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When I was a kid growing up in the 80s, one of my favorite memories was watching classic NBA match ups on TV, with my dad, between Larry Bird's Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers.
My dad, who was a 30-year high school basketball coach (and also played in the NCAA Final Four in college), would always point out that while Bird didn't have the natural athletic ability of Magic (or usually anyone else on the court), he more than made up for it by being the most mentally and physically prepared player and by giving the greatest effort. Bird's relentless dedication to practice and his obsession with improving his fundamentals were legendary.
Ever since high school, Bird was known to begin each-and-every morning with 500 jump shots. He also had to hit 99 free throws in a row or else he would start over (he had the highest free throw percentage in the NBA four times). He then went for a long distance run, went to practice with his teammates, performed a few more hours worth of shooting drills, lifted weights and did hundreds of sit-ups, and then went for another run.
There is one famous story of an opposing NBA coach who brought his team to the arena extra early before a game, so they could witness the future Hall-of-Famer warming up. Embarrassed, he didn't find Bird shooting baskets. As the team walked off the court laughing (believing that the famous Bird work ethic was just a myth), one of the players pointed up to rafters. Larry Bird had finished shooting already and was now running bleachers to improve his conditioning - hours before the game!
Another fun fact... five years after his retirement from the Boston Celtics, Bird took over as head coach of the Indiana Pacers. As part of training camp, he made the players run a mile for time. Bird ran with the players - some half his age - and smoked them all with a time of 5:20!
So, what does this mean for you today?
One of the biggest lessons I took away from being a Larry Bird fan was his repeated quote, in which he stated, "Somewhere, someone is practicing, and when he meets you in head-to-head competition, he will beat you because he's more prepared."
My dad never allowed us as kids to sleep in. If the sun was up and we were still in bed, he would knock on our door and say, "Your competition is out there practicing while you're laying here in bed." That was all the motivation we needed to get up, lace up our sneakers, and go hit the gymnasium.
Even today, I make it my aim to be out of bed and being productive before the sun rises. My first competitor of the day is always the sun. If I beat it up, it helps me win the morning. If I win the morning, I usually win the day.
My point is this... you don't have to be the most naturally talented person in the room to be the hardest worker in the room. Likewise, you can always find an extra hour or two each day to improve your skills - whether you're an athlete or a business professional.
Take it from "Larry Legend" (and my dad), somewhere out there - right this moment - someone is practicing to you beat you. Will you be ready to face that person in head-to-head competition when the time comes?
Have a great week.
Stay safe and vigilant,
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