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    “You guys gonna win tonight?” 

    “I don’t know.”

    “What d’ya mean you don’t know? You gotta think positive.”

    That’s a rather familiar exchange between fans and players, and as a result, there has developed a certain misunderstanding through the years about what positive thinking really is. Most people confuse positive thinking with positive talking, which is what the fan above was concerned with.

    You don’t win games or better your performance with positive talking. Saying you are going to win isn’t going to make you win. It may be better than walking around saying you are going to lose, but saying anything isn’t the answer. Games are won and lost on the court by performers, not by talkers.


    There probably has never been a losing team that didn’t fill dozens of pre-game locker rooms with words like, “We’re gonna take these guys. We can do it. Yeah, we’ll beat ’em.”

    But they still had no trouble going down to defeat after defeat even though not one of them ever spoke of the possibility of losing.

    Good players often think about the possibility of losing. In fact, many of them think more about the possibility of losing than they think about the joy of winning, and there is a very good reason for this. Good players are usually accustomed to winning, so for them winning carries with it no great joy. A certain measure of satisfaction, yes. But not jumping-up- and-down joy.

    What motivates a good player is not so much any thrill involved with winning, but instead the wrenching disappointment, the agony of losing. You think about losing, about that feeling of walking into the locker room, taking a shower, staying awake that night going over every play and sitting in class the next day, still unable to get it from your mind. It hangs on you like a sickness and makes you feel like you are suddenly less of a person. Maybe it shouldn’t. But it does—to winners.

    So, don’t think about losing? Don’t talk about it? Maybe not to fans who won’t understand, but to yourself or to your teammates, you know how you feel and you know what motivates you. Winning is not going to depend on you telling some fan, “Yeah, we’re goin’ to give ’em hell!”

    It depends on preparation and concentration and a deep-down desire not to be beaten. It takes not a wish to win—everybody has that—but a gut-wrenching hatred of defeat. “Gut-wrenching hatred” may not sound pretty, but that seems to be something that good players have, even more than a will to win.

    In any case, feel free to think whatever you like, and don’t be afraid to think hard about losing. Tell the well-meaning fan whatever you find best, and remember what you will feel like playing out those last few minutes, behind by ten, having to foul and hope they miss, feeling the gloating joy of their fans and walking home a loser. Think about losing all you like, because that kind of negative thinking just may be the best motivator you have.

    In fact, if more players would spend more time thinking of defeat, they probably would loaf less and do more when the game is still within reach. Down ten with a minute left should not be the first time it enters your mind that you may lose. The opening tap might be a better time, so extra effort gets you the first basket of the game, not them.

    —Excerpted from the book, “Think Like a Champion.”


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