Performing at an All-Star Level

Article by:
Mark Eaton, EO Speaker
Mark Eaton
EO Speaker

As entrepreneurs, how many of you run around in your business, trying to play every position all the time? As a former professional basketball player, I know how difficult it is to try and keep up with the competition, my own goals and the overall pace of the game.

What helped me become an all-star player was my ability to define my role, narrow my focus and leverage my greatest skill. After my first season of playing basketball in college, I had some serious doubts about my future in the sport. I spent the whole season sitting on the bench. I felt like I was an absolute failure.

I started to ask myself, "Am I good enough to be out here?" I remembered what my basketball career in high school had been like. Even though I was over seven feet tall, I spent most of my time on the sidelines. The smaller players were much faster than me, and I could not keep up. I quit playing the game for a reason, and now I doubted my decision to return.

The following summer, I played basketball at my college gym every evening. All of the greatest players congregated in what we called the "Old Men’s Gym" to test their skills in pick-up games. One afternoon I was trying to catch a fast guard named "Rocket" Rod Foster. He was so quick that he would be at the basket before I made it to half court! I just stood there, huffing and puffing, thinking to myself, "I can’t do it. I can’t play at this level."

As I stood there, I suddenly felt a large hand on my shoulder. I turned around and there was Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Wilt had retired from the game a few years before, but every afternoon he would come to the gym to watch the younger players work out. He had been watching me, and he saw my potential.

Wilt spun me around, looked me in the eyes and said, "Young fella, you’re never gonna catch that man. More importantly, it’s not your job to catch him." He took me by the arm and led me back onto the basketball court. He positioned me right in front of the basket and said, "Your job is to guard this basket. Your job is to stand right here and keep other players from scoring. I’ve watched you play, and I see the skills you have at defense. That is what you need to concentrate on."

That day, everything changed for me. I began to understand what I needed to do on the court. Wilt showed me my role and how I could be invaluable to my team. I wasn’t fast, and I wasn’t that great at scoring, but I did have a talent for preventing others from scoring. I could be a force on defense, and I could help my teammates win games.

From that day on, I stopped trying to do everything on the court and instead focused on being the best defender I could be. I focused on the one thing I could be great at, and I went on to become one of the best defensive players in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Four years later, I broke the record for the most blocked shots in a single season, was named Defensive Player of the Year twice, and in 1989 I became an NBA All-Star.

As a business and motivational speaker, I’ve shared this story with thousands of people around the world. Honoring your role and that of others is one of the four commitments I teach; commitments that help individuals and teams go from doing their best to being the best. High achievers have a desire to excel at everything, but they run the danger of not playing to their strengths, which prevents them from keeping up.

If you want to lead your team to greater heights in performance, narrow your focus and intensify it. Do what you do best and let go of the rest. When you focus on your strengths, you allow your team to focus on theirs. And if everyone on your team focuses on what they do best, you will have a championship-caliber team capable of all-star performances.


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