Heads Up!

Using Your Head to Get Ahead in Sports
… and the Classroom and Everywhere Else!
By Greg Mazurkiewicz

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Dedicated to: Edward and Rita, who got me started. Stanley and Aniela, who told me to “Be happy.” Margaret, who keeps me going. Becky and Stephen, who keep me on track.

Copyright © 2009 Greg Mazurkiewicz

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Table of Contents
Introduction ……………………………………………..………………….1 Chapter 1: Believe In Yourself …………………………………………...…4 Chapter 2: You Gotta Want It ……………….……………………..……….8 Chapter 3: Enthusiasm ……………………….……………………………11 Chapter 4: Go For It ………………………….………..………………….13 Chapter 5: There’s No Replacing Hard Work …..……..………………….16 Chapter 6: Continuous Improvement …………….………………………..18 Chapter 7: Total Focus ……………………………………….……………21 Chapter 8: Preparation …………………………….………………………24 Chapter 9: Discipline ……………………………….…………….………..26 Chapter 10: Listening ……………………………………….…..…………28 Chapter 11: Perseverance ………………………………………………….30 Chapter 12: Don’t Worry ………………………………………………….33 Chapter 13: Relax ………………………………………………………….36 Chapter 14: Consistency …………………………………………………..38 Chapter 15: Have A Dream ………………………………………………..40 Chapter 16: Visualize It ……………………………………………………42 Chapter 17: Think Like A Champion ……………………………………...44 Chapter 18: Turn Mistakes Into Experience ………………………….……46 Chapter 19: No Excuses …………………………………………………...48 Chapter 20: Finally, Success ………………………………………………51 Chapter 21: Be Happy …………………………………………………….54 Chapter 22: Don’t Shortchange Your Education ……………………….....56 Epilogue …………………………………………………………………...58

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt

My interest is in the future, because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there.” — Charles Kettering

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Introduction
“People don’t win because they’re physically stronger. It’s because they’re stronger between the ears.” — Alexandra Shaffer

Winning is more than being stronger or quicker. This book highlights the non-physical strengths exhibited by winners — the mental attitudes or strength between the ears — that help them become champions. It is aimed at middle school and high school athletes to illustrate the mental approach of champions. But becoming a champion is not merely about winning. Winning is important and everybody wants to be a winner. But a champion is much more than that. A champion is someone who always strives to be the best that he or she can be. A champion is a person who always gives 100 percent. They work hard, give maximum effort, and never give up, even when things look bleak. Mike Krzyzewski, men’s basketball coach at Duke University, has won three national championships. Yet even he, a man who has been a consistent winner, believes that winning isn’t everything. In a guest column in the New York Times, he wrote, “We must remember that when mere winning is our only goal, we are doomed to disappointment and failure.” That’s because no one is perfect; no one can win every contest every time. “But,” he added, “when our goal is to try to win, when our focus is on preparation and sacrifice and effort, instead of

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numbers on a scoreboard, then we will never lose.” Again, nobody can win all the time. Our joy and our success in sports must come from participating fully and always doing our best to excel. It’s possible to play to the best of your abilities and still lose because your opponent is more talented and played better. But that shouldn’t detract from your performance and make you feel bad. You should still be pleased that you played well. And you shouldn’t have to wait for the final score to find out whether or not you had fun. A champion enjoys playing his or her sport and getting better at it every day. Winning and losing are secondary. Coach Krzyzewski continued: “One of the best experiences I have had has been to watch competition in the Special Olympics. It makes me feel good to see how happy every participant is at the finish of a race …. This is the proper perspective: trying to do your best, learning about your limits, and then attempting to extend them.” As President Theodore Roosevelt said, “There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live — I have no use for the sour-faced man — and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.” Striving and focusing on becoming the very best you can be, without worrying about winning or losing, will bring you a lot of joy — you’ll have a good time. And you will enjoy success and accomplishment — you’ll win your share of games or matches. John Wooden is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. He coached college basketball at UCLA for 27 years and never

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had a losing season. In his last 12 years, his teams won 10 national championships, including seven in a row. During this period, UCLA set a record for the longest winning streak in any major sport — 88 straight games. However, Coach Wooden never talked to his teams about winning. He just asked each of his players to do the best they were capable of doing. He said, “To me, success isn’t outscoring someone. It’s the peace of mind that comes from self-satisfaction in knowing that you did your best.” By putting the emphasis on maximum effort day in and day out, rather than on winning, his teams won year after year. A champion is, as other athletes say, someone who “comes to play.” A champion wins with grace, not gloating. A champion loses with dignity, not hard feelings. A champion remains a champion win or lose. The purpose of this book is to teach you how to use your mind to become a true champion. However, please note, a champion may not exhibit all of the following traits, but he or she will show many of them. And all of these are positive attributes that can only help you on your way to becoming a winner.

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Chapter 1 Believe In Yourself
You absolutely, positively have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t accomplish much of anything. Even the simplest tasks will become difficult.

“If you don’t think you can, you won’t.” — Jerry West

If a baseball player thinks a particular pitcher is just too overpowering and he can’t hit when he goes to the plate against that pitcher, he won’t be able to hit when his team faces that pitcher. He’ll build up a mental block that will make his body tense up and he’ll always be a little slow in reacting and swinging at the ball. When you think you can’t, your mind will make sure your negative thoughts will become a reality. You will think yourself into failure. You’ve probably heard the expression, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Ability is also a terrible thing to waste. And if your mind doesn’t think that your ability can do the job, you won’t be able to succeed and your ability will be wasted. If you truly believe in yourself, your ability will have a chance to blossom and grow. Your mind won’t be preventing your body from accomplishing its goal. Your brain and your ability will be working together to achieve the maximum you’re capable of achieving.

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Another problem that athletes can have is that they let their shortcomings in one area affect their strengths in another area. They dwell on what they can’t do very well and it detracts from the good parts of their game, making their entire game suffer.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” — John Wooden

As Coach Wooden suggests, the fact that a basketball player doesn’t have a great vertical leap shouldn’t prevent him from blocking out an opponent and going after a rebound. You make sure you do what you can do to be successful. If you physically can’t do something, you don’t let it bring down the rest of your game. If you can’t do a particular thing very well, you don’t get down on yourself and allow the things that you can do well start to slide downhill. A good athlete always believes, even when he or she is struggling. If there’s just one element of your game that you do really well, and everything else is not at that level, you still believe in what you can accomplish and you believe that you can improve in those other areas. If you believe, you can improve. If you don’t believe, you won’t improve. Physical shortcomings can also be overcome if you believe and you work at it. If you’re weak, you work on improving your strength. If you’re short, you work on maximizing your quickness. If you’re heavy, you work

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on improving your stamina. If you’re slow, you work on improving your anticipation. In every case where you aren’t big enough, fast enough, or whatever, you can compensate by doing the things you can do and doing them better. And if you believe you can do it, and you’re tenacious and dedicated and focused, you can be a champion. In The Power of Positive Thinking, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale writes about how positive thoughts can help bring about positive results. Concentrating on the positive — your abilities — can help bring a good outcome. Concentrating on the negative — your weaknesses — can lead you to a bad outcome. Dr. Peale suggests that you repeat positive statements to yourself, such as “I can do this and I will do this.” Talking to yourself actually has a name in the sports world. Sports psychologists call it self-talk. Self-talk really does work. A professional baseball pitcher by the name of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych became a rookie sensation with the Detroit Tigers in 1976 when he was the American League Rookie of the Year. He had excellent control and won consistently. He was unusual and became something of a celebrity because, while he was pitching, he continually talked to himself and talked to the ball — out loud. Every game that he pitched the fans would see him chattering away on the field. His self-talk helped keep him focused and confident on the pitching mound. It helped him succeed. As Tug McGraw said, “You gotta believe.”

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Even more importantly, you must believe wholeheartedly, even if others doubt you.

“To be a champ, you have to believe in yourself when nobody else will.” — Sugar Ray Robinson

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Chapter 2 You Gotta Want It
There’s a girls softball cheer that the players regularly use on the bench to spur themselves on: “You gotta want it to win it, and we want it more.” This is true. You do have to want it. You have to be filled with desire to become a champion. If you don’t want it more, you won’t be willing to push your self a little harder when the game gets tight. You won’t be willing to go all out to grab victory. Some athletes rise above the pack because they are totally committed. They play with a drive and intensity that pushes them to excel. They carry a “refuse to lose” attitude and never give up while the game is in progress. A prime example is former professional football player Chris Spielman.

“If you ever see me on the ground after a play, I’ll either be unconscious or I’ll be dead.” — Chris Spielman

Obviously, Mr. Spielman was an intense football player. But he’s not advocating that anyone should push himself or herself so hard that you could end up unconscious or dead. What he means is that he wanted it so much, he was such a competitor, that even when he was knocked down, he bounced right back up and you never saw him on the ground for long.

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Throughout his football career, he made sure he worked harder than anybody on the field, and he was a defensive standout, racking up tackle after tackle. Although he played the middle linebacker position, he seemed to be all over the field, getting in on almost every play. What’s more remarkable is that this performance came from an athlete who many pro scouts said was too small and too slow to play professional football. A number of passed on drafting him. The Detroit Lions selected him, and he soon led the team in tackles year after year. Despite being considered not to have the physical attributes necessary to succeed, his overwhelming desire drove him to outplay others. He didn’t just make the team, he became a starter and then he became a star.

“Desire is the most important factor in the success of any athlete.” — Willie Shoemaker

You need to have a passion, a strong desire to excel. Playing with “a fire in your belly,” with a desire to push yourself and do all that you can to win, will bring you the greatest success. If you don’t have the desire, you won’t give that extra bit of effort and that extra drop of sweat when the going gets tough. Desire is what keeps propelling you toward your goal and it won’t let you rest until you reach it. If you love your sport and want to be the best that you can be, you’ll be fired up with desire. If you aren’t fired up, you’ll be just another humdrum, ho-hum, goingthough-the-motions athlete, and playing won’t be all that much fun.

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“My success wasn’t because I was a great talent, but because I wanted it more than anybody.” — Brett Favre

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Chapter 3 Enthusiasm
Are you enthusiastic about your sport? Do you love playing it? You’ve got to love it! If you have enthusiasm, you’ll put up with the long hours of practice. You’ll even enjoy the long hours of practice, because every hour of practice takes you closer to your goal.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

You’ve got to be filled with enthusiasm about what you’re doing if you really want to excel at it. Those who love what they do will become totally engrossed in it. They will live it. They will breathe it. They will be willing to go the extra mile to make it to the top. Enthusiasm keeps you going. It makes you want to push harder. It makes you hungry for more. It’s an energy that carries you to the finish stronger than your opponent.

“Enthusiasm is everything.” — Pele

Take the example of Pele. He always played soccer with an unbridled enthusiasm and excitement for the game. Pele loved soccer. You could see

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that every time he played. His overflowing enthusiasm helped him accomplish things that no ordinary soccer player could.

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Chapter 4 Go For It
Decide what you want and go for it. If you want to be a champion golfer, go out and practice all you can. Get lessons. Go out for the school team. Ask for tips from the club pro. Go out and practice some more. Be relentless in pursuit of your goal. That means days, weeks, months, and years of hard work. If you believe you have the talent, then get out there and practice, and go for it. If you want to be the quarterback on your high school football team, and you believe you have the physical skills and leadership skills to handle that position, then work hard and try out for that spot. You can’t achieve it unless you try. Of course, you have to be realistic when you look at your talents and decide if you have a reasonable chance of reaching a particular goal. But if you really want it, even if you have a slim chance, and you’re willing to practice and practice and practice, you have a chance to make it happen. If you have your heart set on a goal, and you believe you can achieve it, don’t let others talk you out of it before you try. If you don’t attain it, you can set a new goal. You adjust and adapt. You reset your sights and go after that.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” — Muhammad Ali

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Going for it means taking risks. When a basketball player dives for a loose ball, he or she is taking a risk. She could get a painful floor burn on her knee. He could bang into a diving opponent and have to leave the game. But that person could also grab the ball and get it to a teammate who scores a key basket to help win the game. There are risks and rewards. If you decide to try out for a particular position and none of your friends thinks you can handle it, you risk having them laugh at you. But you have to decide if the reward is worth it. If you believe in yourself and you truly want it, go for it. It takes courage to take risks. People may make fun of you. You may fail. But you’ll never know if you were good enough if you don’t try. Muhammad Ali said that if you don’t show courage and take on challenges and risks, you’re not likely to accomplish much of anything in life. You’ll never go after your dreams. You’ll always back down and settle for something less. You don’t have to give up in advance. You don’t have to allow others to limit or reduce how high you want to reach. If you’re ready and prepared for the challenge, then go for it. Don’t hold back.

“You can’t tell someone to ‘Go for it,’ to be whatever they care to be, and at the same time be careful.” — Julie Krone

If you want to be a champion, sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind. You have to take a chance. You have to press beyond your

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comfort zone. You also have to focus on your goal and forget about anyone making fun of you. Accept the challenge and conquer it.

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Chapter 5 There’s No Replacing Hard Work
You can’t improve — you can’t make any real progress — unless you work hard. Going at half speed won’t do it. Laziness is your worst enemy. If you lazily perform day after day in practice, then how can you suddenly raise the level of your play and do things right in a big game or match?

“You play the way you practice.” — Pop Warner

If you condition your body for a slow, plodding pace in practice, you will not be able to handle a faster, more pressured pace in a game. Practice makes perfect, and poor, sloppy practices mean that you are perfecting poor, sloppy play. How can you possibly elevate your game if your practices are regularly at a low level? A desire not to work in practice can’t be turned around into a hard-working attitude for a game. If you’re used to “conserving energy” all week long in practice, your mind is going to want to continue conserving energy on game day. To improve as an athlete, you have to develop a good work ethic. To develop a good work ethic, you have to hustle. Hustle in practice. Hustle in games. Hustle all the time.

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“It doesn’t take any ability to hustle.” — Billy Martin

You don’t even have to have any ability as an athlete to hustle. All it takes is hard work. You don’t need to learn how to be a hard worker. You don’t need to develop your hustle. You just need to do it. Start working hard in practice. Start hustling every day, and it will pay off in games.

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Chapter 6 Continuous Improvement
“Quality is not an act. It is a habit.” — Aristotle

Achieving quality — in sports or in life — is not a single act that, once accomplished, puts you at the top. As Aristotle said, it is a daily habit that you must develop. You won’t equal or surpass your personal best this week just because you did it last week. Maintaining quality and attaining superior performance requires that you strive for continuous improvement. You want to get better every day, every week, and every month. You want to become the best athlete you can possibly be. And no matter how much improvement you see, and how good you become, you should still want to keep getting better, because you should want to be the best.

“When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.” — George Fisher

You can never be perfect. That’s impossible. But you can aim for perfection, and by making that your aim you’ll keep pushing yourself to be the best at your game. When you have a shortcoming in a particular area of your sport, you need to work on getting better in that area and try to eliminate that weakness. When you have successfully eliminated it, you need to take on any other

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weaknesses. If you’re fortunate enough to get rid of all your shortcomings and become a successful all-around player, then you need to work on becoming even better overall. Why keep improving? Because there is always someone better than you are. Unless you are considered the very best in the world at your sport, there is somebody out there who has progressed further and can beat you. Even if you do climb to the very top in the world, there are always other athletes out there who want to get to the top spot. They are working hard to move up. You have to keep working to stay on top. How do you get better? Through practice. Through repetition. Through doing a drill, developing a skill, until you can perform it at a very high level.

“Practice without improvement is meaningless.” — Chuck Knox

Practice is not a time to take it easy. It’s not something to just get through. It’s the time to improve yourself. If you try to take the easy way out, you’re not going to get better. If you’re not trying to get better, you’re basically wasting your time. Your opponents are also practicing and working to get better. If you aren’t getting better, you’re going to fall behind. The more poor practices you have, the further you’ll slip.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” — Will Rogers

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Even if you have been practicing and doing all the right things, sitting back and resting on your laurels for a while will allow the competition to catch up and run right past you — if not over you. But as you practice and improve, don’t compare yourself to others. Look at your own progress, day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year.

“Compete against yourself, not others.” — Peggy Fleming

When you measure your improvement, don’t measure it against other athletes. Measure it against your former level of play. By competing against yourself, you’re constantly striving to improve, but you’re not setting your sights too high or too low. If you’re a basketball player and you want to be the next Michael Jordan, you’re likely to fall short. No matter how much you improve, you’ll always be far below the level of a Jordan and you’ll get discouraged over time. On the other hand, if you compare yourself to your present play, and work to move it up a notch every week, you’re much more likely to see positive gains and steady progress.

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Chapter 7 Total Focus
To be a winner, you have to be focused on your goal — always focused.

“You’ve removed most of the roadblocks to success when you’ve learned the difference between motion and direction.” — Bill Copeland

To be successful you don’t just go off and do things just for the sake of doing something. You don’t spend time on motion. What you do has to have a direction, a purpose, a focus. You want to end up somewhere, not just anywhere. And you have to maintain your focus at all times under all conditions. If you are having a bad day, you have to forget about it when it’s time for the game. If you are having problems or struggling, you can’t mope and sulk about it. You have to play the game. Life goes on.

“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” — Hank Aaron

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A champion tunes out all the distractions and has his or her “head in the game,” as coaches like to say. You can’t play at the top of your game if your mind is wandering or is stuck on the trials and tribulations of life. Also, within the game itself, you can’t allow a mistake or a bad break to distract you and take your mind off the game. If you allow yourself to focus on a mistake or a bad break, you’re not thinking about your play and your game will go straight downhill.

“The real champion puts silly errors or unlucky breaks out of his mind and gets on with the game.” — Stan Smith

In sports, when you are “in the zone,” you are totally in the moment. You are thinking just about the game and nothing else. You see the whole field or the entire floor. You see the ball better; it looks bigger. Everything seems to move a little slower, which allows you to react more quickly than your opponents. To achieve this, you have to be totally focused on your play. You can’t let your mind slip for even a moment. Your best effort requires 100 percent concentration. Maybe you are capable of doing two things at one time. Maybe you do this on a regular basis. But you cannot do two things to the very best of your ability at the same time. You can’t stretch yourself to the limit and raise the level of your game while you are thinking about something else. Focus to win. Split your focus and it’s anybody’s game.

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“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” — Yogi Berra

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Chapter 8 Preparation
Just as you can’t walk into a classroom and take a test unprepared and expect to do well, you can’t go into any sports contest unprepared and expect to win. You need to be ready, physically and mentally. You have to prepare yourself for the different game day situations. Your body has to be prepared in practice for what you will face in the game. Your mind likewise has to be prepared for whatever you may see.

“To give yourself the best possible chance of playing to your potential, you must prepare for every eventuality.” — Severiano Ballesteros

If you are not prepared for every eventuality, then when something new or unexpected does happen, you will have a tendency to panic. You aren’t used to this new thing. You’ve never seen it before. Mentally, you could get temporarily confused; you may become hesitant. You may start to get nervous and unsure of your next move. When you hesitate or tighten up mentally, your body will hesitate or tighten up as well. A hesitant mind will slow your reactions and lead to mistakes. Becoming nervous and tightening up will also cause your muscles to be less fluid. You’ll be less sure-handed. You’ll make errors. A flustered mind will cause a flustered body. A calm, confident mind will help you maintain a relaxed, flexible body ready to rise to the occasion.

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“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.” — John Wooden

Mr. Wooden was very meticulous coach when it came to preparation. His players had to prepare properly day after day. He would not allow his teams to “prepare to fail.” Right down to wearing the proper socks, his UCLA teams were always fully prepared to win, and they did, attaining 10 national championships.

“You hit home runs not by chance but by preparation.” — Roger Maris

As Mr. Maris said, you don’t get to be a famous major league home run hitter by accident or by sheer luck. You reach the top of your game by preparing to be the best — by preparing to hit it out of the park. How long do you have to prepare? As long as it takes. It won’t be just a few minutes. It won’t be just a few days. It definitely won’t be quick and easy.

“An athlete may run 10,000 miles in order to prepare for 100 yards.” — Ray Bradbury

You may need to do a lot of running to achieve victory, even for a very short race. But it will be worth it.

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Chapter 9 Discipline
Closely related to preparation is discipline. You need to prepare not just when you feel like it, not just when it’s convenient, but every day.

“The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.” — Bobby Knight

Although Coach Knight may not have always shown exemplary selfdiscipline in his own actions, he was an excellent coach and his teams were always disciplined in their approach to games, so his words regarding the importance of discipline for athletes are worth your consideration. If you don’t have the discipline to regularly and diligently prepare yourself to win, your will to win won’t make that much difference. You have to make yourself ready for winning, and you have to keep it up every day. You have to practice even if you don’t feel like practicing. You have to focus on what needs to be done even if you’re very tired and weary and you’re finding it very hard to focus. Discipline is not a sometimes thing. It’s an all the time necessity. You need to be disciplined in carrying out your practices. You need to be disciplined in focusing yourself mentally during a game. Lose your discipline and you lose. The best definition of discipline that I have ever seen also comes from Coach Knight. His definition is: “1) Do what has to be done; 2) When it has

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to be done; 3) As well as it can be done; and 4) Do it that way all the time.” That pretty well sums up the subject.

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Chapter 10 Listening
You won’t learn anything from the coach unless you listen. You can’t learn if your mouth is always going. When the coach is talking, it’s time to be quiet and listen, and to listen closely.

“Success comes from listening. I’ve never learned anything from talking.” — Lou Holtz

If you pay attention to your coach, you can actually learn a lot. Your coach has been around longer than you. He or she has experience, a deeper knowledge of the game. He or she has the perspective and the objectivity of someone looking from the outside in, not you who may be thinking only of yourself. By listening and learning from your coach, it will help you to succeed. That’s the aim of your coach — to help you succeed. The coach is giving you tips to help you improve. You need to listen and learn every day to keep on making progress toward your goal. If your mouth keeps moving, and you avoid listening to the coach (or your teacher, or anybody else in charge), you will fail to learn and your chances of becoming a winner will keep getting slimmer.

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“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.” — Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz

If you are talking to your teammates while the coach is demonstrating a drill, you won’t know what you’re supposed to be doing. If you’re talking while the coach is teaching a new technique, you may not grasp what you need to take your game to the next level. One of the greatest skills you can learn and develop is learning how to listen. It will pay dividends throughout your life.

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Chapter 11 Perseverance
“Perseverance is a positive, active characteristic. It is not idly, passively waiting and hoping for some good thing to happen. It gives us hope by helping us realize that the righteous suffer no failure except in giving up and no longer trying. We must never give up, regardless of temptations, frustrations, disappointments, or discouragements.” — Joseph P. Wirthlin

It can be a long road to becoming a champion. You aren’t going to become polished overnight. You aren’t going to gain experience overnight. Right after you overcome one stumbling block, you may encounter another. It can take a long time to become a champion. It could take years of hard work. But you can’t give up. You have to take it one day at a time.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” — Walter Elliott

As long as you are striving to be a champion, you can become a champion. But if you give up — or even if you ease up and start coasting — it’s all over, as many will tell you.

“You never really lose until you stop trying.” — Mike Ditka

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“Success depends on staying power. The reason for failure in most cases is lack of perseverance.” — J. R. Miller

“Many men fail because they quit too soon.” — Dr. C. E. Welch

“It matters if you just don’t give up.” — Stephen Hawking

Perseverance means showing up and doing your work each day, trying to get a little better today and a little better tomorrow as you go along.

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” — Chinese proverb

A winner keeps on playing to win every game, even if the game seems to be a lost cause, even if it’s going to be a losing season.

“I play to win, even when common sense should tell me that I no longer have a chance.” — Arnold Palmer

A winner has the confidence that he can always come back, that he is never really out of the game.

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“I never lost a game. I just ran out of time.” — Bobby Layne

Athletes often get a “second wind,” an extra reserve of strength after they’ve been tired and seemingly out of it. You need to reach inside and look for that second wind when it’s time to go for the goal.

“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.” — Kurt Hahn

Perhaps the great importance of perseverance is most succinctly summed up by the late Bo Schembechler: “Those who stay will be champions.”

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Chapter 12 Don’t Worry
“I still get nervous before every game. I don’t think you’d be normal if you didn’t get the chills.” — Joe Montana

It’s normal to get nervous before a big game or big contest. Even one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Joe Montana, used to get nervous. He had a reputation as a clutch player — a man who would always come through in the big games — yet he still got the chills. So it’s quite normal, maybe even necessary, to get a little nervous to get your adrenaline flowing. Once the game gets underway, the nervousness will go away. But there’s no need to worry.

“Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood.” — Marie Curie

If you’ve practiced and you understand what you’re supposed to do — if you are adequately prepared — you have no reason at all to get worried. Plus, worry will not get you anywhere.

“They don’t give you points for worrying.” — Bob Mathias

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As Mr. Mathias said, you aren’t going to gain anything by fussing and worrying. In fact, you are more likely to hold yourself back. If you are worried, if you’re fearful, you are much more likely to stumble and fumble than to perform the way you normally do. Your mind will hold back, your body will hold back, and you’ll make mistakes.

“Abolish fear and you can accomplish anything you wish.” — Dr. C. E. Welch

If you can rid yourself of worry and fear, you can do everything you are prepared to do and do it well. When you aren’t worried, you can achieve the performance level you reach in practice, because you realize that worry in the big contest will prevent you from performing. You also need to remember that, quite often, our worries never actually occur. We don’t usually make a big mistake that costs us the game. We don’t normally do something foolish or embarrassing.

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” — Winston Churchill

There’s no need to be filled with worry and fear about things that will very likely never happen.

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You can climb the highest mountain by abolishing worry. You don’t reach the peak just by climbing. You achieve it by taking control of your emotions and telling worry to take a hike.

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” — Sir Edmund Hillary

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Chapter 13 Relax
You can’t be tense and perform at your best. Tension constricts your mind as well as your body. You won’t think straight, and your tightened muscles will prevent your normal motion. Everything becomes a struggle. Obviously, if you’re struggling mentally and physically, you’ll have trouble being adequate, let alone good. Your mind and body will be working against themselves. What’s the answer? Relax. When you’re tense, simple relaxation techniques can help you to relax. The very simplest is just deep breathing. Take a deep breath. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. If you need a couple of deep breaths, take two. This has a calming effect on the body to help you get back into the game. Before a big contest, try sitting in a comfortable chair (or lay down on your bed), close your eyes, and then try clenching and relaxing each muscle group from your feet up to your shoulders. First, tense up the muscles in your feet, then try to completely relax them. Then, tense up the muscles in your calves, then completely relax them. Move all the way up your body. This shows you the difference between full tension and full relaxation. It also helps you to fully relax your entire body. (Only try not to fall asleep and miss the big game. If necessary, set your alarm clock.)

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Complete relaxation breeds complete confidence. When you have a calm confidence, you body will have flow. You will have the capability to glide through the situation, with a clear mind and a flexible body.

“The first requisite of the good hitter is confidence. No player can be a hitter without it. Relax — be yourself up at the plate.” — Joe DiMaggio

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Chapter 14 Consistency
Once you become good at what you do, the next step is to be good all the time. An athlete who is good one day and not so good the next day is not really an asset to his or her team. Because, although that person may help the team to win today’s game, he or she may be a major reason why the team loses the following day. You have to keep practicing and keep working just to maintain the level of your game. You got where you are at the present through practice and hard work. If you suddenly stop practicing, practice less, or even work at a 90 percent level instead of 100 percent, your game will drop off. Michael Jordan didn’t get to be a great athlete by not practicing. In fact, when he started out in high school, he wasn’t even expected to be a good basketball player, let alone great. In college, he was a very good athlete, but he was not dominant. In the professional ranks, he became a truly great basketball player and a consistent winner. Consistency is the ultimate goal, as anyone in sports will tell you.

“It isn’t hard to be good from time to time in sports. What’s tough is being good every day.” — Willie Mays

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In September of 1964, a 23-year-old pitcher for the Washington Senators threw a 1-0 shutout over Boston in his first game in the major leagues. He did not walk a batter and gave up only five hits. It was an exceptional performance for his first big-league win. Did that gentleman become a star as a professional ballplayer? No, it turned out to be his only win. Anybody can get pumped up and play at a high level once. Anybody can look good once. As Willie Mays said, it’s not so easy to be a quality player day in and day out. You have to keep working even if it’s rainy or muddy or too cold or too hot or whatever the conditions may be. The game doesn’t stop just because you don’t feel like going on. The world doesn’t stop because you’re having a bad day. You need to do things right, and you need to work to do them the right way every day. Consistency is the true measure of a winner. You don’t want to win once in a while. You want to win all the time.

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Chapter 15 Have A Dream
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” — Walt Disney

Everybody has dreams. Everybody wants to be the best. If you have a focused dream, and a clear idea of how to get there, you can achieve that dream. Walt Disney had a dream. It was a big dream. He was able to make it a reality and make his name synonymous with dreams, imagination, and making dreams come true. If you want to be a winner, you need to dream of winning. You need a dream that shows you as a winner. You need to have faith and confidence in yourself that you can win and you deserve to win.

“If you think you can win, you can win. Faith is necessary to victory.” — William Hazlitt

If you don’t think you can win, why should anyone else think you can win? If you don’t have enough faith to believe you have a shot at victory, how can you ever attain that tough victory? You have to dream and you have to keep on dreaming. It’s not just important. It’s essential.

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“If you don’t dream, you may as well be dead.” — George Foreman

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Chapter 16 Visualize It

Have you ever read or heard the sentence, “I can see it in my mind’s eye”? That’s what visualizing is. Seeing it in your mind. Getting a clear picture in your brain. Visualization is something that many athletes do to help improve their game. They close their eyes and see themselves performing exactly as they want to perform — making the big shot, getting the big hit, producing at the peak of their abilities. Visualizing before you go out and play really does help. Tennis players, golfers, and a number of other athletes have used this to assist them in playing better.

“Visualization lets you concentrate on all the positive aspects of your game.” — Curtis Strange

When you visualize, you see yourself doing everything right, exactly as you are supposed to do. Your technique is perfect and you get the expected results. Doing this provides positive reinforcement. You reinforce in your mind everything you are capable of doing and that you are capable of doing it precisely right every time.

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It’s very important that you see yourself performing with the exact technique you were taught and that you want to reinforce. You don’t want to visualize yourself doing things wrong and reinforce bad behaviors. Research has shown that visualization actually works. One study looked at two groups of basketball players. The first group practiced free throw shooting the way teams normally do, shooting a set number each day. The second group visualized themselves shooting free throws. Both groups then shot free throws and their percentages were recorded. The second group, which used visualization, improved their free throw shooting percentage more than the first group. Of course, visualizing does not replace practicing. If a basketball player does not know how to properly shoot a free throw, and has never practiced shooting, no amount of visualization is going to help that person improve. Practice comes first. Visualization is something that helps you improve in addition to practice. Once you learn your sport and start to become good at it, you can visualize to reinforce all the good things you are doing and help yourself to do them correctly more consistently.

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Chapter 17 Think Like A Champion
If you want to become a winner, you have to think like a winner. Negative thinking does not help you to win. Negative thinking sets you up to fail.

“Pessimism never won any battle.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

The first battle that you have to win is to stamp out any negative thoughts. The naysayer is the person who says it cannot be done. You can’t allow yourself to think you can’t win. You can’t listen to other people who tell you that you can’t win. Think like a winner and you can be a winner. If you refuse to accept the negative, you refuse to lose. You refuse to believe you can’t win. You refuse to believe you are not worthy of winning. You refuse to let others tell you that you are not a winner. You may still make mistakes. You may not win every game. But you won’t accept that you will always make mistakes. You won’t accept that you will always lose. You just made a mistake this time. You just didn’t win this time.

“Being a champion means thinking like a champion.” — Denis Waitley

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Thinking like a champion means that you think you are always capable of winning. You think you are always capable of doing your best. You think you are always capable of coming out on top — even if it looks like you don’t have a chance. You think at all times and under all circumstances that you are a champion and that you always will be. You just have to let the champion come out. You have to put any negativity aside, forget about it, and do what you do best. You have to focus on the positive. Concentrate on what you can do the best — go out and do it — and you can become a champion.

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Chapter 18 Turn Mistakes Into Experience
Everyone makes mistakes. Even a champion makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect.

“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” — Theodore Roosevelt

You need to try to eliminate your mistakes as much as possible. You need to minimize errors. You do that by learning from your mistakes. When you make it a point to learn from your mistakes, you turn your mistakes into experience. You learn what not to do.

“”Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

If you don’t learn what not to do, then you haven’t learned anything. If you make a mistake and you fail, and you don’t take anything away from that experience, you will likely continue to make the same mistake over and over, and you will fail again for that same reason. As Mr. Ford said, when you fail, you have the opportunity to start all over again, smarter and more experienced. But if you didn’t bother to learn a thing, you have wasted that opportunity.

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How many mistakes will you make? How many opportunities will you get to improve? No one knows, but you need to continue to work and take the time to learn.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” — Colin Powell

Mr. Powell said it well. There are no secrets. If you don’t learn from failure, if you don’t turn your errors and missteps into experience, you will not allow yourself to be a success.

“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way.” — Satchel Paige

If what you did before didn’t work, analyze it and then correct it or change it. If you find that you’re running into a brick wall, then go around it. Use your experience, and as Mr. Paige said, find another way.

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Chapter 19 No Excuses
“But, coach, I didn’t see …” “But, coach, I didn’t hear …” “But, coach, I didn’t think …” These are all the beginnings of excuses. They are the start of excuses about how an athlete couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that. But your coach doesn’t want to hear excuses. Neither do your teammates want to hear them. They just want you to do your best to do it right.

“Think and then act. Never act and then alibi.” — Henry Iba

You need to concentrate and focus on what you are doing. You need to think of the situation you are in and then act based on what you have learned to do in that situation. You need to think before you go to bat in a baseball game. You need to think before you serve in a tennis match. You need to think before you take a corner kick in a soccer game. Then, as Coach Iba said, you act. The thinking player is a smart player. He or she listens fully to the coach. He or she looks over the field or court or fairway. He or she knows what needs to be done at that moment and does it.

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The helter-skelter player doesn’t pay attention to the coach, doesn’t recognize (or doesn’t care) what is going on around them, and then tries to force the action, doing something inappropriate that will most likely end in failure. Then that player will probably come up with one or more excuses for the bad result. But it will all sound like the old “My dog ate my homework” excuse. In other words, it doesn’t ring true. Just pay attention, think, and do what you’re supposed to do. If you make an honest mistake, that’s OK. Shake it off, learn from it, and resolve not to do it again. But there’s no need to explain and justify your mistake to your coach or teammates. If you didn’t do the right thing at the right time, it’s your fault. If you slipped or tripped or somebody ran into you — whatever may have happened — you still need to get the job done. The situation isn’t always going to be ideal. When some people lose a game, they will come up with any number of excuses for it. The field conditions were horrible. They were tired from a tough game the day before. The officials were against them. But it was not really the excuses that led to the loss. It was actually some solid reasons. The most common reasons are (1) we made more mistakes than our opponent or (2) our opponent played better on this day.

“There are a hundred reasons for losing a game, but not one excuse.” — Don Shula

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You can’t excuse yourself for not giving your best. You can’t excuse yourself for not hustling. On the other hand, there’s no need for any excuse if you worked as hard as you can and you still lost. There are reasons for a loss, but as Coach Shula said, there’s no excuse. Just go out there, give 100 percent at all times, and forget about alibis and excuses. Don’t think that you don’t have what it takes to win. Maximize the situation.

“Think of what you can do with what there is.” — Ernest Hemingway

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Chapter 20 Finally, Success
As an old saying goes, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. If it did come easy, there would be no challenge, no excitement, and you would no longer see it as very desirable. Learning how to be a good athlete in a sport and properly training for that sport are hard work. Just as learning in the classroom requires drills and repetition to learn a new math concept, athletics likewise requires drills and repetition. You have to do the basics over and over again so that they become second nature to you and so that those basic skills don’t become rusty. That can get pretty boring and tedious. But everything that you do in your sport is based upon the basics. If you’re building a house, for example, you have to have a ground floor before you can build a second floor. You can’t jump ahead without a solid base to build on. To build yourself into a solid, successful athlete, you start from your base — your foundation. Then you gradually develop your skills from that foundation, while you keep reinforcing your base with drills and conditioning … all the simple, little things that are actually very important to becoming a winner. It may not be very exciting doing all that practice. You may not progress as fast as you hope, and you may get discouraged at times. But you need to keep working toward your goal.

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“Never allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragements that must inevitably come.” — James Whitcomb Riley

Learning and working at your game, striving for success, can be a long process and it can be frustrating at times. Some things you may learn quickly, while for other elements of the game it may take you a while to catch on. Still other things you may never completely master. You may need to keep working at some part of your game as long as you play. No matter how much you may get bogged down or perturbed or downright angry trying to perform something right, as Mr. Riley said, don’t allow it to reduce your enthusiasm. You may not see any noticeable improvement in your game for a while. You’re going to make some mistakes along the way, sometimes dumb mistakes. You just keep on going, keep on pressing ahead, keep on working at your game. Eventually, you will improve. You will get stronger physically and mentally. With energy, enthusiasm, and hard work, you will become a better athlete. You will achieve the success of becoming the best that you can be.

“Struggle always comes before success.” — Jascha Heifetz

You will have bad days. You likely will be disappointed at times in your results.

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Just remember that it takes sweat, bumps and bruises, lots of repetitions, and maybe some extra practice on your own, before you achieve success. You’re not going to become a star overnight. You’re not going to reach the next level without some sweat. Just to stay average in a sport requires work, because every year as you move up the ladder, the abilities of the average player move up. The average senior in high school is going to be much more polished than the average 7th grader. If you want to be better than average, you have to work harder than average. If you want to be a champion, you have to outwork all your competition. If you get discouraged along the way, remember how far you have come, remember the happy moments, remember your ultimate goal, and don’t give up on yourself. Hard work does pay off. Finally, you will be a success.

“Top cats often begin as underdogs.” — Bernard Meltzer

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Chapter 21 Be Happy
“People perform better when they’re happy.” — Jim Larranaga

Have fun. That’s what sports are all about — having fun. If you love your sport, practicing and working hard at it is not such a chore and seeing yourself improve over time is a great joy. Becoming the best you can be, mastering a particular move, getting the big hit, coming through for the team, should make you feel happy. Enjoy the moment. Feel good when you make a good play. Embrace the thrill of victory, but also remember to let go of the agony of defeat. Losing is not the end of the world. It’s not the end of your life. It’s actually the beginning of a learning experience. Learn from your weaknesses. Learn what you need to improve and do differently so that you can be in a position to win the next time.

“Losing is no disgrace if you’ve given your best.” — Jim Palmer

As Mr. Palmer said, you have nothing to be ashamed of if you gave it your best shot. If you hustled and worked and still came up short, you have to realize that you did all you could do. The effort was there even if the results were not as you had hoped.

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Sometimes you just come up against a more talented opponent. On occasion, it could be a much more talented opponent. In this case, you’d have to be at the top of your game, and your competitor would have to be struggling, in order for you to have a reasonable chance of winning. But you try, because upsets do happen all the time. Also, sometimes you may not be at your best. You may feel tired, sluggish, and out of it. You may have a cold. You may have a sore leg or a sore arm. But you still play as hard as you can under the conditions, and you may pull out a victory. Even if you don’t win, you can still walk away knowing you did give it your best on that day. You may feel there’s no joy in losing, but there is joy in giving a complete effort. You can feel proud of that effort. If you did all you could, then there was nothing more you could do and you should feel good.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” — Robert Brault

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Chapter 22 Don’t Shortchange Your Education
Why are you in school? You’re there to get an education. You’re not there just to show up and pass the time. Athletics is secondary. Education is No. 1. If you don’t study, there will be consequences. What’s the worst that can happen to you? If you have poor grades, you may not get into the college of your choice and you may not be able to pursue the career of your choice. In short, your future will be limited. More immediately, bad grades could make you ineligible for athletics right now. Those bad grades could prevent you from getting into a university if you are planning on continuing to play your sport at the college level. Since less than 1 percent of you are ever going to play professional sports, and since even the professionals need to know some mathematics and economics so they can determine if their money is being managed and invested wisely, it pays to take your education seriously and to pay attention in class. Even among those fortunate enough to become professional athletes, there are some on every team who sit at the end of the bench and make the minimum wage for their sport. Those professionals don’t usually last very long in the league. Then they need to have an education to fall back on to get a job and start a career. If they don’t have an adequate education, they’re in trouble.

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“In sports, somebody is trying to stop you from doing your best. In the classroom, the only one stopping you is you.” — Mike Krzyzewski

Don’t stop yourself from becoming a success in the classroom. That is what’s most important because it affects your entire life. Don’t sell yourself short and turn a potentially bright future into a less-than-satisfying life. Be all that you can be applies to your entire life. You can’t be much of anything if you don’t have a strong, solid education as the core of your life.

“A decade after the average athlete graduates, everyone will have forgotten when and where he played. But every time he speaks, everyone will know whether he was educated.” — Rev. Theodore Hesburgh

The quotes in this book don’t just come from athletes and coaches. They also come from people who are musicians, writers, businessmen, educators, doctors, clergymen, presidents of the United States, and other leaders and professionals. Their words bear close attention because they apply to everyday life as well as to sports. And all of the positive attributes described in this book that are essential to success in sports, are also attributes that will help you succeed academically and in life. Do you want to be a success in athletics? Then practice. Do you want to be a success in life? Then open your books and study.

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Epilogue
You now have a mental road map for victory. This includes victory in sports, victory in the classroom, and victory in life. This is not just about winning. It’s about striving to become the very best that you can be. It may sound corny and old fashioned, but it is important. Plus, it makes your life better and more fun. If you worked as hard as you can and used all your talents to their fullest, what more can you do? What greater satisfaction can you get in life? So it’s onward and upward. See how far you can go. See what level you can attain. Test your limits and don’t hold yourself back. You can be a winner. Believe it and achieve it. As a great coach once exhorted his student-athletes:

“Go out that door to victory!” — Knute Rockne

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About the author:
Greg Mazurkiewicz formerly coached boys and girls basketball, boys soccer, and girls softball at the grade school/middle school level; boys and girls basketball at the high school level; and girls 18-and-under fast-pitch softball. He currently coaches special needs softball and Special Olympics basketball. He served as a part-time instructor at Macomb Community College and Baker College. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University.

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