Friday, March 14, 2014

The heart of a champion

The heart of a champion is hard to define, but you'll know it when you see it. Vince Lombardi said famously, "The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win." The legendary coach always emphasized practicing the basics until they became instinctual.  But "the will to prepare to win" is as much mental and emotional as it is physical. Staying calm and true to your objective when all around you is chaotic takes intense focus and repeated practice. This is the essence of the heart of a champion, and it is developed over time by those who are committed to excellence. The Newton Girls Basketball Team has given all who have watched them this year a glimpse of what the heart of a champion looks like.

First, the team plays as a unit...there are no me-first players here.  One teammate is just as likely to come up with a big play as any other. Their game is to find the open shooter on offense, and work with five bodies yet one mind on defense.

Second, they respect one another. Coach Dugan has done a fine job in motivating her players and putting them in the right situations to take advantage of their strengths. She demonstrates respect for their abilities and for each of them as people. But these girls also respect each other. They know they have to count on every player contributing what she does well to make them as successful as they can be.

Third, they forget the last play.  Bad plays happen, and tough calls are part of the game. Good plays also happen, and it's easy to get overly excited when things are going your way. Not too high, not too low, these athletes move on to the challenge in front of them, and leave the reactions to others.

Fourth, when the going gets tough, the tough get more focused and more determined.  When games are on the line, these Newton girls do what champions do...they concentrate, they keep cool, they take care of the ball, and they make their free throws.

The team won the program's first division title in over thirty years by coming to play every night. They captured a sectional championship against a strong local rival looking for payback on their home court. They followed up by beating back a traditional power mounting a furious comeback that would have rattled lesser teams. They will proudly represent themselves and all of us this Sunday in the state championship game and, hopefully, come back with the ultimate prize.  But the reality is they've already demonstrated the heart of a champion...and you'll know it when you see it.

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