Dare To Be Your Best!

I often write about the need for athletes to focus on their own personal excellence in their pursuit of success. Positive Coaching Alliance calls it the “ELM Tree of Mastery”. Rather than worrying about the scoreboard, comparing themselves with others, and dwelling on setbacks and failures – players should focus on their own Effort, Learning, and Mistake management.

John Wooden defined success as “The peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”  That is such a complete statement that could take an entire blog post to analyze each part of that sentence. It took Coach years to eventually settle on that definition and complete his Pyramid of Success.

At the apex of the Pyramid is the block “Competitive Greatness”. That is the quality that all other qualities lead to. The simple definition is to “be at your best when your best is needed.” In reality, our best is needed every day, in everything we do. This two-part piece will be about “being our best” and how we go about getting there.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle.

So if the old adage “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us” is true, how do we go about building those habits? Research has shown that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Habits are an essential part of our life. They help us to reach specific goals, stay focused along the way and keep on pushing when the going gets tough. If you can make it through those 21 days-you’re on your way!

The following activity is a 21-Day Challenge for every athlete to assist them in building the habit of “making the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”


I dare any aspiring athlete to read and absorb the material presented on this page, word for word, immediately before the start of his/her daily practice sessions for the next 21 days. I dare you to tape this exercise to the inside of your locker door and to use the columns provided in checking off an honest appraisal at the conclusion of each practice.

It is one of the athlete’s illusions that the present hour is not the critical decisive hour, for example:  the game is a week or weeks away…ample time to prepare in a gradual type of way. Forget it! The critical time for accomplishing anything is in the here and now. Write it on your heart and imprint it on your brain that every day is a day to dare to do your best.

Each day and every workout provides opportunity for self-improvement, self-renewal. Today’s accomplishments, not yesterday’s or tomorrow’s produce the most satisfaction, as what you accomplish today can give you an immediate feeling of self-confidence and direction. The critical time for accomplishing anything is in the here and now. Today.

The most important ingredient in future performance is present effort. The most difficult tasks are consummated, not by a single explosive burst of energy or effort, but by consistent daily application of the best you have within you.

Whether we call our practice exhausting work or relaxing play depends largely upon our attitudes toward it. Practice is an opportunity to improve our skills. The majority of athletes perform in games and events like they perform in practice. Approach each practice session with enthusiasm, as nothing great has ever been accomplished without it. One spark of enthusiasm is worth more than two hours of uninspired practice. Be aware that it is not that certain activities are boring but that the mind has been programmed for it to seem that way.

We program ourselves for boredom or distraction when we think we already know all about something. We learn and perform at our best when the mind is calmly alert, interested and enjoying itself. Challenge yourself mentally as well as physically today and you will start to enjoy the price of success rather than pay for it.


Now how do we make that happen. It is important that  you find some things the players must commit to. I got this from a coaching “e-quaintance” of mine and tweaked it a bit to suit language I felt was important. It is also a good activity for a team to use when attempting to develop a positive culture.

What can players actually do “to be their best”? In each sport there are obviously fundamental skills and strategies that need to be executed. However, I want to list some general “commitments” that any player can make to be a better team member. This is a good activity for any coach to do with his team to help them establish the kind of culture that defines and encourages maximum effort.

“Top Ten Commitments”

Please place a check mark by any of the following statements that you feel you can commit to this season, then WHEN YOU’VE looked at them all, rank your top 10 in terms of what you think is important to us being our best. Then commit to those. If you dare.

  • I can commit to being 10 minutes early for all team events this season including busses, meetings and practices.
  • I can commit to taking care of my attitude so my teammates and coaches won’t have to.
  • I can commit to my BEST EFFORT in my classes so my eligibility will not become a problem for my team.
  • I can commit to giving my BEST EFFORT each day in practice and at games.
  • I can commit to listening and trying to learn what is being taught
  • I can commit to letting the Coach handle the referees.
  • I can commit to playing through any bad calls, small injuries or things that don’t go my way in the game, and managing my mistakes.
  • I can commit to helping my teammates when they get knocked down at the game or in practice.
  • I can commit to supporting my teammates in a positive manner, even when I’m on the bench.
  • I can commit to taking care of my behavior so my teammates and coaches don’t have to by showing respect for the Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates, and Self.
  • I can commit to forgetting about small conflicts that happen in practice as soon as I go to the locker room each day.
  • I can commit to representing our school in a good way when we are traveling as a team
  • I can commit to representing our school in a good way when I am in the role of being a resident of our community.
  • I can commit to behavior that will HELP my athleticism and personal development at all times.  (This includes getting enough rest, eating right, taking care of my personal health including alcohol and any other chemical use.)
  • When we travel, I can commit to using personal electronics in a way that does not disturb others.
  • I can commit to cleaning up after myself in the locker room and helping in keeping the locker room generally clean.
  • I can commit to helping in practice with putting things that we use in practice away at the end as requested by a member of the coaching staff.  (This may include balls, ball rack, jump ropes, scoreboard, other items.)
  • I can commit to face-to-face contact with the coaching staff or my teammates if I have an issue to discuss.
  • I can commit to “eye to eye” contact in any one on one conversation that I have with a member of the program.
  • I can commit to treating our support staff respectfully at all times.  (Trainer, managers, athletic director, announcer, scorer, game staff.)

Adapted from -Larry Ronglien, UW Stout Men’s Basketball

Of course, you can add other commitments that you feel are important to your specific situation, or delete some from this list.  It is important to make the list specific to your situation. If a player lives up to the agreed upon commitments, they can then evaluate their effort based on the how well they pursued those commitments. It gives them something tangible to judge themselves on. Then they can “grade” themselves each and every day.

One of the great things about sports are they give young players an opportunity to learn about themselves and develop some habits. If one of those habits is to give your best effort all the time, even if those around you may not, that can become a habit that permeates other areas of your life.

In Part II we’ll discuss this approach from a students perspective.


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  • This is a fantastic piece. You tie the "right" focus to the concepts Ray presents here and what you end up with is a "Champion." Not necessarily a champion as in winning championships, even though that might also come true, but a champion from the standpoint of understanding and carrying out the actions that make up what being a champion is all about.

    And what is the "right" focus, well...part of it involves a relaxed yet intense level of concentration that does not accept leaving the gym or practice field until all attainable daily objectives or goals have been reached. In essence, that is what doing your very best is really all about.

    Again, great, great piece Ray, wish I had written it. Athletes, coaches, and parents will get enormous benefit out of what you have written here. And I am sure Part II will be just as good.

    Becoming a True Champion

  • Thanks Kirk! I LOVE the phrase "relaxed, yet intense level of concentration". I'm stealing that one for sure!

  • No, thank you. This is such a great piece, it is an important part of what being a "True Champion" is all about. If I might, here is the link to my "Code of a True Champion" that goes right along with the foundations you present here.

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