There’s always room at the top

One of my coach’s mantras has resonated with me throughout my life because over time I believed he was right. Pushing my teammates and me to believe we could accomplish more helped us work hard to do so.

There’s always room at the top by Nancy Knowlton

My coach on the Quebec basketball team was both inspiring and extreme. He took outlandish positions and then worked to make them come true. One of the things that he repeatedly said to us was, “There’s always room at the top.” He would say this when he pulled into a busy parking lot. Instead of pulling into an available spot a medium distance from his destination, he would instead head straight for the desired entrance and confidently declare, “There’s always room at the top.”

Believing and making it work

No matter how many times we were with him, he said the same thing and gave the same explanation every time. “People would settle for an easy parking spot rather than working for the one that they really wanted. Everyone wanted a parking spot closest to the entrance, but only those brave souls who really believed and worked for it would get one.”

And you know, more often than not he was right. He would easily find a spot close to the entrance in the first row and declare triumphantly, “There’s always room at the top.”

I and my teammates were both eager to learn and impressionable. I can’t recall ever complaining that we had heard the same things a thousand times before. When he scored that prime spot and was so pleased with himself for his confident claim, we felt like we won. His claim became our mantra.

Instilling a positive mindset

I am sure that he knew that he was doing a lot more than parking. He was setting a positive mindset for us – to want more and to work for it. His own career was a story of hard work and accomplishment, lonely hours spent in the gym working on the fine points of the game, anything to gain an edge over those who wouldn’t work as hard or diligently.

Our coach expanded his thoughts beyond the basketball court to life and encouraged us to expect more of ourselves and then to work hard for what we wanted to accomplish. That positive brainwashing technique was powerful and effective for me, and I believe that it provided the foundation for much of what I am today.

Revealing character

I have never believed that sport develops character. I am firmly in the camp of those who believe that it reveals character. Coaches like my Quebec team coach work with the athletic talents of their players. But perhaps more importantly, they mold the mindsets of the willing.

It turns out there is always room at the top.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.