One of the greatest stories in sports is the one about Michael Jordan. I’m sure you heard that Jordan’s high school coach cut him the high school basketball team. Well, I’m sorry to break the news but that version is not really true!

So it’s true that his Air-ness didn’t earn a spot on the varsity team that day that rocked the universe.  But most story tellers leave out that MJ’s earned  a spot on the junior varsity (JV) team.

That’s the most important part of this story!

Jordan, who was only 5’10” at the time, was devastated. What made it worse was that his classmate, the much taller Leroy Smith (6’7″), made the team. In teenage Jordan’s mind, Leroy beat him, so it was personal. I’m not sure what Jordan dreamed about that night, but he woke up on full BEAST mode.  Jordan committed to never let anyone beat him again.

There’s so much we can learn from this one event in MJ’s life. These are some the main nuggets I took from his story.

1. CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE: Even though he was upset for not making the varsity team, Jordan used that failure as motivation. He worked harder than anyone else on that JV team because of it he developed great ball handling skills. He learned that what matters most is not what happens to us, but how we choose to respond that makes the biggest difference. 

2. CONSTANT SELF-IMPROVEMENT: MJ is famous for continuous improvement or the “growth mindset” explained in the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. To fans, he’s known as one of the greatest, but to his teammates and coaches, he was considered the hardest working athlete in the world. He was constantly improving his game.

3. HUSTLE WHERE YOU ARE: Instead of giving up, losing interest, or being embarrassed to play on the JV team, MJ hustled like a BEAST. He was the hardest-working kid on the team. He turned a setback into a setup for something greater. That JV experience gave him the chance to gain confidence, skills,  and find his niche. You can’t wait until you have the job, spouse, or life of your dreams before you decide to make the most of it. You have to make the most of what you have now in order to make it into something great tomorrow.

4. TALENT IS OVERRATED: During his tryouts, coaches considered MJ an AVERAGE player. He wasn’t a child prodigy. But his will to win (aka growth mindset) compensated for the things he lacked athletically. Often we don’t see the work ethic that high performing people invest in their craft, so we label them prodigies, overnight successes, and super talents.  But research is showing that “natural talent” is not as strong a determining factor for athletic, musical, or artistic success as people think. The coach who cut MJ said there wasn’t anything remarkable about Jordan during his tryout except that he seemed very determined. The real gift is found in one’s ability to continually practice (or “deep practice” (like it’s called in the book “The Talent Code”), focus, and stay motivated.  You don’t know how good you are until you’ve given it all you can.

5. WORK HARDER (ON YOURSELF): Why did Jordan practice more than the other players if he was already the best?  Maybe he was the best because he was always working. Jordan practiced as if someone was going to take his spot. He had a reputation for out working his teammates and was constantly seeking feedback from his coaches. For MJ, it wasn’t about beating others; it was about beating himself.

Stay tuned for Part 2.


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