The 3 keys to winning a championship

The 3 keys to winning a championship

As the start of the season over here in the USA steadily approaches every player and coach wonders if the hopes, dreams, and the hard work will pay off at the end of the season with the raising of a championship trophy.
Every team has the goal to win a championship. However, realistically not every team has the talent to achieve that goal. There are 3 important aspects outside of talent that can put your team in a good position to be successful.


The attitude you bring to practice will determine how good of a practice you and your team will have. If 1 player is down, you need to pick them up because 1 player can affect the others. Michael Jordan had a great philosophy when he was having a bad day – “fake it”! It’s important to know you are either an energy maker or an energy taker. Your attitude affects your energy and, energy makes a practice successful. A positive attitude brings forth positive results. Over the course of the season the negativity that is within the team can cause the team to break. It will be so draining and detrimental to the cohesiveness and togetherness of the team that when the chips are down in a game you will more than likely give up. Things like having a smile on your face, giving high fives, patting a teammate on the butt, words of encouragement can help in more ways you can imagine.


When Duke’s and Team USA’s Coach K talks about the fist philosophy of five fingers working together as one fist he means not only on the court but off the court. It’s true that 1 fist is stronger than 5 fingers alone and you should be mindful of this with your team. Be a friend to everyone. Work as one with one goal with one mindset of the goals that your team has in place. When you screen for someone or be unselfish with an extra pass to someone who is open you will probably get the ball back more times than not in the next play. We all know the teams that have one star player but never seem to win. Most likely it is because that star player is selfish and doesn’t want others to have any glory or success. The Kentucky Wildcats who were National Champions last year were a great example of what one team who are unselfish and who don’t care who gets the credit can achieve. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who were the most talented players on their team and who were number 1 and 2 respectively in the NBA draft shot the ball 4th and 5th most on their team. They sacrificed their own ego for the betterment of the team. John F. Kennedy once said, “As the tide rises, all boats rise”, and the same can be said about a basketball team.


When you hear the word toughness you probably think of physical toughness first before the mental side of it. However, the most important aspect of toughness is in fact the mental side. Mental toughness is the way you enter a game. The refuse to lose attitude, the never give up motto, and the “I’m going to win at all costs” mentality. Jay Bilas an ESPN analyst wrote an amazing article a few years ago entitled “Toughness” it is used throughout basketball regarding toughness and what it can mean to your team. He defined toughness as “setting a good screen”, “Talk on defense”, “running the floor”, “diving after loose balls”, and “taking charges” among others outlined in the article. Mental toughness is doing the little things. The little things add up to big things. It’s the difference between winning and losing, the difference between losing by a point or winning by 3. The little things matter to a winning basketball player and team. I recently was at the University of Illinois where I stayed with a friend and mentor the Head Coach John Groce. During one of the practices he stopped a drill and said to his team this about toughness,
“The secret to be tough is to do the tough stuff well. You guys do understand…all these little things that’s what’s going to give us a chance to be successful. I know you guys want to win, we’ve worked too hard. But the little things like guarding your yard, not getting beat to the outside, not letting the ball into the post easy, challenging every shot…make a big difference. They’re the difference between winning teams and losing teams. Jogging back in transition defense…instead of sprinting back. You think “oh it’s just 2 times I have jogged in the game”, but what if we lose by one point. All the little things matter. All the little things matter at a really high level. If they didn’t I promise you I wouldn’t be on you about them. If I didn’t think they affected our ability to play well I wouldn’t say it. Being where you are suppose to be on the catch, closing out,…we will guard better, if we guard better we get more stops if we get more stops we win. All the little things matter.”

Your team may have the talent to win a championship, you may have worked hard every day in getting better as individuals and as a team but it is going to be the mental toughness that is going to be the difference maker between winning it all or the remorsefulness of ‘what could have been’.
Work harder than the rest. Have a competitive edge that will set you and your teams apart from the rest. Have a great attitude, and find joy in the journey of every practice, and every game.

Author: Dan Leeworthy (4 Posts)

Daniel Leeworthy a native of Melbourne, Australia has been a College basketball Coach in the USA for the last 8 years and is one of only a handful of Australian Coaches coaching at that level. He has coached and been mentored by some of the games best Coaches including current University of Illinois Head Coach John Groce. Leeworthy has Coached at Ohio University, BYU Hawaii, and is currently in his fourth season at Western State Colorado University. He has coached 10 Aussie players, and 13 players to go on to play Professionally.