Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Steve Nash: Zen Playmaker, A Peak Performance Case Study

"All any team has at the end of the day is how hard they work and how bad they want it."

--Steve Nash, two-time NBA MVP of the Phoenix Suns, discussing the nature of teams in 2007.

The Phoenix Suns are in the NBA Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, in large part due to their leader and point guard, Steve Nash. Nash, 36, is in his 14th year in the NBA. He is still pursuing his first NBA championship.

"A lot of it with Steve is his conditioning and what he does in the offseason. He keeps himself in such great shape. He's able to control the game, dribble as much as he does and run as much as he does and still have the strength and the balance to make shots. First of all, I think he's the best pure shooter in the game. ... On top of that, he's such a cerebral player. He finds ways to get good shots better than anybody that I've seen who's not a superior athlete."

--Phoenix Suns' General Manager, Steve Kerr, discussing the individual brilliance of Steve Nash.

"I really believe in everyone here. I really like my teammates a lot. I'm excited to play for Alvin (Gentry). Only one team wins the championship. I don't know if we're that good or not but to be around a really great group of people that can grow, improve and win a lot of games is exciting."

--Steve Nash, discussing his enthusiasm for his team and his motivation.

"It started in training camp. He (Nash) was just determined. He said, 'We're going to get back to where we were and I'm going to see to that.' (It's) true to form with what he's been able to do our team. I've said all along I thought he had a better year this year than any of the two years he won the MVP."

--Alvin Gentry, head coach of the Phoenix Suns.

"Alvin has done a great job of building confidence in each player. Every player has helped us win. We can count on our second team."

--Ama're Stoudemire, All-Star center of the Phoenix Suns, discussing the role of their head coach.

"We defended well. We executed,'" said 37-year-old Grant Hill, who played outstanding defence against the San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili in the conference semi-finals. "We trusted each other and we didn't get discouraged. Collectively everybody did their part."

"Mental toughness encapsulates physical toughness," says Nash, who sustained a gast over his eye that required six stitches in the clinching game against the Spurs.

"With Steve it's all about the flow."

--Bill Duffy, Steve Nash's agent.

Flow, of course, is a term for that state of mind that artists and athletes strive to enter into, and which in full flood entails an ecstatic expansion of consciousness that releases them from confines of the self and produces crowning moments of creativity.

"My first and second years in the N.B.A., I used to get really nervous in a tight game. But now I wait for that moment when things are really close - that's what I really love. Having the ball in my hands and the responsibility makes me feel calm and open. Not to have that, not to get to that point in a game, would feel really...really confining."

--Steve Nash, discussing his confidence.

An interviewer asked Nash, "Was there one shot or game when you first felt that way?"

"Probably it built over time - I don't want it to sound like there's anything too mystical about it," said Nash.

"I've always said when Steve retires, I'll retire. I don't want anyone to be able to figure out whether our success is because of my system or Steve's ability to make it work. There's a period in a player's life where the novelty wears off. You've got kids and money, and sometimes your basketball flame begins to flicker. And then a few years later, you realize you've got a limited amount of time and this is the best it's ever gonna be. I think Steve is one of those guys who has always lived for the game. You can have all the money in the world, but for the great players the only thing that matters is winning a title."

--Mike D'Antoni, former Phoenix Suns head coach and current New York Knicks head coach, said in 2007, prior to being fired.

"There are nights when I ask myself, 'Am I really playing basketball?' But that's mostly from the stuff around the game: talking to the media, taking the bus, getting warmed up. Once I'm out on the court, in the game, the game is great."

--Steve Nash.

"I don't know. I have a lot of energy and a lot of motivation. I have a hard time sitting still. I guess in a way I can't live with the alternative to being driven, which is sitting around being bored. If I'm going to go for something, I'm really going to go for it. I think I realized as a kid that I would keep going when other kids stopped. If my legs are there, if my quickness is there, I can have a good game. If not, I try to find other ways of making plays without being quick. Making smart plays. Making the game simple."

--Steve Nash, responding to a question about what drove him and motivated him beyond the obvious goal of a championship.

However, the Los Angeles Lakers pose a great threat in the NBA Conference Finals. As against the San Antonio Spurs, Nash may find a way to win.

Excerpts from (May 10, 2010), Canadian Press (May 11, 2010) and the New York Times Play magazine (November 2007).

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