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Life doesn’t always go according to plan.

Just ask Isaiah Austin.

A 7 foot 1 centre from Baylor University, Austin was a talented basketball player who had already overcome a significant eye injury that required a prosthetic eye to produce a remarkable season and place himself in contention to be drafted to the NBA.

However in the days leading up to the draft, a routine physical revealed that he has a rare genetic condition known as Marfan’s syndrome, which placed his heart at risk of rupturing if he was to play professional sport.  This meant that Austin had to retire at the age of 20 before his career even had a chance to start.

It wasn’t his fault.

He had no say in it.

His dreams and everything that he had worked hard to achieve were destroyed just days before they were to be realised.

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World CupJoga bonito is the Portuguese phrase that the Brazilians often use to describe football.

It literally means, “play beautifully” and is a wonderful way of describing their philosophy towards the sport.

To Brazilians, football isn’t just about kicking a ball, it’s about playing with creativity, flair and technical brilliance.

It’s not about 0-0 draws, it’s about flamboyant stars such as Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and their current genius, Neymar.

Even their defenders aren’t best known for their dour tackling, but for their fearless, precocious dribbling, powerful shooting and constant attacking threat.

And it’s not just about winning, it’s about winning beautifully and providing entertainment to their adoring fans.

With the World Cup kicking off today in Brazil, my question is, does joga bonito just apply to football, or can it apply to the rest of our lives as well?

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The legendary Tommy Hafey, still rocking a t-shirt in his late 70's

The legendary Tommy Hafey, still rocking a t-shirt in his late 70’s

The Richmond Football Club and AFL community lost a legend this week with the sad passing of the seemingly indestructible Tommy Hafey.

“T-shirt” Tommy as he was affectionately known was a remarkably successful coach who was renowned for not only creating better sporting teams, but for positively influencing people on and off the field.

As a coach, he took an interest in every player on his list, from the superstars to the fresh-faced rookies and found a way to inspire them to reach their full potential as athletes and citizens.

He was an amazing leader and one of his greatest legacies is that 18 of his ex-players went on to become senior coaches in their own right.

His personal creed was Desire plus Dedication plus Discipline plus Determination equals your Destination” and he lived this out for his entire life.

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In the lead-up to game 7 of the NBA Playoff series between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, future Hall of Famer and Mavericks’ forward Dirk Nowitzki said,

“It’s the ultimate thrill.  It’s win or go home… You’ve got to love it.  You’ve got to embrace it.”

I love Nowitzki’s mindset.

Here is a star athlete, going into a sudden death game, under massive scrutiny, against a fantastic opponent and his advice is to love it.

It’s easy to be intimidated and fearful of high pressure situations.

Public speaking, job interviews, sales pitches and other stressful activities are often avoided by people who can’t handle the pressure.

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A young runner was very excited.

After months of intense training, he was running in his very first marathon.

After the starter’s gun went off, he started with great enthusiasm, taking great strides and building a strong rhythm.

However, after a few miles, he began to tire and he felt like stopping.

“Don’t stop!  If you can’t run, at least you can jog,” said a small voice in his head.

So, he slowed to a jog and was able to continue along the road, if a little slower than before.

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Jerry Sloan was the no-nonsense, hard-nosed coach of the Utah Jazz from 1988 to 2011  and he was honoured last weekend by the team with a banner raised with the number 1223 on it, representing the number of wins that he had as coach.

It was a fitting tribute to a great and widely admired servant of the game who achieved consistent success over the course of his long tenure.  If it wasn’t for some guy named Michael Jordan, he most likely would have won a couple of championships which is probably the only achievement missing from his coaching resume.

During the celebration of his career, one of his start players, John Stockton was asked what he had learned from Coach Sloan.

Stockton replied:

“The game is pretty simple; it doesn’t need to have a lot of nonsense in it. You come to practice, you bring your lunch pail and you go to work. … Whether it’s a win or a loss, you keep that even keel and you get ready to go again the next day.”

These are great principles that can be applied to most aspects of life.

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Denis Istomin

Denis Istomin

I was watching the Australian Open during the week and caught some of 3-time champion Novak Djokovic’s third round match.

However, as the match went on, I became more fascinated by the back story of his opponent, little known Uzbek, 27 year-old Denis Istomin.

When he was 14, Istomin was in a horrific car accident on the way to a junior tournament, resulting in a severely broken leg.  After 80 stitches and three and a half months in hospital, doctors said that he would never hold a tennis racquet again.

Normally, that would result in the end of someone’s professional tennis aspirations, but not for Denis.

This is where his mother, Klaudiya, enters the story.

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I coach my oldest son’s soccer team.

They are a great bunch of kids aged 7-8 who know each other well from school and they have a lot of fun together.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that some of the boys just kick the ball when it comes near.  It doesn’t matter to them where they kick it, just that their foot has made contact with the ball and the ball has left their vicinity.  If the ball goes flying out of bounds, it doesn’t matter to them, soccer to them is all about kicking as hard as they can.

However, some of the boys know how to shoot.  They get the ball at their feet, can take a couple of dribbles, size up their target and let fly.  They understand the difference between random kicking and deliberate shooting, and as a consequence, they lead the team in scoring and are able to regularly celebrate slotting another goal home.

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In the midst of the English cricket team’s disastrous tour of Australia, former England captain, David Gower said, “

“The moment you believe that what you’ve been talking about is actually going to happen, that’s the moment you gain the ability to make it happen more often.  Australia suddenly believed it could win – and that has made all the difference.”

I love this quote as it reminds me of the importance of self-belief in living a successful life.

If an athlete goes into a contest with the belief that she has done the work and has the talent to win, the chances of success are much higher.

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English: Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs with another trophy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched the Manchester United versus Bayern Leverkusen Champions League match a couple of weeks ago and marveled at the Red Devils’ Ryan Giggs, who was to turn 40 later that week, as he pulled the strings in midfield in United’s 5-0 win.

I’m old enough to remember Giggs when he was still a teenager and his precocious talent burst onto the international football stage.  He had marvellous skill and a remarkable burst of speed, but no-one could have imagined that he would still be playing for the same club and at such a high level more than 20 years and 950+ games later.

As a sports fan, I’ve seen many brilliant talents, but it’s rare that they are able to turn that into such an extraordinary career.

I believe that everyone is a 10 at something, but again it’s not often that people turn their phenomenal potential into phenomenal results, so what can we learn from an amazing footballer like Ryan Giggs?

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