Developing a work ethic

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The Kobe Work Ethic

Kobe Bryant is—without question—one of the best basketball players of all time. How did he get so good? And can his success teach us anything about become excellent in dance?

The Overachiever

Bryant’s burning intensity to be a great basketball player is no surprise to anyone who watches him. But what is surprising is how he ultimately wants to be judged. Bryant remarked in an interview:

I’ve always been comfortable as a kid growing up to think that when my career is over, I want them to think of me as an overachiever despite the talent that I have. To think of me as a person that’s overachieved, that would mean a lot to me. That means I put a lot of work in and squeezed every ounce of juice out of this orange that I could. Hopefully, they perceive me as person who did whatever he had to do to win above all else. Above anything. Above stats. If they say that about me I’ll be happy.

Bryant doesn’t aim to be the best. He doesn’t care about scoring records or being ranked over Michael Jordan. His goal is to overachieve.

It’s obvious that Bryant has overachieved—anyone who is in conversation for the Greatest of All Time has gone way beyond what could reasonably be expected. So how did he do it?

The Kobe Work Ethic

There’s a short answer, but no shortcut. Bryant works harder than you can imagine. Take just one example: the London Olympics. Before the Games, the USA Basketball team met in Las Vegas to practice. One of the athletic trainers gave Bryant his number and said to call him anytime.

The phone rang at 4am. After checking that it was OK for him to call at this hour, Bryant said that he wanted to work on some conditioning and asked the trainer if he could help. A little before 5, the trainer arrived at the facility to find Bryant already soaking in sweat.

Around 5:45am, the trainer and Bryant wrapped up their session. Bryant said that he was going to put up some shots, while the trainer returned home to catch a few hours sleep before the 11am team practice.

Here’s where it gets crazy. At 11am, the trainer returns to the gym and walks over to Bryant:

This next part I remember very vividly. All the Team USA players were there, feeling good for the first scrimmage. LeBron was talking to Carmelo if I remember correctly and Coach Krzyzewski was trying to explain something to Kevin Durant. On the right side of the practice facility was Kobe by himself shooting jumpers. And this is how our next conversation went — I went over to him, patted him on the back and said, “Good work this morning.”


“Like, the conditioning. Good work.”

“Oh. Yeah, thanks Rob. I really appreciate it.”

“So when did you finish?”

“Finish what?”

“Getting your shots up. What time did you leave the facility?”

“Oh just now. I wanted 800 makes so yeah, just now.”

At age 34, when most players are well past their prime, Bryant keeps putting up career-headlining performances. The secret is that Bryant keeps improving because putting in a seven-hour practice session—before a scrimmage!—is par for the course. Bryant is better than everyone because he works harder than anyone in their right mind.

What can the Kobe work ethic teach us about dance?

Want It Badly Enough

The lesson from Bryant’s phenomenal career is that hard work produces excellence. Lots of people claim to want to be good. But, wanting to be good isn’t enough. To be successful, you have to want it badly enough to practice.

How much you need to practice depends on what you want. If you’re comfortable marching through patterns on the social floor, you may only need to go through the motions occasionally to remind yourself how to lead or follow a double outside spin. If you want to be in the champions J&J, you probably need to find a studio that will give you keys so you can show up at 4am to get your 800 makes.

Most of us are somewhere between those extremes. But the lesson is the same, whether your goal is winning the Open or being a respected social dancer. You need to want it badly enough to put in the practice.

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