Character & Mental Toughness- Lessons from the Neighborhood

gotta love basketball to play in those shorts… ’83 class b champs!

Every weekday morning, sometime before 7 am, I send a text to my sons Shane and Hunter. Shane is a freshmen and Hunter is in 7th grade.

In that text I send them a quote; a bit of wisdom to start their day. Today, for example, I sent something by Satchel Paige. On any given day it could be Longfellow, Sun-Tzu, or Winnie the Pooh. The point is to get them to think about things from a new perspective; to expose them to universal truths conveyed in their many forms.

I was fortunate that when I was their age, in middle school and high school, I had good coaches. I can’t tell you who taught me what, but I can tell you a couple of things that sunk in and made a huge difference in my life.

At some point one of those coaches told me to find some heroes. Find people who were successful and study what they did and what they said. In short, investigate how those heroes became a success.

So I did what I was coached to do and started studying winners; people who were where I wanted to go.

I have always held to that. I still do that today.

Although my high school basketball career never ventured far from the bench, I learned much through my desire to make the high school team. I learned how to work hard, I learned how to compete, I learned how to gain an edge by working out when my competition was taking it easy.

My competition might be someone I would battle against for a starting spot, or for a spot on the all-star team. I was always competing against someone, whether they were in the same gym or on the same practice field as me or many miles away.

I had two kids I looked up to in my neighborhood that were three or four years older than me. One was Craig. He lived two streets over. Craig made varsity basketball as a freshmen. He would be on his driveway court playing ball every day. I would ride my bike by his house just to watch him play. He was out there in the cold and rain and snow. He wouldn’t just shoot, but he would dribble around chairs in his driveway, he would jump rope. He would do push-ups and sit-ups.

Finally, after years of begging, my father put a hoop up in our driveway. It changed my life. I was out there every day doing what Craig did.

Craig would walk by my house some times on the way to his friend’s house. One day he stopped and watched from the end of my driveway. He told me how impressed he was with how consistently I had been working. It made me work even harder.

Another kid I looked up to was Fred. He didn’t really live in our neighborhood, but he was friends with Craig, so he was around quite often. He played basketball too, but was better known as a great lineman in football for our high school. I would see him walking around the neighborhood with his varsity jacket on. I felt like a peasant watching a knight in his armor.

I still remember one Friday night our high school was losing pretty badly and Fred stormed into the little locker room under the bleachers where our team went during halftime. Fred threw his helmet and ripped into his teammates for how poorly they had played. I was just a freshman or sophomore standing outside the door, listening. A few years later I would do the same thing when we were down 20 to nothing in a game with playoff implications. I think it woke us up; we scored 35 unanswered points and won 35-20.

That night I discovered that the mental state of a person or team truly matters more than anything else.

I had found some heroes. I had found success following what they did.

Craig ended up playing Division II basketball. Fred played football in the Ivy League. My following them was part of the reason why I ended up playing college football.

Those coaches had also told me to always have your mind on your game, look for ways to make yourself better, and think about what your competition was doing. The last part was key for me.

My main competition in high school was right across the street so that wasn’t very hard. He was a big kid, who had matured early. He had a driveway hoop too. He played football and basketball too. We were friends in elementary school, but then we had a falling out over something and I started a fight with him and lost, badly, in 6th grade.

So every day I would go out to my driveway and see if he was out on his. It became a bit of a contest to see who could practice more. At least for me.

He was way better than me in 7th grade and 8th grade.

We were equal in football freshmen year, but he was still better in basketball. But I was catching up.

By sophomore year he had quit football and was more into his other interests. He wouldn’t play football again until our senior year and by then I was better. I never did catch him in basketball. But all those hours competing against him in basketball had made me a better football player.

In later years I would study the competition at other schools. I knew who the better linemen were in my area and I tried to outwork them. I tried to think about how hard they were practicing the week we played and I tried to practice harder. I would actually go home after practice and workout even more. I would think about those guys in the off-season. I would wonder if they were working out when I did.

In college, I would do the same. I would think about the other players I was competing against for a starting spot. After I got my starting spot, I would think about all the guys who wanted my spot, and I did everything I could to make sure they didn’t get a chance to catch me.

That way of thinking fueled me, forced me to work hard, and made me better.

What my coaches had taught me more than anything was how to think like a winner. Thinking like a winner is different. It gets you to accomplish more, to achieve goals others think impossible, to see each day as an opportunity to improve, and to always be aware that you are always competing.

When you are that age, few are the voices that will guide you to a way to accomplish more, to reach your potential, to become the person you dream of being. I am grateful for their advice.

If you want to be average you will listen to and follow the herd. If you want to be more than that, then study other people who wanted to be more too.

If you want to achieve more, you will have to take the initiative to find, watch and listen to people who have reached the places you want to go. You should also be ever aware of your competition.

I didn’t just do this for football. I applied these ideas to other areas of my life. I did it to get my teaching certificate, I did it to start my coaching career, I did it to get my Master’s Degree. I did it to improve my character and toughness.

Pretty much every success I have had has been a result of two things.

First, finding people who have been successful doing what I wanted to do, and then watching what they did and listening to what they had to say.

Second, keeping my mind on my competition, seen or just envisioned, and trying to out work them.

Pay attention to who you are a paying attention to. Recognize that you are always competing, whether you want to or not. The ones who realize this and act on it improve; the ones who don’t stay average. Winners simply don’t think like average people do.

“ain’t no man can avoid being born average. But ain’t no man gotta stay common” – Satchel Paige

To learn more please check out my book, “On Character and Mental Toughness,” by clicking here.

About coachbillmoore

Educator/Author/Speaker/HS & NCAA Coach Character Coach Read Coach Moore’s book “On Character and Mental Toughness” Paperback available at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. "The measure of your character and mental toughness is the space between what you are doing and what you could be doing." -Coach Bill Moore
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