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The winning attitude

Brian Mackenzie explores what it takes to reach the top of your sport.

What makes a good player great? Sound basics? Size? Strength? Shooting ability? Speed? I believe it is attitude. The ability to accept situations and make them work in their favour. Losers never seem to know why they lose. They blame the referees for bad calls, the gym conditions, the court surface, their teammates, etc. Winners, on the other hand, play above the problems. A wise man once said, "It is not what life hands us, but what we do about it". I was once asked, what is the most important measurement on a basketball court? Without a doubt, it is the six inches between your ears. Winning and losing come down to who can stay focused. Great players never let their opponent or outside conditions control their game. They are mentally tough, mentally conditioned. It is easy to get frustrated when pressure and mistakes happen. The more you dwell on it, the more mistakes you will make. I cannot count the times I have seen a player get the ball stolen and then commit a personal foul because they were out of control, or becoming outraged because someone was talking about their ancestors. If an opponent can pull you out of your game, who wins?. Once you are mad, you are though! Referee calls, turnovers, Fouls, missed layups, are like the Civil War. Once they happen, they become HISTORY!


Show sportsmanship! It is easy to be a good winner, but it takes real class to hold your head up after a tough loss. Great players never take losing well. If you gave 110% during the game, and you were beaten, there is no shame in having lost. Give credit to the team who played better on that given day. Learn from it and let it go. The respect you will gain from opponents and fans on both sides is well worth it.


Stay in shape! A hero is no braver than an ordinary person, but they are braver five minutes longer. Spend as much time caring for your body as you put into your game. Eat well, get the correct amount of rest, run three times a week, most of all, stay away from drugs and alcohol. Working out is not easy, but as Coach Lombardi said, fatigue makes cowards of us all. To lose a contest because you run out of gas in the fourth quarter is unforgivable. If you lose a contest, make sure it was because they were better players, not in better shape.

Until the fat lady sings

Never give up! Winners never quit. "The person who wins may have been counted out several times, but they didn't hear the referee" (Jansen). Finding a way to win is the mark of a great team. I have watched as our team made up nine points in ten seconds. Nothing is impossible when you believe. "Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle" (A. Lincoln). You will be surprised what can happen when you never give up.

Commitment and hard work

Work hard and be aggressive. Never be out hustled or outfought. The persistent team usually comes out on top. Show enthusiasm! Nothing is ever hard work unless you would rather be doing something else. Commit to excel, and you will never stop improving. When things you did yesterday still look big to you today, you haven't done much today. There is no substitute for practice. Don't count the days; make each day count! The only person that keeps you on the bench and from being a starter is you!


Strong players criticize themselves, not their teammates. Everyone has room for improvement no matter what the level of play and talking about someone else's shortcomings never helps improve your game. Take an interest in your squad, and friendships will grow along with the success of the team. Remember, there is no "I" in team. It takes five players working together to become successful.


Never be afraid to take charge. When a teammate gets down, pick them up with some encouragement and get it back on track. At practice, be the first one on the court and the last one to leave. Talk on the court, direct traffic, let people know when someone is open or when there is a flaw in the defence. What you see plain as day, may be hard for someone else to see. Never take any opponent for granted, respect everyone's ability. Be a player who says "can" not "cannot". Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Be a total player!

Final Thoughts

Play hard! But never take yourself so seriously that you forget to smell the roses. Enjoy the game, many lessons about life are taught from your adventures on the hardwood. Take what it has to give you and apply it to what life throws your way. Remember, we cannot always control what goes on outside, but we can control what goes on inside. Be mentally tough; never let what happens during a contest take you out of your game. Concentrate on what is an essential experience. Be the best you can, and the best will come back to you. Champions are made, never born. Ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.

Quote to bear in mind

I have a quote I pass on to all my athletes, which can be applied not only to the sporting situation but also to life in general:

"You only achieve what you believe."

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Gaining the winning edge. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 4 / August), p. 10

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) The winning attitude [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance, and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years of experience as an endurance athlete.