Mamba Mentality” and are also the hardest working people on the planet. Realize that hard work goes a lot further outside of the sports setting.

Above all else, make sure that you aren’t lying to yourself about what really wins in the real world.

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