Sports Coach Logo Sports Coach Training Principles Fitness Components


Gaining the Winning Edge

The author, Rick Newkirk, has reproduced the following article with kind permission. Rick is the founder and Head Coach of the St. Louis Comets AAU Girl's Basketball Club.

Mental Attitude

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, 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 external 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 when 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, and 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 class to hold your head up after a loss. Great players never take losing well. If you gave 110% during the game and were beaten, there is no shame in losing. Give credit to the team who played better on that given day. The respect you will gain from opponents and fans on both sides is well worth it. Learn from it and let it go.


Stay in shape! A hero is no braver than the ordinary person is, 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, and most of all, stay away from drugs and alcohol. Working out on your own 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 game, 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 did not hear the referee" (Jansen). Finding a way to win is the mark of a great team. I 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 team who is persistent comes out on top. Show enthusiasm! Nothing is ever hard work unless you would rather be doing something else. Commit to excel; you never stop improving. When things you did yesterday still look big to you, you have not done much. There is no substitute for practice. Do not count the days.....make each day count! The only person that keeps you on the bench and from being a you!


Strong players criticize themselves, not their teammates. Everyone has room for improvement no matter 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 team's success. 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 is down, please pick them up with encouragement and get them back on track. At practice, be the first on the court and the last to leave. Talk on the court, direct traffic, and let people know when someone is open or a flaw in the defence. What you as easy may be hard for someone else. Never take any opponent for granted and 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

Enjoy the game; many lessons about life are taught from your hardwood adventures. Play hard! But never take yourself so seriously that you forget to smell the roses. 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 essential, experience, learn, be the best you can, and the best will come back to you. Champions are made, never born. An ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.

Page Reference

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

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2007) Gaining the Winning Edge [WWW] Available from: [Accessed