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Champions are Rare: What Coach Nick Saban Can Teach us About Tests Pt. 2

"Champions are rare. Everybody has some chance, some opportunity to change and improve, but not everybody takes advantage. Be somebody who does.”
-Coach Nick Saban 

For most college students, winter break is either nearing its end, or has already ended, and that means it's time to head back for another semester! We hope you enjoyed your break, and that you were able to take some time off from your studying to enjoy yourself! In comparison to Thanksgiving break, when finals inevitably loom in the distance, most students say their winter breaks are a lot better. While winter break is longer than Thanksgiving break, it still never feels like it's long enough! It often seems like as soon as New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are over, it's already time to go back without much warning! We sincerely wish all of our college readers the best of luck this semester!

We are pleasantly surprised that our post Don't Look at the Scoreboard: What coach Nick Saban can teach us about tests has become as popular as it has! It is currently our most read, shared, and talked about post BY FAR! Accordingly, we've decided to write a sequel, which you are reading now! If you haven't had the chance to read part 1 yet, you might want to start there first, although it isn't necessary for reading part 2! In this post, our goal is to provide you with some useful advice for academic achievement, while relating it to one of coach Nick Saban's quotes. We will also tie in a case study of Michael Phelps at the 2008 olympic games. While this post is admittedly geared towards our college readers, we believe all readers can still find value in it! Before we jump in, we also want to recommend our post Escaping Winter Break Limbo: The Art of the Blank Grade Sheet Method, which covers goal setting methods for students starting a new semester! 

If you aren't a sports fan, or an Alabama fan (I myself am not), allow us to quickly bring you up to speed. Nick Saban is the head coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team, who are currently undefeated (14 - 0) and ranked number one in college football. Saban has been deemed "The Most Powerful Coach in Sports" by Forbes magazine, and touts a very impressive record of success. Last Saturday, the Crimson Tide defeated the University of Washington Huskies (ranked No. 4) at the Peach Bowl 24 - 7, and are moving on to play the Clemson Tigers for the 2017 College Football Championship. An Alabama win would give Saban his 6th national title.

Let's now take a closer look at Saban's quote: "Champions are rare. Everybody has some chance, some opportunity to change and improve, but not everybody takes advantage. Be somebody who does." We all have things we know we should be doing each day to improve ourselves, but sometimes we don't do the things that we already know could make a big difference in our lives! Ask yourself, what's one thing that you could do each day, starting tomorrow, that would significantly improve your productivity and efficiency? Often, the answer is a lot more simple than you might imagine. 
An excellent place to start is with the little things you should be doing each day, but often skip. Imagine how much more smoothly things would go in your life if you kept up with all of the small tasks you need to accomplish everyday. There's a lot of truth in the old saying "the devil is in the details," especially if you want to be a champion.

The little things really can make the difference between success and failure, and if you're still not convinced of their importance, consider the case of Michael Phelps (the most decorated Olympian of all time) in the men's 100-meter butterfly final in Beijing. The event took place  during the 2008 summer olympic games. This race was very significant for Phelps because his victory earned him his 7th olympic gold medal, and allowed him to tie Mark Spitz's record for gold medal wins. Before the race, the 100-meter butterfly was the only event that Phelps didn't hold the record in. The record was held by American Ian Crocker, who was also racing in the event.

Phelps faced fierce competition not only from his own teammate, but also from the Serbian butterfly champion, Milorad Cavic. Cavic had the fastest qualifiying time during the semifinals, and posed a grave challenge to Phelps. Cavic lead the race from the start, with Phelps trailing behind. Approaching the last few meters of the race, Cavic only narrowly lead Phelps. Then in an amazing series of strokes, Phelps managed to reach the wall ahead of Cavic, bust just barely! The ending was so close that Phelps himself said afterwards he wasn't even sure if he won, and his own mother thought he lost. In the end, Phelps was named the winner by a hundredth of a second! 

The finish was not without its fair share of controversy. In fact, the Serbian delegation initiated a protest. Cavic was said to have actually touched the wall first, but that his touch didn't register. After extensive review of the tape, FINA (the governing body of swimming) officially stated that Phelps won. The Serbian delegation then conceded, acknowledging Phelps as the true victor.

In a famous 60 Minutes interview Phelps gave with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper after the race, Phelps shared his own take on the big win. In the photo below, Phelps is shown in the lane on the lefthand side, and Cavic is shown in the lane on the righthand side. Notice how Phelps has his head down facing the bottom of the pool, while Cavic has his head up facing the wall.

Click here for image source

Phelps explained that when a swimmer picks their head up at the end of the race during their long reach into the wall, it acts as a kind of speed bump. Cavic's small technique error cost him severely. Because Phelps got the subtle details right, and correctly kept his head straight during the finish, he gained the extra centimeter he needed to win his 7th olympic gold medal. Phelps told Cooper that if Cavic had just keep his head straight, he would have won "hands down." Instead, Phelps won by only 0.01 of a second.

Being into the little things is extremely important for being a champion. If you make sure to handle the little things each day that can make you better, you'll find that the bigger things are much easier to deal with. So now that you know, here's your call to action! This semester, see if you can keep up on more of the small tasks that you need to do, which may not seem urgent, before they become urgent! Also, try to put just a little bit more than what you think you can into everything you want to excel at! Think of it this way: if you make sure to get just a little bit better at something everyday, and do this consistently over time, down the line you'll eventually see massive improvements!

Push yourself a little harder! Pay attention in class a little longer! Send the email! Make the call! Go talk to your professor! Organize your folders! Mark the tasks you've been keeping in your head forever down on your calendar! Get As on your tests! Score way above the curve! Whatever it is that you know will make your life better, be sure to do it! It just might pay you back 10-fold later on when you see your progress at the end of semester! What if during training Phelps had neglected to practice the small details of his finishes? What if Phelps hadn't been into the details during his race against Cavic, whereas Cavic had? Cavic surely would have won the gold medal! 

Phelps's coach, Bob Bowman, has said before that Phelps trained nonstop since age 11, and never missed a day of practice. Bowman said Phelps even trained on Christmas and on his birthday each year; sometimes multiple training sessions per day. We understand that very, very few of us (myself included) are able to work at the same level of intensity as Michael Phelps, and striving to do so for most of us will likely end in frustration. We are not trying to suggest that you need to give up your Christmases and birthdays to succeed at something if you don't want to. The story of Michael Phelps's amazing victory is intended only to motivate you to push yourself harder this year at whatever you want to excel at, even if it's just by a little bit more each day! The Beijing Olympics example fits very well with Saban's quote because Michael Phelps is undoubtedly a champion of a rare variety. 

The upcoming NCAA Football Championship, which will be played on Monday, January 9th, is already setting records for college football ticket sales! Both teams have a lot to prove, and regardless of who wins, it will be a very exciting game to watch! Coach Saban knows what it takes to be a champion, and has won many championships already throughout his career. My prediction (and this is only a prediction) is that Saban and the Crimson Tide will take this game. As I've said before, I'm certainly not an Alabama fan, nor do I have anything against them. My feelings are neutral towards Clemson as well. That being said, there's a reason I'm picking the Crimson Tide to win: Coach Saban knows what it takes to be a champion, and he will surely have his team ready to play for the win! In the case that Alabama wins, we might just complete the trilogy with a third and final Saban inspired Test Prep Champions post! Until then, keep Saban's quote in mind for all of your endeavors: 

"Champions are rare. Everybody has some chance, some opportunity to change and improve, but not everybody takes advantage. Be somebody who does."

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This post first appeared on Test Prep Champions, please read the originial post: here

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Champions are Rare: What Coach Nick Saban Can Teach us About Tests Pt. 2


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