Quotes from Books That Help With Leadership & Basketball Coaching

Over the course of the past year, I’ve found myself reading more and more books about leadership and connecting with people, in hopes that it will pay dividends in my coaching. I can honestly say that I truly believe it has. If you’re not a big reader, it’s your lucky day.

I’m going to supply you with some of my favorite quotes from books I’ve read over the course of the past year. These are quotes/excerpts that I’ve highlighted because I thought they’d make some type of difference for me, and hopefully they’ll do the same for you, too!

Pound the Stone: 7 Lessons to Develop Grit on the Path to Mastery, by Joshua Medcalf

“We often get caught up seeking the remarkable, instead of doing the unremarkable with remarkable consistency.”

“The truth is, with every decision we make, each and every one of us are building our own house. But unfortunately, most people don’t operate this way. In business and in life, most people lack patience, and play the short game instead of the long game. They chase quarterly bottom lines, instead of a lasting legacy. Cutting corners to maximize short-term profits might work for a little bit, but it will always come at the expense of what truly matters: the relationships and consumer trust that build a legacy.”

“Failure is an event, not an identity.”

“But hard work is the price of admission for the opportunity to become great at anything, not just basketball. Business, creativity, relationships. Greatness takes resilience. Mastery takes grit.”

​“Life is about 10% what you have when you begin, things like natural talent and opportunity, and 90% what you do with it.”

“The funny thing about blame is that while it might temporarily make us feel better, it does absolutely nothing to create a better tomorrow.”

“The most valuable things in life you can’t be given, and they can’t be bought. No amount of money, family status, or talent can buy character and grit… they can only be earned.”

​“The hard truth is that so often, what we see in others says a lot more about us than it does about them.”

“You can cheat a lot of people in this life, but you can never cheat the person in the mirror.”

​“You know, a wise man once said, ‘perspective is the only thing that can dramatically change the results without changing any of the facts.’

​“You have greatness inside of you, but you have to choose between it and excuses. You can’t have both. The greatness inside of you is buried underneath all your excuses and rationalizations. Even though you have legitimate excuses and rationalizations, it doesn’t change this truth.”

“You want to always stay humble and hungry. There is always more to learn and always room to grow. Mastery isn’t a destination, it is a continual process and never ending journey.”

“Lots of leaders like to call people out, hypocritically I might add, but very few are willing to go first and then call people up…. step by step by step.”

“There are no extraordinary people, just ordinary people willing to experience shame, persecution, and even death to pursue what sets their soul on fire.”

“I once had one of the most respected people in coaching tell me that he wants to see a kid play poorly when he is watching. You know why? Because seeing how he handles adversity will tell him a lot more about how that kid will handle the next level more than anything else.”

“You aren’t entitled to your dreams.”

Burn Your Goals: The Counter Cultural Approach to Achieving Your Greatest Potential, By Josh Medcalf

“Rarely do we have control over what happens to us, but we always have 100% control over how we explain what happens to us. Many times the most important thing is not actually what happened, but how we explain the event to ourselves.”

​“We would ask that you take 3 minutes and ACTUALLY stop and write out what you want to be said about you when you are gone.”

“On your deathbed it is unlikely you will wish: You won more games. You made more money. You had more stuff. You had a better title. You got one more sale.”

“Time is the only resource that is the same for everyone regardless of how much money you make, your race, or where you live. We only get 86,400 seconds every day.”

​“Make sure your willingness to sacrifice and how you use your 86,400 seconds every day are in direct proportion to the size of your dreams.”

“EVERYONE WANTS TO WIN. EVERYONE WANTS TO GROW. Very few are willing to do what it takes.”

​“We define True Mental Toughness as: Having a GREAT attitude, giving your very, very best, treating people really, really well, and having UNCONDITIONAL gratitude REGARDLESS of your circumstances.”

“If we focus on the goal, then we are setting people up for a life of, “What can I get for doing this?” rather than: “How can I learn and grow from this?”

“How can I serve others?” “How can I make our team better?”

“When we focus on the process of growth and true mental toughness we steer the souls of those we impact away from the treacherous emotional rollercoaster of results-based identity and towards the journey of growth and development.”

​“We have to face the hard truth that the people we lead might be becoming more entitled, more likely to cheat the process, less resilient, and carrying a victim mentality because of the way we are conditioning them with our outcome-based goal focus.”

“We don’t attract what we want, we attract what we habitually do and what we believe.”

“So, people in leadership, the question you need to ask yourself is this: Am I trustworthy? Am I consistent? If you aren’t consistent, it is hard to trust you.”

​“You can ONLY reach your fullest potential by choosing the toughest challenges over and over in life.”

​“You have to be willing to work when others party. You have to be willing to suffer when others play. You have to be willing to do what others won’t, so you can do what others can’t.”

“Anyone can dream a dream, but the real question is how much are you willing to suffer. How many times will you be willing to say NO to instant gratification in order to say YES to your dreams that are so far off they feel like”

“Comparison is different. Comparison is about worth. He beat me so he is a better person. She trains with the national team so she is always going to get the starting spot. He has closed more deals for the company this year so why should I even bother to try harder? Comparison usually leads to diminished or inflated worth and takes our focus and energy away from things we can control.”

​“Don’t worry about being better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be. You have control of that, not the other.”

“Anything that happens to me today is in my best interest. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow.”

“Whatever happens today, don’t just go through it, grow through it!”

“If you focus on equipping people for the future and maximizing their potential you shift from survive mode to thrive mode. That doesn’t guarantee you will win or even keep your job, but it does create a culture with the foundation necessary to sustain success.”

​“Sports can be transformational. However, if our identity is found in winning, coaching, playing, or obtaining results, we are functional addicts who are most likely dying inside.”

“Fear does not have to be our foe. Fear can be our friend that tells us “This is where the goodness happens.”

​“Many times in life we experience trials that are outside of our control and the most dangerous thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves and become immobilized.”

“Gold is refined in the fire, diamonds are formed under pressure, but most of us run and hide every time we have an opportunity to be refined.”

“You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul”

​“What most of us really want is for those we love and respect to believe in our dreams, our passions, and our success. And when they do, success is that much sweeter. Because at the end of the day, it feels so much better to say, “See! You were RIGHT!” instead of, “See! You were WRONG.”

Legacy, by James Kerr

“The All Blacks say, ‘Better People Make Better All Blacks’.

​“‘If you’re not growing anywhere, you’re not going anywhere.’

‘At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back in the same box’.

“Champions do ordinary things better than everyone else.”

How Champions Think, by Bob Rotella

“Refusing to lose, though, doesn’t mean you’re never going to come out on the short end of a particular game. It doesn’t mean your commitments will never be broken. It doesn’t mean your perseverance won’t occasionally waver. It doesn’t mean that bad habits won’t occasionally reemerge. It means that you never give up. You never give in to doubt, fear, or fatigue. Giving up is the only true loss.”

“Average people tend to overestimate how hard they are working. When John Calipari gets new freshman basketball players at Kentucky, he sometimes hooks them up to heart monitors as they practice. When they get to a break, he asks them how hard they’ve been playing. He shows it to the freshman, and then he pulls up a similar chart from an NBA player during practice. The charts don’t lie. They show that the Kentucky freshman is working at about 50 percent of capacity. The NBA player is working at 80 to 90 percent”​

“But there’s a difference between learning from failure and wallowing in it.”

“I understand that safety and security are nice to have. But safety and security can become more important to an individual than being exceptional and doing fantastic things over the course of a life. When that happens often enough in a society, the society begins to die. It gives up its leadership role in the world. Accepting the importance and necessity of competition keeps us alive inside. It forces us to be honest about ourselves.”

“But no good will ever come of whining about competition. If you’re going to be exceptional, you must embrace it.”

“People tend to become what they think of themselves”

“When they find someone who believes in them and their ability, they latch on to that person. They develop a relationship of loyalty and mutual support. They learn from that person. When they encounter a coach or a boss who doesn’t believe they have it, they have the ability to ignore that person. A bad coach or a bad boss affects them only in that they want to prove to the world how foolish he is.”

“The best coaches make sure they always find a way to have all their players enter competition feeling confident about themselves, regardless of what was said in practice.”

​“There are coaches out there who think that developing an athlete means only criticizing him. There’s some ego and insecurity attached to this”

The Champion’s Mind, by Jim Afremow

“Coaches should emphasize effort rather than talent to develop the growth mindset.”

​“Recognize that there will never be a better time and place than right now and right here to become a champion in your own game and life.”

​“Will you continue to sacrifice what you most want to achieve in your game for what is comfortable in the moment?”

​“A nonmedalist says, “One day I will,” whereas a gold medalist does it and says, “Today I did.”

​“Am I leading and loving like jesus by serving those around me and laying my life down for them?”

​Mindset, by Carol Dweck

“Success is about being your best self, not about being better than others; failure is an opportunity, not a condemnation; effort is the key to success”

“What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.”

“Just because some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training”

“Character, the sportswriters said. They know it when they see it—it’s the ability to dig down and find the strength even when things are going against you”

“I believe ability can get you to the top,” says coach John Wooden, “but it takes character to keep you there.… It’s so easy to … begin thinking you can just ‘turn it on’ automatically, without proper preparation. It takes real character to keep working as hard or even harder once you’re there. When you read about an athlete or team that wins over and over and over, remind yourself, ‘More than ability, they have character.’ ”

“The great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.”

“Success is not coming to you, you must come to it.”

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better”

“There are coaches out there,” Wooden says, “who have won championships with the dictator approach, among them Vince Lombardi and Bobby Knight. I had a different philosophy.… For me, concern, compassion, and consideration were always priorities of the highest order”

Grit, by Angela Duckworth

“I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”

“By shining our spotlight on talent, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors—including grit—don’t matter as much as they really do.”

“I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented,” he once observed. “Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic.”

The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me. You might be all of those things. You got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.”

“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive”

​”Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.

It’s about hard work. When it’s not fun, you do what you need to do anyway. Because when you achieve results, it’s incredibly fun. You get to enjoy the ‘Aha’ at the end, and that is what drags you along a lot of the way.”

“Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They’d rather show the highlight of what they’ve become.”

“After hanging up with Terry, I began to think about the fact that infants and toddlers spend most of their time trying to do things they can’t, again and again—and yet they don’t seem especially embarrassed or anxious. No pain, no gain is a rule that doesn’t seem to apply to the preschool set.”

“Watch a baby struggle to sit up, or a toddler learn to walk: you’ll see one error after another, failure after failure, a lot of challenge exceeding skill, a lot of concentration, a lot of feedback, a lot of learning.

​Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization, by John Wooden

“Competitive Greatness—“ being at your best when your best is needed.” To me, that is the most exciting part of being a leader”

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

“For most of my life I have believed that success is found in the running of the race. How you run the race—your planning, preparation, practice, and performance—counts for everything. Winning or losing is a by-product, an aftereffect, of that effort. For me, it’s the quality of your effort that counts most and offers the greatest and most long-lasting satisfaction.”

“It’s like character and reputation. Reputation is what others perceive you as being, and their opinion may be right or wrong. Character, however, is what you really are, and nobody truly knows that but you. But you are what matters most.”

“A destination is meaningless, however, without directions on how to get there.”

​”A strong leader accepts blame and gives the credit. A weak leader gives blame and accepts the credit.””The best leaders are more interested in finding what’s right than in always being right.”​”The star of every successful team is the team. Individuals don’t win games, teams do.”

“Remember That Success Can Take Months—or Years—to Achieve but Can Be Undone in Minutes.”

“We are what we repeatedly do.””Every leader should create his or her agenda of things that make a difference. It could be everything from being punctual to completing projects on deadline.”


“A leader who tries to lead without love will turn around one day and find there is nobody following. The family will have disappeared. Love is essential—for the competitive struggle itself, for the people on your team, and for the journey you and they are taking.”

“The things you hope to teach those under you are best taught by your own behavior—demonstration—whether it’s the act of showing respect for others, being on time, shooting a free throw, or exercising self-control. Action speaks louder than words.”

“Remember That a Good Demonstration Tops a Great Description.”

“Peaks and valleys belong in the Alps, not in the temperament—the emotions—of a leader.”

“Thus, I explained to our players, managers, trainer, and assistant coaches that there was to be no excessive exuberance when we scored against an opponent at an important juncture nor excessive dejection when an opponent scored against UCLA.”

“Control Emotion or Emotion Will Control You.”

“The purpose of criticism is to correct, improve, and change. It is not to humiliate, demean, or punish. It is a task that requires great skill and judgment and is best left in the hands of able management and coaches.”

“The leader’s attitude, conscious and subconscious, inevitably becomes the attitude of those he leads.”

“Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them”

Leadership Playbook, by Jamy Bechler

“lead wherever you may go because it can be quite contagious!”

“You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can your direction overnight.”

“Most choices that we have in life are simple. Knowing the right thing to do is not the hard part, choosing to do the right thing is the difficult part.”

“Your integrity is the most valuable thing that you possess.”

“Being positive does not mean ignoring the negative. Being positive means overcoming the negative.”

“The great thing about positivity is that it never decreases when you share it. When you share positivity with others it grows and expands in their lives and yours.”

“When you are under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.”

“If you develop the habits of success, you’ll make success a habit.”

“Having humility doesn’t mean that you think less of yourself, rather that it means you think of yourself less.”

“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.”

“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts, but about one life influencing another.”

“The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging and not something that is less than helpful.”

“A good leader gets people to follow him because they want to, not because he makes them.”

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago but that the second best time to plant a tree is now.”

“There is no shame in walking away from a situation that will negatively impact your goals and dreams.”

“You and your team probably have morning workouts, team film sessions & practice. But guess what? So, does every other team. What are you doing to be different?”

​​The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle

“Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”

“When you encounter a group with good chemistry, you know it instantly.”

“Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful overarching idea: We are safe and connected.”

“But the successful groups I visited paid attention to moments of arrival. They would pause, take time, and acknowledge the presence of the new person, marking the moment as special: We are together now.”

“I realized that how we treat each other is everything. If we do that well, everything else will fall into place.”

“Here’s a surprising fact about successful cultures: many were forged in moments of crisis.”

Atomic Habits, by James Clear

We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits”

“It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis

“If you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done”

“Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations”

“Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from twenty-five to thirty-one degrees”

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before”

“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. If you’re a coach, your goal might be to win a championship. Your system is the way you recruit players, manage your assistant coaches, and conduct practice.”

“Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers. It wasn’t the goal of winning the Tour de France that propelled the British cyclists to the top of the sport. Presumably, they had wanted to win the race every year before—just like every other professional team. The goal had always been there. It was only when they implemented a system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome”

“First, decide who you want to be. This holds at any level—as an individual, as a team, as a community, as a nation. What do you want to stand for? What are your principles and values? Who do you wish to become?”

“Ultimately, your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be. They are the channel through which you develop your deepest beliefs about yourself. Quite literally, you become your habits”

“The process of behavior change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them.”

“The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives”

“Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive”

“Boiling water will soften a potato but harden an egg. You can’t control whether you’re a potato or an egg, but you can decide to play a game where it’s better to be hard or soft”

Extreme Ownership: How the U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jock Willink and Leif Babin

“These leaders cast no blame. They made no excuses. Instead of complaining about challenges or setbacks, they developed solutions and solved problems. They leveraged assets, relationships, and resources to get the job done. Their own egos took a back seat to the mission and their troops. These leaders truly led.”

“leadership is the most important thing on the battlefield and the principles of good leadership do not change regardless of the mission, the environment, or the personalities of those involved. Leading is leading.”

“For all the definitions, descriptions, and characterizations of leaders, there are only two that matter: effective and ineffective.”

“The best leaders are not driven by ego or personal agendas. They are simply focused on the mission and how best to accomplish.”

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.”

“leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance—or doesn’t. And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.”

“When it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.”

“In order to convince and inspire others to follow and accomplish a mission, a leader must be a true believer in the mission.”

“If the overall team fails, everyone fails, even if a specific member or an element within the team did their job successfully.”

“Regardless of how you think an operation is going to unfold,” I answered, “the enemy gets their say as well—and they are going to do something to disrupt it.”

“As a leader employing Extreme Ownership, if your team isn’t doing what you need them to do, you first have to look at yourself. Rather than blame them for not seeing the strategic picture, you must figure out a way to better communicate it to them in terms that are simple, clear, and concise, so that they understand. This is what leading down the chain of command is all about.”

“The team must understand that their leader cares about them and their well-being. But, a leader must control his or her emotions. If not, how can they expect to control anything else?”

“a leader must be confident but never cocky. Confidence is contagious, a great attribute for a leader and a team. But when it goes too far, overconfidence causes complacency and arrogance, which ultimately set the team up for failure.”

Raise Your Game, by Alan Stein

“General Dempsey’s three key principles of leadership: character, competence, and humility.”

“Success is a result of what we do all of the time. The highest performers in all walks of life have embraced this fact; they have taken full ownership and have chosen to create and implement positive habits. They understand that you can’t be selective when it comes to excellence. As the saying goes, how you do anything is how you do everything.”

“The choices you make today will determine where you are tomorrow.”

“Knowing without doing is the equivalent of not knowing at all.”

“Complaining is like throwing up,” my friend Jon Gordon likes to say. “It makes you feel better, but it makes everyone else feel worse.”

“You don’t have to love the hard work,” NBA trainer Tim Grover wrote. “You just have to crave the end result so intensely that the hard work is irrelevant.”

“temporary discomfort leads to permanent improvement.”

“It is always better to be prepared for an opportunity that never arises than unprepared for one that does.”

“The basics are simple, but not easy. If they were easy, everyone would do them.”

“You can choose to work hard or you can choose to not work hard. And remember: not working hard is actually a choice.”

When the San Antonio Spurs’ season ends each year, Gregg Popovich takes each player aside, individually, and thanks them for allowing him to coach them. 12 It’s a powerful message: not just because of the gesture of gratitude, but because it reminds the players that it’s a two-way relationship. No one can coach you without your consent. Make sure you are open to it.”

“Those who see failures as walls will do nothing to get past them. Those who see them as doors will do the work to get them open.”

“It reminded me that confidence doesn’t mean never being afraid—it just means being prepared and driven enough to get yourself past that fear.”

“Good habits are hard to form and easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to live with.”

“The role of a leader is not to come up with great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.”

“Don’t focus on what you want from your employees. Focus on what you want for your employees.”

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

“Holding someone accountable is something you do for them, not something you do to them.”

“The three most powerful things you can say to a colleague or teammate: 1. I got your back. 2. I believe in you. 3. I care about you.”

“If you do not change your direction, you will end up exactly where you are headed.”

​The Energy Bus, by Jon Gordon

“No one can choose your attitude but you.”

“Because every journey and ride begins with a desire to go somewhere and do something and if you have a desire then you also have the power to make it happen.”

“Every crisis offers an opportunity to grow stronger and wiser; to reach deep within and discover a better you that will create a better outcome.”

“Positive energy and positive people create positive results. There is certainly a lot of negativity in the world and choosing positive energy helps us deal with the negative people and negative situations that can knock us off course.”

“When the work is piled high on your desk, think about how thankful you are to even have a job while so many are unemployed.”

“Your positive energy and vision must be greater than anyone’s and everyone’s negativity.”

“Positive energy is like muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. The stronger it gets the more powerful you become. Repetition is the key and the more you focus on positive energy the more it becomes your natural state.”

“Every job on the planet, even that of a professional athlete or movie star, can get old and mundane if we let it. Purpose keeps it fresh.”

“Every job on the planet, even that of a professional athlete or movie star, can get old and mundane if we let it. Purpose keeps it fresh.”

“We all have fear but the key to success is that your trust is bigger than your fear. A little fear is good but it is weak energy. It runs out. Trust is the high octane fuel that will take your bus wherever it needs to”

“The goal in life is to live young, have fun, and arrive at your final destination as late as possible, with a smile on your face.”

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