Alexandre Lim

Letters to a Young AthleteBy Chris Bosh

A very inspiring book that I would definitely recommend to anyone and not only to young athletes. It's simple yet powerful. Chris Bosh, a former professional basketball player, shares his story of reaching the pinnacle of the NBA. As someone who did a lot of sports, the content really resonates with me. What you gain from sport can tremendously impact your life. You don't need to know anything about Basketball. In fact, I know nothing about it. But the lessons and wisdom from this book are timeless.


What did I want to do with my life? Who did I want to be?

No matter what kind of talent you’ve been blessed with, you still have to answer the same question: What do you want to do with this? Where are you going, and how can you use what you’ve been given to get there?

Whatever our game of choice, whatever kind of talent we’re blessed with, wherever we’re hoping the game will take us, we’re all the same when it comes to this: We all have that capacity to stop and experience the joy of what we’re doing.

How an athlete plays when they’re exhausted tells you everything about who they are as a competitor. The successful ones don’t even think about being exhausted. They’re so used to it that all they think about is performing.

You get that way by never quitting, by pushing through precisely when you are tired. That’s the irony of this game: You become capable of the grind by surviving the grind.

I’ve always believed that how you do anything is how you do everything. If you make excuses or take shortcuts in one part of your life or your game, it’s very hard not to do it everywhere else.

Winning, or doing anything worthwhile, requires accessing materials or energies from deep within that are not typically accessed. It’s just a fact. I’ve seen it my whole career.

No amount of work can make you taller. You can’t make your hands bigger. You can work on your reaction time and reflexes, but to a certain extent, they’re just hardwired. But grit? Dedication? Learning to ignore that deceiving Empty light? That’s on you. That’s up to you.

Talent doesn’t have anything to do with effort and conditioning.

That pain is temporary; championships are forever.

Pain is temporary; glory is forever. If you want to excel, you have to get used to the pain. You have to get used to exhaustion. I can’t promise you that it will ever be a comfortable feeling, but I can guarantee you that you can become familiar enough with it that you can visit that mental and physical space on your path to getting better and not have to worry that you’ll crumble under pressure.

Life doesn’t wait to see if you’re rested and ready before throwing the biggest tests at you.

The difference between people who crumple in the face of adversity and the people who come through it stronger and wiser is the ability to reach down for that extra endurance even when you’re exhausted, even when it’s not fair, even when you want to curl up in a hole somewhere. When times are hard, your mind may tell you you’ve hit your limit. Remember: It’s lying.

You can spend your whole life living out someone else’s goals and dreams for you without ever coming up with dreams of your own.

Victory gets old and unsatisfying really fast without a purpose you can be proud of. If you make anger your why, it will suck the joy out of everything you accomplish—even if you win as much as Jordan.

Here’s the thing about a good why: It can endure through the ups and downs of life, even when everything around you is falling apart. Your what can be taken away from you in an instant—your why can outlast that.

Start thinking about it: What are you playing for? What do you want to accomplish with the game? Through it? What doors do you want it to open? Who do you want to be on the court? In life?

To be great, you have to be hungry. You have to stay hungry.

In a league full of elite talent, elite talent isn’t enough.

Hunger is a lot more about showing that you can compete on equal terms with anyone on any given day.

It’s like a virtuous cycle—the more work you put in, the hungrier you get, the harder you work, the hungrier you get, the more success you see, the hungrier you get.

You don’t want to overreach, and you don’t want the joy of victory to become ash in your mouth.

Life keeps moving, and even hunger—as much as it makes the difference between the merely good and the truly great—can get out of control. Get too hungry, and you can end up eating yourself.

Remember, what you’re hungry for matters, too.

You have to have an elite mind to be an elite player.

Mental toughness isn’t something you just “have” or not. It’s something you build up like any other muscle.

You realize there’s no way to succeed in this without facing down your doubts.

I am convinced that cultivating your mind will make you a better athlete—or, more generally, that it will help you excel at a high level in whatever you pursue.

Life and leadership are about communication. Communication is the most essential when the stakes are highest.

In whatever form, a leader sees the challenge ahead, knows what the members of the team need to do to meet the challenge, and knows the words or the symbols or the images that will get them where they need to be. Knowing that doesn’t just take charisma: It takes a huge amount of insight into the team members.

After a disappointing loss, the most important thing to do is to break down what went wrong—honestly, but also respectfully. Communication is even more important when you’ve had a setback. The more you’re underperforming your expectations, the more you need to talk—that’s the only reliable way to turn things around.

There’s nothing wrong with a debate. But there’s a big difference between that and the kind of reckless yelling you see in a losing, undisciplined team. The difference is that Rio and I, and all of our teammates, really did care about building each other up because that was the only way we were going to be able to play championship basketball. We would debate, fix the issue, and move on.

Leading as a veteran isn’t about chewing guys out when a play goes wrong. It’s about knowing each one of your teammates and understanding how to motivate them.

A good communicator knows that each teammate and each situation is unique—what works with one guy in a certain game scenario will backfire with another guy in a different scenario.

Part of communicating at a high level is learning to take your ego out of it and learning not to attack other people’s egos. You’re not criticizing a teammate to make him or her feel bad, or to make yourself feel better—you’re doing it to solve a particular problem.

Communication should help you get the best out of people. It should not be about making them feel worse.

Remember, when you’re responding to criticism, you’re modeling the way others are going to respond to you.

The point is that really strong leaders know how to have hard conversations without upsetting the team dynamic. They know how to take criticism like an adult, and they know how to give criticism in a way that leads to results.

It’s been fascinating to observe how the loudest talkers on any team probably aren’t the best listeners—but that the real leaders know how to do both. When it’s time for them to talk, they get right to the point. When you’re talking to them, they make you feel like you have 100 percent of their attention.

Know your audience. Be honest and to the point. If you want to earn the right to be heard, remember to listen.

You must be ruthless about keeping your ego in check. You must attack the enemy within because ego is indeed the enemy of all the things you want to accomplish in the game and in life.

No good athlete becomes the best without wanting to be the best, in a way that’s almost unhealthy. It’s a key skill. It’s also a key danger. For as long as there have been sports, there have been young athletes discovering that the skills that made them the best at one level just won’t cut it at the next one.

How you respond to this sudden change in the level of play defines you. It’s what separates the amateurs from the pros—literally.

How you respond is all about your ego. If you keep telling yourself that you’re still the best—even when the facts tell you that you have a lot to learn—you’ll end up washing out, and some new young stud will take your place.

Ego is powerful. My ego was still there, barking at me that I was better than my stats said, that I deserved more minutes, more respect, and more media attention. At times, it really cost my teammates and me.

Once you realize the role ego plays in holding you back, you’ve taken a huge step toward beating it.

The good news about ego is that it’s never too late to fix it. If you screw up and hurt your team out of selfishness or frustration? OK, well, the inability to own that, apologize, and grow from the experience? That’s ego. But looking at your behavior with some awareness, taking responsibility, listening to feedback, and doing better next time? That takes humility. It also takes confidence. So don’t dwell. Don’t deny. Improve.

Some people say they want to win, but then when someone tells them what they have to do to get the W—to get back on defense on every play, to jump for every single rebound—I’ve seen people refuse to do it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. They don’t want to win, they want to have won. They only want to do the glamorous parts of winning, not the hard, grinding parts. They’d rather have glory than do the work. The irony is that there’s a lot more glory as a grinder on a winning team than as a ball hog on a losing one.

What’s the difference between ego and confidence? Ego is a liar. It tells you you’re the greatest, regardless of what the results say—it always finds a way to spin those. Confidence is belief in your ability, in the work you’ve put in, that’s backed up by reality. Confidence is expecting good things to happen because you worked to make them happen.

I’ve said it to you before, but I’ll say it again to hammer it home: Talent isn’t enough.

Whatever your goal is, you have the power to cultivate that same mentality—the mentality of confidence, not ego—right now. You have to assess your ego every time you make a decision. Stop and think to yourself, “Am I being egotistical right now? Am I putting my own success over team success? What would being a better teammate look like?”

A leader, to me, is just the person who steps up and does what needs to be done—who becomes what the situation requires. They do that on the court, in the classroom, in their neighborhoods, in a crisis, when they see somebody getting bullied, or when they see an opportunity in business.

“We usually think of the leader as the most outspoken athlete, but you know what?” he told me. “You have a different leadership style. You lead by example.”

Leaders don’t make the team about them—they make the team better by being a part of it.

I like the saying that you have to learn to follow in order to lead. I truly believe that. If you don’t know what it’s like to be a good follower, you can never get inside the mind of the people you’re trying to lead.

The true test of leadership isn’t who puts up the best stats. It’s who teammates turn to when things aren’t going well. A great leader can pull their team through that.

Getting back to the basics. That’s what a leader does. It’s not just hyping the team up when you’re winning, and everything is comfortable. A leader shows composure when others would fall apart.

Leading by example means taking care of yourself, eating right, and getting the sleep you need to perform at your peak. Leading by example means setting the level of work ethic you want your teammates to emulate. Leading by example starts with little things like that, repeated day in and day out.

Whichever leadership style fits you, be prepared to change.

The thing about leadership: It’s always changing. And being a leader means being willing to change to meet your team’s needs at any given moment. Whoever it is that steps up on any given day, however your leadership style changes over time, being a leader means keeping the ethos of what your team is doing intact.

Teams have a collective spirit, a collective soul. Leaders are in touch with that spirit, and they know how to keep it positive. Even the greatest leaders know they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

Taking care of your body isn’t just about eating right, sleeping right, and working out. It’s about learning how to listen to your body, knowing when exhaustion is something you can push through, and knowing when you genuinely have to shut your body down to let it recover.

Take it from me: You don’t get peak mental performance without taking care of your body.

With talent and skill and success comes the inevitability of criticism.

Only a fool complains about the bad that comes with the good. Being hit with criticism means you’re doing something in this life. It means people care and that you register in their lives. It means your actions have an impact.

The rule holds: the more success, the higher the bar, the more criticism.

A few people make it to the sweet spot, handling criticism with grace, learning from it where they can, but not getting consumed by it. Those people are usually the most successful of all—but more importantly, they’re the most content with themselves.

Hate is only a topic of conversation if you let it become one. We stopped playing to shut the haters up, and we started playing for ourselves.

If you’re playing a team sport, you can say the same thing about criticism that focuses on you as an individual rather than as a member of a team.

Listening to criticism the right way takes intelligence. It takes cultivating your mind. You can’t be passive. You can’t let it wash over you. You have to think. Is this critique valid? Who’s giving it to me? What are their motives? What’s their relationship with me? If it’s a good critique, how can I act on it to become a better player?

Being able to identify a problem isn’t the same as being able to solve it—and, putting it the other way around, people who don’t have solutions can still give you valuable information on where the problems are.

You’ve probably heard of the “compliment sandwich”: If you have to criticize someone, sandwich it between two nice things, so it goes down more easily. You don’t have to use that formula every time, but the idea is that recognizing the good as well as the bad makes you a lot more credible.

The best way to respond is by putting in the work.

Because at the end of the day, words are all they have—while you are the one putting your ass on the line, struggling, suffering, facing up to the possibility of failure every time you lace up your shoes. That’s something the critic will never have.

Great coaches don’t just teach fundamentals or draw up plays. They inspire a group of skilled athletes—never the type of people to have small egos—to put their egos on hold and come together for a greater purpose.

That’s what a team is all about: submerging your own ego in something greater than yourself.

That’s another huge part about being there for your teammates: being consistent, letting them trust that you’re going to be there to put in the work every day, letting them know that you’re going to be communicating consistently, leading consistently if you’re a veteran leader, listening consistently if you’re a young guy.

That’s what a teammate is: someone who wants every single person on the team, not just himself, to do well.

To be of use to others. To want others to do well and to help yourself do well by helping them.

“Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.” That’s the mentality that keeps a single loss from turning into a devastating losing streak and that keeps a big win from turning into destructive overconfidence.

I did the thing that true pros do after any game, regardless of the outcome: I got back to work.

How do you erase a loss? By winning again. How do you show a big win was not a fluke? By winning again.

The pain of losing like that is like rocket fuel. If you mishandle it, it can blow up—and destroy you. But if you protect it, channel it, and ignite it at just the right time—watch out.

You want to be great? Get ready to lose—painfully, undeniably, in front of an audience—more than pretty much anyone in any other calling.

The more losing hurts, the more you have to risk. As I figured that out, I learned that losing and coming back the next day takes real, serious, grown-up courage.

Whenever you point the finger at someone other than yourself, you’re losing a precious opportunity to get better.

John Wooden said, “Winning takes talent. To repeat takes character.” To win repeatedly, you have to push through adversity even when the hunger you experienced when you were just a young challenger to the throne is sated.

It’s not that hard to be young and hungry. It’s much harder to be older, successful, and still hungry.

If there’s one thing you can take from sports into the rest of your life, it’s that refusal to fool yourself. Don’t fool yourself into treating a loss like a win. But more than that, don’t fool yourself into thinking that winning—at school, at your job, at money, at your love life, whatever—will complete you. It won’t. There are plenty of winners whom life later reveals to be real losers.

You need to find a why that can power you through wins and losses, with all of the dangers of each—a why that can keep you pushing on when you want to lie down and quit.

“Athletes decide first what they want to be, then proceed to do what is necessary.”

It’s more than pushing through fatigue. It’s the long haul journey of the whole thing, the repetition of it, the dedication of one’s life to a craft. If success were promised, the work wouldn’t be nearly as hard. It takes what it takes.

Here’s the sneaky thing about practice that they don’t tell you when you’re coming up: The need for it never stops; it actually increases.

They worked hard but also smart—they were extremely deliberate about the skills they wanted to practice. All of the great ones are.

That’s why you have to build up practicing like any other habit. It’s your defense against entropy and irrelevancy.

Failing to practice catches up with you sooner than you think. And that goes for any field you’re in.

If you want success at any level, that’s got to be your mindset. If you want the rewards and you’re not putting in the work, you’re kidding yourself. If you’re not going to do the work, then why were you even bothering with this book?

There’s no way of knowing exactly what it’s going to cost when you set out on the journey.

You can’t play successfully at the highest level unless you hate losing. You can’t make it to the highest level unless you absorb a lot of losses on the way.

Put in the work even when you don’t want to, even when your body and mind are screaming at you. When someone offers you the easy way out, take the hard way.

Last Updated

July 28th, 2022