More than one week into the official start of BYU basketball practices, coach Mark Pope has noticed a big change with his team in terms of the way it is competing.

He attributes that, in part, to Duke’s Coach K. No, not legendary men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski, but first-year Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson, the former WNBA champion and Olympic gold medalist. 

Before a recent Blue Devils practice, Lawson taught her team the difference between working hard and competing in a video that went viral on social media. 

“At the end of every session we have, that’s the question you’re asking yourself: ‘Did I compete today?’ That’s different than working hard,” Lawson said. “Working hard is something that a lot of people do. Billions of people around the world ... work hard in whatever job they do. Before you start, and then when you’re done, be honest with yourself: ‘Did I compete today?’”

Lawson’s message resonated with Pope. 

“I thought it was genius,” he said. “It was a profound way to look at the game and how we practice.”

So Pope shared Lawson’s message with his players days before official practices began.  

“We felt like guys were working hard but they weren’t competing at the highest level, competing to win every drill,” he said. “We talked to our team about it. So over the last 10 days, these guys have gotten so hyper competitive. In fact, after our second practice Monday evening, we met as a staff and I was like, ‘Guys, we might need to pull it back. These guys are going to kill each other.’

“They’ve been really salty in practice and really, really competitive, kind of fighting for every advantage. I’ve been really impressed with that. Hopefully that will be a hallmark for this team, a team that really competes. If we can do that, we’ll be a good team.”

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In her message, Lawson added, “Hard work is I give you a task. I give you constraints on said task. I say, ‘You have to do this, in this amount of time, with this much weight, with this much load.’ Whatever it is, I give you these constraints, and then I force you to do it. I can force you to work hard, just by what I ask you to do. You can force someone to work hard. You can’t force someone to compete.”

BYU’s players have responded to the concept.

“They’re competing really hard right now,“ Pope said. 

The Cougars have been participating in two-a-day practices, which have been taxing on the players.  

“That’s why we do these two-a-days. It’s because it really stretched our guys. You kind of get into week 2 and you start to think this is awful,” Pope said. “You get into week 3 and you think, ‘I don’t think I can make it another day.’ That’s where we want to get as a team, where we’ve pushed ourselves and exposed ourselves and our guys have had to teach each other who they are when things get really hard. That’s the stages of the grind that we usually expect and we’re exactly on schedule.”

How does junior forward Kolby Lee assess the practices? 

“Like always, it’s a grind. It’s always competitive. This year we’re focusing a lot on getting reps because we have a lot of younger guys that are new to the program, not used to  playing with Pope,” he said. “We have so many options this year. We’re trying different defenses and trying to throw different looks at teams. We’re super excited to have this deep of a team. It’s so competitive every single practice.”