Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gisela Dulko: Relaxes and Wins at Wimbledon

"I definitely got a bit nervous at 5-4. I could feel my legs shaking, and I just said to myself, 'Tranquila'. I knew that it was a vital game."

--Gisela Dulko, upset winner at Wimbledon, against former champion Maria Sharapova.

WIMBLEDON, England — Unseeded Argentine Gisela Dulko upset former champion Maria Sharapova in a suspenseful 6-2 3-6 6-4 victory in the second round at Wimbledon on Wednesday.

Sharapova, ranked 60, was still suffering with a shoulder injury. Gisela Dulko, ranked 45th, a slender 24-year-old Argentine veteran, was the latest second-tier player to seize the opportunity and beat Sharapova.

In her first match on Centre Court, Dulko jumped out to a 6-2, 3-0 lead. To her credit, she then managed to shake off the loss of seven straight games and recover early in the third set and then hold on through the final game, finally managing to serve out the victory on her fifth match point.

Dulko called the victory, the most important of her career.

"It's the biggest win of my career because she's a great champion and on Centre Court in the most important tournament in the world. It's a dream day. I played a poor second set but I kept fighting in the third. I was really nervous at the end. I didn't want it to go to 5-5 because she competes right to the very end."

Ricky Rubio: Basketball Prodigy with a Dream

“It’s my dream.”

--Ricky Rubio, 18-year old Spainiard, who is widely considered the second best propspect available in the 2009 NBA draft, discussing his desire to succeed in the NBA.

Though Rubio has yet to prove his worth as an NBA player, he is off to a good mental start. Successful athletes have been found to be successful due in part to their personality characteristics, including: their vision (the ability to focus on a dream), their drive (ability identify specific goals and work hard toward them), their resilience; and their ability to find personal meaning in their mission.

“I don’t think about what they say about me,” Rubio said. “I only think about my objective. I have my own dreams and I don’t listen to people who say you’re going to be in the top or you’re going to be all hype. I don’t care. We’re going to see what they can do on the court. I talk on the court.”

Rubio is a 6-foot, 5-inch point guard who has been playing in the Spain's top professional league since the age of 14. He played well against NBA talent in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He has been rumored to be coveted by some teams but not others. It is unknown where he will actually land in the draft due to his age or the perception of his potential skills.

European basketball players are known for their hunger to prove themselves and their preparation in basketball skills and fundamentals.

And, at least, he has his head on straight.

For more on Rubio and other European NBA players, go to

Excerpts from the New York Times (June 25, 2009)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Key to Peak Performance: Preparation & Practice

The Importance Of Offseason Workouts Posted by Mike Florio on June 18, 2009, 3:14 p.m. EDT on

We’ve been saying for years that, during the offseason voluntary underwear practices, much of the offensive and defensive playbooks for the coming season are installed.On Thursday, Saints coach Sean Payton gave a glimpse into how much preparation is actually accomplished during the offseason workouts.

“We could play a game today,” Payton told reporters. “All of our goal-line, short-yardage, two-minute, third down, red zone – all that stuff is in offensively and the kicking game. In training camp we’ll have a chance to go right from the beginning and obviously get more reps at it.”

In all, Payton said that two thirds, or maybe a little less, of the entire playbook has been installed during the offseason.

“The difference between now and training camp is that now you’re installing it and you may only get to rep a play three times, where in training camp you install it and you might get to rep it 13 times,” Payton said.

So that’s why NFL coaches begin to turn various shades of blue and purple when players opt not to attend optional workouts. They’re not doing jumping jacks and tossing medicine balls; they’re preparing in earnest for the coming 17-week grind.

What are you doing to prepare and practice your craft?

from on Twitter- Payton Illustrates The Importance Of Offseason Workouts

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You Gotta Wanna Hear It

I found this fascinating quote today:

Sometimes listening is hard. It opens up the door to things that you might not have wanted to hear. It points to weaknesses or shortcomings. It can also open your eyes to huge opportunities to embrace positive momentum, learn from successes, and understand what your community and customer base is asking of you.You Gotta Wanna Hear It, Jun 2009

You should read the whole article.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Peak Performance Case Study

Watching the NBA playoffs this week, I had a question. Why doesn't anyone in the NBA use the hookshot anymore? It is a lost art. Long ago, however, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar perfected the shot (called "the Skyhook") which became his signature shot. He was so good with it that he became the NBA's leading career scorer before his retirement.

Below is an outstanding video featuring the development of the Skyhook and NBA Hall of Famer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


For more on Peak Performance, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.

Monday, June 08, 2009

European NBA Players: Fundamentals, Skills and Footwork

How are you encouraging the development of skills and fundamentals in your organization?

The Europeans in the NBA, which now number 75, have had a great influence on the league. Many people had taken notice of their work habits and ability to compete with American NBA players, including Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy, opposing head coaches in this year's NBA finals.

"When you watch them in international events and you see them play against our best players -- and obviously we won [the Olympics last summer] pretty handily -- what you notice about our team is our athleticism is on a very high level, but [the Europeans] are able to compete because of their skills.

"If you look around the league, it becomes pretty evident that the Europeans are quite a bit ahead of us in terms of skill development for players, especially [if you look] at the bigger players -- Dirk Nowitzki, Hedo Turkoglu, Peja Stojakovic. We tend to take our big guys and stick them all around the basket. From a very young age, our coaches say, 'Get it to a guard' -- they get upset if our [big] guys even try to dribble the ball.

"The way we develop our players from a young age is just inferior to what they do there. They spend a lot more time on skill development. We want all our young kids here to play as many games as possible, to play in AAU tournaments from the time they're 8. You'll run into people who will tell you their son's team won the 8-and-under state AAU tournament -- like, who cares? But we're really into that for our kids, we want our kids to get recognition for being the best at a young age.

"In Europe, I think it's so much different. Their club teams practice a couple of times a day. One of those practices, I think, is just skills development. And then I think the other thing that helps them is, from a young age, when they're good, they move up."

"So they're always having to work and get better. What we want to do is take our young [American] kids and put them on the covers of magazines and tell them how great they are and fill them up with adulation, instead of them having to work and get better.

"Think about what goes on in our youth sports. We cheat. We want to say the guy who is 13 is only 12, so he can play down [at an easier age level], whether it's Danny Almonte or whatever, so we can glorify them and win our championship. Instead of that, why not play the guy up with 16-year-olds if he's that good and let him learn that I can't throw the fastball down the middle, I can't overpower this kid? But that's not us. Our system is to do just the opposite. And why is a kid going to take two hours a day in a gym by himself, when he can go play in an AAU tournament and have somebody hand him a trophy and say he's the ninth-ranked sixth-grader in America and stuff like that? It's ridiculous, our system. Who cares who the top 10 sixth-graders in America are? Why would that even matter to anyone? It's certainly not going to aid their skill development as time goes on.

"The whole thing in our basketball is that the system is not conducive to developing players. You get a guy like Hedo growing up over there, and for them, what they're thinking of is the end in mind. They're thinking of the national team down the road and how do we make this guy better. But we're not thinking that way here.

"Over here, my team has probably eight to 15 [junior] teams underneath it, so you have kids running around here at the age of 6 who are working on skills that you don't teach in America until you get to middle school," Karl said. "So that's where you begin to understand why Ricky is as good as he is and why some of these younger guys on my team in Europe are as good as they are. It's because they learn these skills from when they could start walking and dribbling a ball, and that's a distinct advantage the European player has. They can work on their game from the age of 6 with a coach who knows what he's talking about in a proven way."

--Stan Van Gundy, head coach of the NBA Orlando Magic, finalists in the this year's NBA championship series after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, discussing the development of European players versus the American system.

The European System

"I've seen some of the ball-handling drills they do and some of the pick-and-roll situations they go over with the middle-school kids. They do the slow European one-two change of direction like Sarunas Marciulionis used to do, or like Manu Ginobili or Ricky [Rubio]."

"They're teaching this to young kids here. Some of the younger guys have been practicing with us from the [junior] team, so these guys are developing into players as the season goes along. They might be playing games [at their own age level], but they're also here in practice with us playing against top professionals, as well as practicing with their younger team in the same day. And they might have an individual workout on top of that. I mean, you could have a kid who's 18 years old having an individual workout at 10 a.m., going to practice with his team at 2 p.m., and then coming to practice with Joventut at 6 p.m.. It doesn't give much time for anything else, but you can definitely develop as a basketball player."

"The way they drill situations is far superior to any coaching system in middle school and high school that we have in America.

"A lot of that stuff has been taught. So it's not just him being a creative mind -- they teach the Steve Nash scoop layup, they teach the slow one-two. They teach a lot of these things from a young age, and those are things I want to improve on this summer, the use of pivots or the use of your two steps after you pick up the ball. Those are things I want to work on and use because they're very crafty things, and I think I already have a lot of that in my game but I want to have more.

"But they don't have a choice. When you only have three hours a day to practice, you have to make everything team-oriented -- to work on your team defenses and those aspects of the game. But over here you have multiple hours in the day to work on individual and team."

--Coby Karl, American professional basketball player and former NBA player, now playing in Europe, referring to the "Euro step" -- the move in which Ginobili, of the San Antonio Spurs, sidesteps a defender by making a 90-degree detour before resuming his momentum toward the basket.

Inferiority Complex

One reason for the development: the European players are also hungry and motivated and see themselves as underdogs to the American players. With an inferiority complex, they work doubly hard to try to match the best of the NBA.

The same motivation and anxiety helps to drive European coaches. They are drivent to study the technical aspects of the game and learn the finer points through clinics and textbooks and videos. To many of them, basketball becomes an academic, technical exercise, something to be learned step-by-step.

"You see an occasional LeBron James, but for the most part who are the great, highly skilled American 6-9 and 6-10 guys?" Van Gundy said. "I wish we would get to their system, because we still have the best athletes -- we've got people that have the potential to do all of those things.

"I look at a Dirk Nowitzki, and I find it hard to believe that we'll ever have guys of that size with those kinds of skills here. Because we don't take the time to develop them. We'll never have those guys.

"That doesn't mean we don't have highly skilled athletes, because we do," Van Gundy acknowledged. "But I think those guys have to somehow do it on their own. There's certainly not a system that's set up for us here to develop skills. It doesn't mean there aren't certain guys who just go in the gym and make themselves highly skilled guys, but we don't have a system to develop skills here."

Kobe Bryant

Even Kobe Bryant, considered one of the two best players in the world, developed his footwork in another country (Italy) and in another sport (soccer).

Cousins in the United States sent him videos of N.B.A. games, so Bryant studied the feet of Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley.

“I’ve always worked on it, always worked on it since I was a kid. I just watched different players — Olajuwon, Michael, Charles — and just all kinds of footwork and just tried to emulate them. Playing soccer, I think, had a lot to do with it as well. It’s just growing up overseas.”

--Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers.

Eventually, Bryant teamed with Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who also coached the Chicago Bulls featuring Michael Jordan. Jackson saw the Bulls teammate work with each other on fundamentals.

"Because Scottie could make the footwork and dunk with his left hand, and Michael always envied that.”

--Phil Jackson said of Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen tutoring Michael Jordan on skills development.

Jackson also appreciated the value of other sports. Before the draft, he used to ask prospects about their athletic experiences.

“Basketball is a very skilled sport,” Jackson said. “But we need guys that can throw the basketball like a baseball and we like guys that have footwork like in soccer.”

As Bryant’s career and game advanced, he seldom goes anywhere without a DVD player so he could study highlights and the tendencies of opponents.

“There’s some things that we’ve always worked with him on, particularly where he gets his shots from and how he got his shots,” Jackson said. “Footwork has always been something he’s worked at on his own.”

“He has great footwork; he has great body control. He has great everything. Compared to LeBron, he’s very different because he’s moving a lot and he knows how to get you unbalanced to make his shot. He’s Kobe Bryant, so I’m not surprised.”

--Mickeal Pietrus, Orlando Magic forward, who defended against Bryant in Game 1 of the finals and also guarded LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals.

Although Bryant and Jordan were originally known for their athleticism, acrobatic dunking high-flying theatrical moves, as their careers advanced, their footwork helped maintain the high quality of their game.

“All good players have the same DNA in that regards. If you’re going to start building a foundation, footwork is part of it. It’s part of being athletic. Michael, I would throw right up there at the top with anybody I’ve ever been associated with. Same with Kobe.”

--Lakers assistant Jim Cleamons, who had the same role with Jordan’s Bulls.

Bryant is intuitive in his abilities. He senses when a defender is vulnerable and responds quickly.

“Just depends on what he’s doing and what I feel,” Bryant says. “I just react instinctively.”

However, at the end of the day, Bryant is also Jordanesque in one other way, his mental mindset.

“It’s his mind frame. That’s what sets him apart. There are guys with, I wouldn’t say equal skill, but there are really skilled guys. What sets him apart is his relentlessness. He never quits. Never quits. That’s his biggest strength.”

--Shane Battier, Houston Rockets forward.

What do you think? Is the development of skills and fundamentals being fostered on your team?

Excerpts taken from, June 5, 2009, and the New York Times, June 7, 2009.

For more on Peak Performance, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.

Dinara Safina: Too Much Pressure in French Open Championship Loss

"The pressure I put on myself because I really wanted to win.

"I just didn't handle it. I was a little bit desperate on the court, and didn't do the things that I had to do. I didn't stay tough mentally. I lost myself."

--Dinara Safina, the world's number one ranked women's tennis player, after losing 6-4 6-2 to fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova on Saturday, June 6, 2009.

In a clue as to her pre-match mental mindset Safina had said before the final, "How much proof do I need to give to people that I deserve to be number one?" Safina had been irritated about criticism concerning whether she deserved to be ranked at the top. Perhaps that was where the excessive pressure came from.

Kuznetsova took advantage of the No. 1-ranked Safina's nerves and frequent errors and won the French Open final, a 74-minute match which ended with Safina's seventh double-fault.

"She was too tight. She had so much pressure on her. I just played the match. It was just one more match. ... Definitely it was a lot of emotions inside of me, but I control it."

--Svetlana Kutnetsova, 2004 U.S. Open champion.

So, what has Safina learned having now funished runner-up in the season's opening two majors?

"Not to put so much pressure on myself."

Excerpts from Reuters and (June 7, 2009)

For more on Peak Performance, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Kobe Bryant: Hungry Leader of the Los Angeles Lakers

"I just want it so bad, that's all. I just want it really bad. You just put everything you have into the game and your emotions kind of flow out of you."

--Kobe Bryant, discussing his burning desire to win an NBA championship this year.

Bryant scored 40 points and had 8 rebounds and 8 assists in a game one blowout of the Orlando Magic in the NBA championship finals.

"It's been a long haul to get back here for all of us," Bryant said. "It makes you hungry and it wasn't just me, it was everybody on our team. They want to have that feeling in the NBA. I've had it three times already. Once you've had that celebration and that feeling of winning and accomplishment, you want to have it again."

"I admire his hunger as a player," Pao Gasol, his teammate, said.

"He's a great leader and somebody you look up to," another Laker teammate, Sasha Vujacic, says. "There are no words to describe him."

Excerpts taken from (June 6, 2009)

For more on Peak Performance, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.