And one epic coach…by Kristin Simonetti
Asking a professional athlete to tweak a long-honed technique like throwing a curveball late in his career is tantamount to sacrilege. But according to a 2010 GQ article, Bryant has adapted his shooting motion multiple times to account for various hand injuries. The article relates this scene from the locker room after Bryant suffered a particularly gruesome twist of his right ring finger in December 2009: “We been through a lot of shit, the head trainer told him, but if you can play with this? That’s some shit. Bryant laughed. Tape it up, he said—let’s go. Then he walked back on the court and, playing mostly left-handed, finished with twenty points.” The Lakers also won a second consecutive NBA championship at the end of the 2009-10 season.
2. Michael Jordan – Find Motivation in Failure
Falling short figures prominently in one of Jordan’s iconic quotes: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games … I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I’ve succeeded.” It’s legend that a coach’s decision not to place the sophomore Jordan on his high school’s varsity team fueled Jordan’s meteoric rise to basketball greatness. Then again, it also played a role in his less-than-classy National Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2009. So take this piece advice with a grain of salt…
3. Joe Gibbs – Sacrifice
The 24-hour-work day and spending months away from family and friends may be standard operating procedure for NFL coaches today. But in the 1980s, Gibbs’ workaholism was somewhat of an anomaly – even in comparison to the notoriously intense Mike Ditka, coach of the Chicago Bears, whom the Redskins faced in the 1988 NFL playoffs. “Gibbs sleeps on his office cot four nights a week, exchanging audio tapes with his family as a means of communication,” marveled the Chicago Tribune.
4. Peyton Manning – Never Stop Learning
Manning’s encyclopedic knowledge of the game of football is due in large part to his hours studying the game on film and on paper. An article from the Denver ABC affiliate published in January 2013 offers this anecdote: “If Peyton Manning’s quarterbacks coach from college roots around in his files today, he can still pull out a notebook that includes three pages of handwritten questions and notes Manning handed him about that single play. Manning wrote the notes at some point between summer school of his freshman year and the time practice started. ‘What I learned very quickly,’ said David Cutcliffe, now the head coach at Duke, ‘was the amount of time he was willing to put in. He wanted such detail.’”
5. Mariano Rivera – Keeping Calm and Carrying On
A Kobe- or MJ-like intensity often translates to success at a given task. But not for everyone. The man who redefined one of sports’ most pressure-filled positions – baseball’s closer – for almost two decades thrived on a quiet, confident calm. “The mental drain is incredible. I would be exhausted just because of … the mental part of it,” Goose Gossage, a hall-of-fame closer, told the New York Times in 2010. “Gossage took notice when Rivera came on in the decisive fifth game [of the 1995 American League Division Series] and got out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout. ‘I just sat there,’ the not-easily-impressed Goose says. ‘Oh, my God — the coolness.’”
6. Sachin Tendulkar – Love What You Do
Like Rivera, another of the world’s most iconic athletes –of whom you’ve probably never heard – recently decided to retire. He’s international cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar, and a 2010 article in the Sydney Morning Herald shed light on the famous batsman’s secret to success. “Throughout 20 years of intense pressure and unrelenting exposure, he has retained his delight. … He has never stopped appreciating the game, never let it become a chore. He enjoys cricket, and batting in particular. He’d play from dawn ’til dusk if they’d let him, and again the next day.”
7. Serena Williams – Work Hard. Then Work Harder.
Serena’s global tennis dominance traces its roots to her childhood near Los Angeles, when she and sister Venus would spend hours before AND after school – as early as ages 6 and 7 – practicing with their father, Richard, and mother, Oracene. Serena returned to that work ethic in 2011, when a litany of injuries – including two surgeries and a dangerous blood clot – threatened to end her career. Instead, she returned in 2012 in what one publication called “the best shape of her life” and a year later won 11 titles – a career best.