I love watching players who play with a chip on their shoulder. I think most coaches do. I want to recruit those guys, and I want those guys on my roster. The guys that show up every day with something to prove. There is a great quote about Kevin Durant and how he shows up every day to practice “like he’s trying to make the team.” Those are the guys I want to coach.
I was lucky enough to coach one of the best chip-on-their-shoulder players ever when John Linehan was at Providence. He spent his whole life – and he’s still doing it – playing to prove that everyone was wrong about him. But one of the things John did that was really special was to play with that chip on his shoulder, without playing with an ego. It’s a subtle difference, but one that is important.
Playing with a chip on your shoulder is simply about proving that you belong, that you are good enough. It’s not just that you are better than people think. It’s almost like you’ve accepted why people feel you aren’t good enough – they think you are too small, you aren’t quick enough, etc… – and you embrace the challenge of showing them that they are wrong. By simply proving to people you are good enough, your production then speaks for itself. The player with that chip never forgets where he’s coming from – a spot where people just don’t think he’s good enough – and he’s okay with that. It’s a more humble approach.
Playing with an ego is more about showing people how good you really are, rather than just proving that you belong. There is more personal gratification involved when you are playing with an ego. A sense that you are going to prove to everyone that you can make that shot for personal vindication, rather than do what needs to be done to help the team. A player who is playing with an ego is trying to stand out, whereas the guy with the chip on his shoulder is trying to fit in and help his team win. The ego player tends to be a guy that ends up showing everyone the things he cannot do.
It’s a subtle difference, and it might be something I’ve simply constructed in my own head based on evaluations I’ve made. But I love watching and coaching the guys with that chip on their shoulder who always take the floor proving they belong. The guys with an ego take the floor trying to prove they can do something that you don’t think they can.
My suggestion is to play with that chip on your shoulder, but not with an ego. By not trying to stand out, you’ll stand out to the coaches who want to recruit you a lot more than you think. Coaches will notice that your concerned with the things that will help your team win.