“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” That is the secret of success, courtesy of Muhammad Ali. Something all champions will confirm. Victories are earned in the offseason, working when nobody is watching.
Every generation has to figure out new ways to push themselves and challenge the champion. Players constantly improve the way they work and prepare, and champions push themselves every day. Steve Nash never won an NBA title, but he was one of the best point guards of his era and was a major part of a revolutionary system in Phoenix. So how did Nash become so good?
Like a lot of players, he can thank soccer for his footwork. Nash, born in South Africa, coming from a British household, started playing soccer from an early age. His toughness can be attributed to playing hockey while growing up in Canada. But this ball-handling skills? That was out of pure passion and dedication.
Nash used to dribble a tennis ball wherever he went. Literally wherever. Nash used to dribble a tennis ball while walking to and from high school, and he continued the practice in college. Going to class, library, or the store, you could see young Steve dribbling a tennis ball wherever he went. After a tennis ball on crooked pavements, a basketball on the court must feel like a piece of cake.
The same practice was used by one of the best soccer players ever, Ronaldinho. He would use a tennis ball to develop a feel for controlling the ball. He went so far that during training camp, we would bounce the tennis ball from his room to the hotel dining area without it hitting the floor – through the hallways, on the elevator, and to his table. His teammates thought the man was crazy. He explained, the same as Nash did, that after that, a regular ball was no challenge.
Many players try to do something so extreme, but only the rare ones have the perseverance and the love of the game to make it their life’s work to become masters of this one thing that drives them.