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The Psychology of Winning

October 31, 2017



"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing" is a well-known quote in sports. Its origin is said to have come from UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell ("Red") Sanders, who gave two different versions of the quote. In 1950, speaking at a physical education workshop, Sanders told his group: "Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything. Men, it's the only thing!" Then in 1955, preceding the 1956 Rose Bowl, he was quoted as saying, "Sure, winning isn't everything, It's the only thing."


Many people do not believe that winning is everything, but I think everyone will agree that it is a lot more fun than the alternative. After all, it is every team's goal even before the season begins! Interestingly enough, at the end of the game when the final whistle has blown the great players and champions find a way to win. Those teams and individuals have developed the ability and mental toughness needed to out last, out play and win!


Coach Vince Lombardi was also noted for using this quote but claimed to have been misquoted. What he said he intended to say was, "Winning isn't everything. The will to win is the only thing." This "will to win" is a key factor in any team's or individual's pursuit of excellence and ascent to greatness!


Greatness doesn't come in a can, it cannot be purchased, it is earned, it is developed and it has no final destination. Those who pursue it realize that no one stays the same, you are either getting better or you are getting worse. They have decided and committed to putting in the hard work everyday in the weight room, at practice and in the off season preparing both physically and mentally. Greatness and the will to win are the results of decisions made every day in the face of opposition and mediocrity.


Jose Barea, a 5' 11" guard for the Dallas Mavericks is a perfect example. In last year's off season he decided to improve his game and committed to taking 1,000 shots a day. It is this type of determination and dedication, the "will to win", which exemplifies the attitude associated with greatness and champions. Games aren't won on the court; they are won in the extra reps, sprints, the 1,000th shot, the early morning runs and late night shooting session in the driveway. Hsun-tzu said, "If there is no dull and determined effort, there will be no brilliant achievement."


Ones attitude in relation to his or her situation in life and in competition is largely responsible for the achievement of the desired outcome. However, that doesn't mean that just because you have a good attitude you will win every game or achieve every goal. But it does greatly improve the likelihood that you will think more clearly, have more fun, or perform in a more relaxed/loose manner, all of which are factors associated with winning.


Attitude, like greatness, is a decision. No one can tell you how or what to think. Nor should you allow any situation or particular performance dictate your mindset. Dr. Bob Rotella said, "Great athletes create their own realities, they think however they have to think, to maintain their confidence and get the job done. In basketball this is called a 'shooters mentality'".


One of the greatest athletes of all time, Muhammad Ali, created his own reality with his "will to win" attitude. He overcame what some thought to be impossible odds in the ring and in life. We better understand his accomplishments when we learn how he thinks. He said, "...Impossible is not a fact, it's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration, it's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing." Your attitude can either be your worst enemy or your most trusted ally, you choose.


This ability to control your attitude enables you not only to control yourself but also your performance. I always tell my clients, "You must first be in control of yourself before you can expect to control your performance." Why is this so important to winning and greatness? How many times have you heard coaches or commentators say something like, "the team that wins the turnover ratio usually wins the game." Turnovers occur when players are not in control of their thoughts and emotions. They are focused on the wrong things, they are not playing in the moment and as a result they make mistakes that often cost them the game.


Everyone makes mistakes or misses shots etc. but the edge will go to the team or individual who can limit the mistake to one and doesn't let it turn in to two or three. They have learned to recognize their errant thinking and are able to make adjustments to get back on track with the plan for that play. They have practiced being in the moment, playing one play at a time, not worrying about what should have happened or what needs to happen. Playing with confidence is their purpose, they think every shot is going in regardless if they missed or made the last one.


Remember that winning may not be everything but whenever we step in the weight room, sign up for a camp, shoot 1,000 shots a day, run sprints, do plyometrics, buy strength shoes or nutritional supplements the end goal is to become our best. So when game day comes and its time to suit up, strap'em on, lace'em up and PLAY ball you can perform with confidence. Knowing you are prepared, having done everything in your power to become your best.


Trust in your preparation! Decide and commit to being great and having the attitude of a champion, the "will to win."

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