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With the sad, untimely passing of tennis great Jana Novotna at the young age of 49, I stumbled across a beautiful quote from the Duchess of Kent after Jana lost the Wimbledon Final to Steffi Graf in 1993.

Jana was almost inconsolable, when the Duchess leaned over and whispered, “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Five years later, those words proved prophetic when she eventually won the Wimbledon final in 1998.

We all come across people who have lost hope.

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It’s easy for NFL teams to settle for field goals.

They get reasonable field position, but don’t want to risk getting that far without getting something in return, so they take the kick, bank the 3 points and try to get a stop on defense.

It’s safe.

It’s almost guaranteed.

It’s still a score.

But what if they could do better?

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50,000 people finished the recent NYC Marathon.

50,000 people signed up and believed that they could do it.

50,000 people trained for months to build up their running capacity.

50,000 people turned up to the starting line.

50,000 people started with enthusiasm.

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After Richmond’s extraordinary win in last weekend’s AFL Grand Final, media shy star Dustin Martin was asked how the team handled their nerves before the big game.

He simply said, “Our desire to succeed has outweighed our fear of failure.”

A team that has so often underachieved on big stages was able to perform brilliantly under the brightest of lights.

A team that has so often buckled under the weight of the expectations of their long-suffering fans finally threw off that burden to play with flair and freedom.

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In the recent World Athletics Championships in London, Australian discus thrower came second and was awarded a Silver Medal for her achievement.

She didn’t win, but she was still smiling afterwards and was rapt with her efforts.

Why?

As a former World Champion, shouldn’t she be disappointed that she didn’t win again?

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Young Sydney Swans defender Alex Johnson last played AFL football in the 2012 Grand Final.

He was a star on the rise with a very successful team and the future looked bright, before a horrible run of injuries struck him down.

Since then, he has gone through 5 knee reconstructions, 12 operations and a serious infection in his knee, which has made it 1736 days since he last played.

I can’t imagine what that must have been like.

Months of boring, repetitive rehabilitation, followed by a significant setback.

Followed by more rehabilitation and then another setback.

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The above photo is of my 9 year-old daughter, Madison, who came 10th in her school division today, which enables her to go through to the regional finals.

For her, it’s a really big deal and she is sporting the biggest smile I’ve seen on her face.

But she wasn’t smiling when she was training on a cold, wet, foggy morning doing laps before school.

She wasn’t smiling when we said no to McDonald’s or other junk food.

But she was beaming after training hard, pushing herself on the day and achieving her goal.

Hopefully, she’s learned an important life principle.

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When you’re watching sporting contests and comparing the expertise of each coaching team, it’s tempting to imagine the pre-game words of the coaches and think that the side that had the best motivational speech won.

These days, that’s rarely the case.

The team that wins is the one that is best prepared for the contest.

It’s the team that has worked the hardest on the training track.

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Like many other sports fans, I watched the gripping US Masters sudden death playoff this morning (Australian time), between Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose.

To see the relief and exhilaration when Garcia made the winning putt was terrific.

Here was a guy in his 74th golf major, finally getting the rewards of almost 2 decades of toil.  They only play four each year, so that’s a long time to wait between losses.

Here was a guy who had lost in a playoff in the 2007 British Open and had other close calls and disappointments, showing the benefits of never giving up.

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This week, the Boston Celtics took first spot in the Eastern Conference from reigning champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers (and then promptly lost it again).

When asked about this accomplishment, coach Brad Stevens had this to say,

“It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now.  

The whole idea is to make progress and get better every day and try and stay in the moment.  You do that whether you are in last place or trying to build up or whether you are in position for fighting for seeding.   Read the rest of this entry »

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