What’s the secret to athletic success? People attribute their success to many things and it’s a helpful query to keep in mind when pondering greatness on a playing field. Kemba Walker, the University of Connecticut’s superstar point guard who helped win this year’s NCAA Championship, isn’t just a fantastic basketball player. Ask Kemba’s father, Kenya, the secret to his son’s success on the basketball court and he has an unusual answer, writes Aditi Kinkhabwala in a recent Wall Street Journal article“The dancing.”

Kemba danced throughout his childhood, taking modern, jazz, and hip-hop classes as a youngster, and performing with his dance troupe throughout high school. Watch him move on the basketball court, and look for the dancer within. “It shows up in the way Walker contorts his body on reverses, shimmies through traffic and tap-steps around picks. It’s partly the net result of thousands of hours of practice, but it’s also a byproduct of his lithe feet and the flexibility that allows him to do the splits—something Walker always hated practicing in Patterson’s dance class,” writes Kinkhabwala.

Maybe you won’t rush out and sign up for ballet to improve your tennis game. But this is a point to ponder. What creates athletic success? While Kemba’s dancing had an impact on his success, we have to look deeper at his dancing to see what was really going on through it that contributed to his success. For Kemba, it appears his dancing was a path to helping him build his core fundamentals. We know that core fundamentals influence elite performance: hard work, good balance, intrinsic motivation, perfect practice, and confidence. Dancing for Kemba wasn’t just about the footwork and physical flexibility, it was also about the mental side of performance. While people want to attribute success to many things, and there is no doubt those things play a role, success for elite performers is truly about building the core fundamentals.



If you have ever played on a losing team and hated it, you probably just needed a coach trained in sport psychology. Caltech Coach Oliver Eslinger makes good use of his sport psychology doctorate from Boston University, says a recent article online at timesunion.com. Eslinger begin coaching at Caltech three years ago, taking on a basketball team with a “deeply embedded culture” of losing, with not one winning season since the year 1954.

“Last year we had 11 freshmen on the team, we were 0-25, and we got absolutely hammered in conference,” Eslinger says in the article. “You gotta have good heads. Luckily, that’s where the psychology background comes into play. It’s tough to keep losing. That can get at you.”

This season, Caltech won a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game, marking the first time the team scored a conference victory in 26 seasons. Eslinger always tells his team to stay in the moment, which is helpful during so many defeats and a great feeling when you finally win.

This “in-the-moment” philosophy helps players put losses behind them. Eslinger admits that he is encouraging the team to reveal in this conference win for longer than a mere moment, and he is busy helping his team envision a fantastic future. “We are going to win the league,” Eslinger says in the article, “and we are going to win the league and go to the NCAA Tournament year after year.”