Every season starts 0-0, like a pair of binoculars gazing into the future, clear and bright. Everyone worked out with the best trainer, had the best workouts, lost 15 lbs, added 20 lbs of muscle, felt better than they ever have, had the best training camp. Everyone loves the new offense. The team really came together. Great group of guys.
The first couple games, everyone is explosive, focused. The veterans are proving they deserved that big contract, the rookies are showing why they were drafted. You win two or three in a row, the media is talking about ring sizes.
If you listen closely, you can hear the quiet inevitable sound of exhaling.
It’s like New Years Day, all about resolutions and promises. A few games into the season, going out replaces working out. Someone gets hurt, someone is pouting, someone decides they really don’t need to kick it into gear yet, it’s just the first week, the first month. Those binocular lenses are getting a little smaller and blurry. By January, that clear bright future is looking farther and farther away. By the halfway point in the season….time to get new glasses.
If that sounds cynical, I’m okay with that. Heard it too many times. Replay the same tape next year at Media Day. You’ll hear it all again.
This is what true champions know about the start of the season: Time to stop talking about what you did and start showing what you can do.
Anyone can start something. Very few can finish. And only the greats can finish stronger than they started.
If you really want to know what an NBA player is made of, wait about 20 games into the season. That’s about how long it takes for everyone to settle into who they really are. They get back into their comfort zone, for another season of “good enough.”
“Good enough” rarely is.
Whether I’m talking to athletes or business groups, the challenge is the same: Are you willing to find out what you can be, and not just settle for what you already are? Can you exceed what you’ve already done? Not just at the start of the season, when the legs are fresh and the adrenalin is roaring. Can you do it in every practice, in every game?
One of the greatest challenges you can face is setting a high standard early in your career. Why? Because now you’re expected—by yourself and others–to deliver that and beyond for the rest of your career. That’s why so many people run from success: It’s too much pressure, sacrifice, dedication, expectation…too hard to deliver more than you delivered the year before.
But for those who are driven to improve, to compete, to keep climbing to the next level, there is no “good enough.” They learn, they adjust, they find new ways to get better. I gave this example in my book RELENTLESS: MJ would come into every season developing some new aspect of his game. He’d start by himself, one-on-zero, working alone. Then he’d use it against others in the gym. Then in an actual practice, and finally, he’d unleash it in competition. By then he’d worked on it so intensely—over and over and over—that it became so natural and instinctive he didn’t have to think about it. Prepare, learn, study, perform. By the time his opponents thought they had him figured out, he had already moved on to the next level. And the level after that.
They can’t stop you if they can’t figure you out.
As the season wears on, as injuries and fatigue begin to set in, all that off-season work and physical conditioning becomes irrelevant if your mental conditioning can’t keep up. When that little voice in the back of your head insists it’s okay to skip your workout, do you listen, or do you tell it to shut the f— up? Physical strength shows what you can do; mental strength determines whether you’ll actually do it.
Most athletes look at their wins and say: “Let’s do it again.” Champions look at their wins and say: “Let’s do it better.”