“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to WIN (at anything)

Is there a key ingredient or magic elixir to winning? Without reservation, I can tell you there is. And as a rabid fan of UConn basketball I am unequivocally qualified to write about such matters.
Regardless of whether you like basketball you’ve got to appreciate what the Connecticut women’s team is doing – the way they’re dominating their competition – and marvel at how difficult it is to win anything at any competitive level and to do so consistently.

There’s no denying the current women’s streak of 72 consecutive victories (and counting) is more than remarkable. However, most “experts” attribute the winning to having “great players”, namely Maya Moore and Tina Charles. Geno Auriemma himself was quick to say “we have Diana and they don’t” when asked to describe his past team’s winning ways. I submit that to simply attribute their success to “good players” or “recruiting” is to truly miss the mark on what makes a winning team (this or any other) or an individual, for that matter, successful.

Clearly, in order to win you need talented players (read skilled individuals) and Connecticut has unquestionably recruited very well. There’s also little doubt that winning takes knowing what to do (especially in tight spots), and that being well coached is indispensable. Further, we can talk about cohesiveness, experience, and leadership – all nice attributes. But even having highly skilled players, good coaching, and the aforementioned intangibles isn’t enough.

What has made this team unbeatable through 72 contests is not just that they’re better individually than the people they’re matched up against, or even that they’re more disciplined as a unit. It’s that they’re hungrier - night in and night out - than every team they play. Hunger, ladies and gentlemen, is the main ingredient of indomitable winners. And this, as evidenced by the 72 game win streak of this Connecticut team and the 88 game streak of UCLA teams from the 70’s, is something that can be preached (by coaches and mentors) or self taught through “auto-repetitive suggestion” as a manner to ingrain winning ways into the psyche. But, in the end, you either have it (hunger, “fire”, desire, the burning will to win) or you don’t.

In 1999, a Duke Men’s basketball team that seemed similarly indestructible – a team that no one, much less themselves, thought would lose but one that might have lacked the hunger to win – eventually came up short in the title game against an arguably lesser skilled team but one with immeasurable heart and hunger.

In 2006, a Connecticut team with no less than 4 current NBA players (clearly with their collective eyes on their upcoming riches) would lose a game considered by every pundit and casual observer as an “incredible upset” to a team of Seniors that had been playing basketball together all their adult lives in the local (MD/DC/VA) AAU circuit. Will to win, people.

John Calipari instilled a “refuse to lose” mentality in his teams at Umass, in fact adopting that axiom as his team's mantra throughout their signature 1996 season when they fell, as luck would have it, to Calipari’s current team and eventual champion, Kentucky. An expert motivator, Calipari realized then, as he does now, that fire and hunger can overcome talent when talent lacks hunger, focus, and killer instinct. Jim Calhoun, no lesser an expert coach and motivator than Calipari, learned this very thing undoubtedly much sooner than Calipari. But one only needs to check the box score from their latest game to really understand how, in spite of constant “teaching”, some will “get it” and others won’t.

And this, my good people, is what makes the UConn Women's achievement that much more remarkable. Stay hungry, my friends.

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