Written by 8:30 am Pursue Greatness, Raising Competitors

An Unpopular Method (that Works) to Becoming Great

Basketball hoop

Imagine being offered a college scholarship to play your favorite sport at THE best program in the country for your sport.

Ah, but there’s a small catch to the offer.

You’re told you will never start a single game.

Would you still take the scholarship?

Most of us wouldn’t. Just a look at today’s NCAA athlete transfer portal and you know most athletes today wouldn’t. Many show up on campus with the attitude they’re entitled to start at their position on day one, and when they lose the job to an upperclassman who’s been on campus (paying dues), they transfer to another school to start the process over again.

But imagine being great at a sport, having your pick to go to any college you want, and still choosing to go to the best school where you are told you will never start a game.

Why would you? (And why would I be writing about this in regards to this month’s theme of winning relationships).

I’ll tell you.

Because despite never having seen him play, I’ve become one of the biggest fans of Swen Nater. Do you know him?

Swen was an All-American junior college basketball player in the late 60s. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden recruited Swen to join his historic Bruins, a no-brainer decision for any basketball player who wanted to win.

But there was a catch – Swen played the same position as the nation’s best player, Bill Walton.

Wooden told Swen that he would never start while at UCLA, but was recruiting him specifically to practice against Bill every day. He believed Swen was one of the best players in the country and wanted him to push the best player every day in practice.

Swen signed with UCLA.

Can you imagine what that was like for him?

Here is a star player, incredibly talented at his game, yet relegated to a few minutes here and there in games while being tasked to go all-out every day in practice.

Classmates had to question his talent since “he never played in games.”

Coaches at other schools had to whisper in his ear that “his talent was being wasted & he should transfer.”

But Swen simply went to work every day, practicing as hard as he could against the nation’s best.

Who are you “practicing with” every day in life?

Are you intentionally putting yourself in social situations, mastermind groups, & relationships where you are NOT the best person in the room?

It’s comfortable for us to be the “top dog” in a setting. We love having the upper-hand in knowledge, career success or finance. It makes us feel good to know we’ve achieved more than others – but does this actually make us better?

Or leave us open to be humbled?

The smartest people I’ve ever met live by the mindset that they’re always learning. They’ve never “arrived.”

Competitors who want to be great intentionally get into rooms where they aren’t the smartest because they understand that’s how they’re going to learn ways to become better.

They join mastermind groups & coaching circles with people well above them in terms of success so they can absorb knowledge on what it takes to get to that level.

They don’t care about looking like the best because they’re focused on getting into positions to grow into the best.

Just a small reminder for you. Take the approach of Swen and put aside any ego or short-term attention so you can get into places where you can get better.

  • Invest in a coach or mastermind group
  • Attend networking groups with people well above you in their career
  • Build friendships/mentorships with people more experienced with you

Focus this week less on easy wins and more long-term growth, which makes for even bigger wins. I’m cheering for you Competitor, win your week.

Oh, and if you were wondering about Swen. 

Don’t worry, his story didn’t end at UCLA. He was drafted into the ABA, where he won Rookie of the Year and All-League awards, and then became the first player in NBA history to be drafted in the first round after never starting a single game in his college career. He even led the NBA in rebounding during the 1980 season. Not bad for a “bench-warmer.”

Swen went from good to great without ever starting a game because he put himself in a position every day to compete against the best (Walton) and focused simply on how he could get better & help his team win. The same formula works for us today.

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