Something It Takes To Turn Pro

"To be the best, you must work harder than the rest."

Notice the title of this blog--Something it Takes to Turn Pro. It’s not “what” it takes. There are plenty of factors that play into making it.

To some degree, and maybe only for some sports, you need to be born with “it”.

You hear coaches say, 'You can’t coach height'. What they mean is that you’re born with a certain genetic disposition and with the right nurturing, you can reach a certain natural potential.

An example is most NBA players are taller than normal. They were “born” to play in the NBA in one sense. By no means does that dismiss the work they put in to get there, but I think you get my point.

In my time around the league, I never met a seven-foot tall player with small hands. BUT, you can be 5’3" and still have big-enough hands to handle a basketball well enough to make it to the NBA. If anybody knows who I’m talking about, I’m referring to the great “Muggsy” Bogues. Not only did he make it to the league, he had a successful career. He may be an outlier, but it shows that it’s possible. I’m all about working toward a dream.

So, while there are many sports that require more skill than size, it’s still not what I want to focus on.

I will be talking about turning pro in a different way at a different point in an athlete's career.

Story Time

This first came to be a long time ago during my Dallas Mavericks strength & conditioning coaching days. I had a young player who was a great athlete. He was a 2 guard who could shoot, could run, and could jump out of the gym. He had an exceptional rookie year followed up with a good sophomore season. Once he got rewarded with a nicer contract, he shut it down.

He thought he didn’t need to work and put in the time anymore. Wrong. It doesn’t work like that. We see the highlight reels on TV, but rarely anything about the work put in during the offseason. Even if we do, a brief “look” doesn’t capture the true grind (and yes it is a grind).

In the NBA at that time, I was the only staff member to have significant contact time with the players who stayed in town during the off season. As the second off season training progressed – or in his case regressed – workouts were missed, effort fell off, and my frustration increased.

After one pedestrian workout, I told him that he should turn pro and he predictably responded, “Whaddya mean? I am pro.” My answer to that was, “No, you are getting paid to play basketball, but you are not acting like a pro.”

Now for the heart of the matter. A professional is paid for their services because they demonstrate great talent and ability and influence in their arena. At that point a team determines their value and the player gets a contract. The assumption is that the performance that brought them to that point will continue and ideally improve over the course of a career. The problem with my guy was that he declined, got traded, and faded away. A waste of talent.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ll refer to an opponent at the other end of the court. During a pregame warmup against the Utah Jazz, I went over to the perennial All-Pro Karl "the Mailman" Malone and asked him about his offseason training. Without hesitation, he said, “I make the team in the offseason.”

What!? He was Karl Malone, a future Hall of Famer. He could just show up and he’d make the team.

To extend this lesson further, one of the local 7-footers I worked with for several years as an amateur was drafted by Utah and when we met up again I asked him about Malone’s workout habits. He affirmed that he was a beast. He said that during two-a-day practices he was on the stairmaster between practices. Yep, the best of the best.

All of his effort was for several reasons. The sport demands it from every player. To be the best you must work harder than the rest (if that is possible). You know that there’s always somebody else ready and waiting to take your place if you fail or get injured.

So to anybody who has any dreams of going to the top, if you haven’t worked out before reading this, you better get going. It’s like Mick yelling at Rocky in one of the 37 movies, “There is no tomorrow!”

Your attitude is to plan the work and work the plan, remembering that you may only get one opportunity.

But when that opportunity comes, will you be ready for that one moment of glory? Starting yesterday, you have every day to prepare for it.



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