Priceless Life Lessons from the School of Hard Knocks

Promise me you’ll get up when you get knocked down.

Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

One Win. That was all I had to my name during my first season as a high school basketball coach. Taking the positive out of a one-win season is not easy, but it is essential. I learned during my first season that winning is not the only thing that matters — it’s what you learn about yourself, the game and life that are far more important. It is truly the journey — not the destination — that matters most!

My coaching career started at one of the most ethnically diverse high schools in America. Situated just outside of Washington D.C., the school has a large Muslim, Latino and African-American population. Our team’s diversity was a perfect representation of the overall student body. Hard-working, respectful kids who cared for one another.

This made for a wonderful experience where the coaches and players could all learn about each other’s backgrounds. I learned my first Arabic words and gained insights into the culture of the various communities in the town. The previous season, the team had a .500 winning percentage and left over from that squad were some legitimately talented athletes.

I figured there was room for growth. Instead, it was a season of many close losses but priceless life lessons.


Empathy, understanding and positive encouragement are the best operating bases from which to teach people. Particularly during times of adversity, you have to stay positive. This is as true on the basketball court as it is in life! Think about it — what are you facing today that has you down? What is standing in your way that you can overcome?

Change and tough times are going to affect all of us. If we turn and run away, or face them with a poor attitude, we’ll never learn and improve. In basketball, they say every team “makes a run.” This means, every team gets some momentum going and plays well in spurts for certain parts of a game.This is when everything coalesces and starts gelling for the unit.

Think about what “your run” looks like. How you will get your momentum and inspiration? You’ll find that you inspire others AND yourself when you are a person of empathy and integrity. To form deep connections, show from the beginning that you care about people — beyond a shared objective. When you genuinely care for others, they know it. It’s real and authentic.

Despite the losses adding up that season, the players kept their heads high and practiced hard. You never would have thought this was a team that only won one game. It was always about the next game — the next opportunity to prove themselves. I knew as a coach, I had to lead with empathy and show that I cared.

I brought positive energy, hope and a competitive spirit to every practice. I fed off the energy of the kids. It was exhilarating.

Empathy builds trust and forms long-lasting relationships. Empathy can become a cornerstone for the way you treat others and yourself. Successful people lead with empathy. It’s essential in helping us find our purpose.

Staying Positive

If you’re willing to stay positive and faithful, this attitude of expectancy, when mixed with hard work, will carry you a long way. Recognize when people are trying to rob you of your joy. Don’t let anyone every deny you of your dreams. Move forward with positive energy and belief in what you can accomplish.

Stay positive through the good times and the bad. You never know when your breakthrough moment will come! Better to be prepared and open to opportunity and new relationships, while in a positive state of mind. Your greatest growth moments occur when you are in a positive state of mind.

In life, after each loss, mistake or failure, I encourage you to concentrate on what you need to do to get better and move on. Always have something to look forward to in life! You can draw a tremendous amount of inspiration by having events and goals to aspire to and work towards.

If all I walked away from that season with was the dissatisfaction of a terrible record, I would have missed the point. In any moment of adversity, it’s how you weather the storm. It’s about staying positive, finding meaning in defeat, and moving on with how to get better for the next opportunity that comes your way.

There’s always another game, another moment, another opportunity, another way to get better if we’re willing to pursue it. It’s all inside of you.

Author, Executive Coach & Emotional Intelligence Speaker; Seen on Fox, ABC, CNBC, etc.;

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