Basketball Lessons

Improve your competitive edge with advice from former NBA stars Bill Bradley and Tom Chambers.

From America's Horse

In his book, “Values of the Game,” which was on the New York Times nonfiction best sellers list, former NBA star and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley lists a few key elements of competition that are especially applicable to competition with horses. Achieving competitive success, according to Bill, depends on many elements, including discipline, resilience and courage.

“The great thing about discipline,” Bill says, “is that you get an immediate return on your investment of time and effort: The harder you work, the sooner your skills will improve. Then the virtuous circle takes over. As your skills grow, you get a rush of self-confidence, which spurs you to continue working, and your skills increase all the faster.”

So, you haven’t wasted all that time spent loping circles, roping the dummy, getting your leg position just right or any other drills you go through preparing for your event. But you’ll need discipline to hone those skills to the next level. Bill quotes legendary University of California-Los Angeles coach John Wooden as saying, “It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

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When it came to defeat on the court, Bill admits he wasn’t always resilient. He would go over a loss in his mind relentlessly, and the loss would hang over him like a fog for days. Finally, a team member, Dave Debusschere, set him straight and said, “Sure, you blew it tonight, but when it’s over, it’s over. Let it go. Otherwise you won’t be ready to play tomorrow night.” Bill says, “That piece of advice helped change my whole attitude. Even a good pro team is going to lose 20 games a year. I realized the more you carry the bad past around with you in the present, the less likely it is that the future will improve.”

Learning to cope with defeat, whether on the judges card or in your own mind, makes a competitor more resilient. Bill believes that coping with these elements toughens the soul.

“Each life blow no longer shatters us like a hammer hitting a brick; rather it makes us stronger,” he says. “It tempers us, like a hammer hitting metal. Imagine the comfort in knowing that by never giving up, by accepting bad breaks and going on, you will have lived life to the fullest and maybe will have lived a little longer. Such peace of mind is often rewarding enough.”

Courage means laying yourself on the line, going into the arena, giving it all you have and asking your mount for everything he has got. It takes courage to enter that first class after ... a few years or to challenge yourself to move on to the next level of competition.

“It’s worth emphasizing that courage is not the same thing as fearlessness,” Bill says. “It means accepting then overcoming fear – fear of injury, of failing, of looking bad, of relinquishing excuses.”

But how does a rider obtain the cutting edge necessary to beat the competition? Former Utah Jazz forward and current reining horse breeder Tom Chambers says victory lies in preparation and desire.

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“The rider has to spend a lot of time on his horse, just like the basketball player does on the court,” Tom says. “He also has to spend time studying his competition, looking at videotapes of them or going to shows and seeing what is actually winning and how competitors are doing it.”

Preparation goes beyond the time you spend on horseback. Mental preparation follows you from the arena to the barn, back to the house, in the pickup on the way to your event and when you’re waiting to enter the arena to compete.

Hard work develops the skills necessary to meet any goal.

“Nothing gets you farther than actually practicing, like on the basketball court,” Tom says. “If you are going to beat your opponent, then you have to work harder than your opponent. If you want to win in the show pen, you have to go out there and spend more time at it than the other person.”