What A Champion Knows.
Learning Points this Week:
Getting Your Ass Kicked.
The Rebound Effect.
Nervous or Excited?
As we learned in last week’s blog, sports participants and fans are hard-wired for the need to compete. Interestingly, our drive to compete (our emotional need) is the very thing that may prevent us from becoming champions.
The hard-wiring that insists on the emotional high of competition can paralyze us from evolving and improving toward our dreams of being a champion. For most of us, learning and participating in a sport excites us – but doesn’t paralyze us. Our sport is a glorious, thrilling endeavor, right? Yes. However, after the realization of the grueling and never-ending labor required to master your sport sets in, the glamor and luster can quickly fade – unless we can find that certain something that stirs us inside.
Whether you are immediately struck by the intensity of your love for the sport or you capture the slow burn that grows into a passion, you know without a doubt that nothing can stop you from competing – not even getting your ass kicked, over and over. You always come back for more.
Getting Your Ass Kicked.
An ass-kicking (if you’re on the receiving end) doesn’t conjure up glowing thoughts of basking in victory. Frankly, most folks will avoid discussions about these kinds of defeats. When confronted with abject humiliation about a sports performance, most would sidestep that conversation. Who wants any part of crumbling defeat, repeated losses, and disgrace? No one, not even champions. However, there is a huge chasm between competitors who show up to play and the real contenders who have a legitimate shot at winning it all.
Champions know they are going to get their lunch handed to them over and over. It’s a reality, and it’s a growth tool. Champions realize and accept that they cannot stay at the top forever. They readily admit that no matter how careful they are, injuries are inevitable as they push themselves to their limits. Champions know that they cannot always be in control. All the best workouts, training, and preparation can result in sub-par performance on any given day. And, they also know and believe that sometimes nothing can stop them – and this is sublime.
Champions learn painful lessons again and again. Few competitors can internalize these raw lessons – and herein lies the reason for the great separation. To hone our skills to champion-level, we must accept that we are not where we wish to be – in any or all areas including technique, fitness, nutrition, mental toughness, etc. Improvement requires dreaded terminology like “change”, “adapt”, and “rebound”. All of these require fortitude and grit.
The Rebound Effect
One of the most important key elements that separate competitors from contenders is something called rebound. The rebound effect uses resilience and recovery and employs short-term memory. We’ve all heard the adage: “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up.” Good advice, right? Wrong, dead wrong. There is a huge caveat to this phrase. The important part is not just getting up, but getting up with the intent to refresh. Champions seem to possess the uncanny and intentional ability to use the ‘knock down’ to invigorate themselves.
Many of you are stubborn and tenacious competitors, and you work extremely hard. You keep getting back up. The question becomes: Can you get back up with an open exploring mind? Many competitive players continue to get up, yet carry permanent scars of the knockdowns. This can become a negative feedback loop. It’s time to think of losing differently and convert it into a winning formula.
Champions have an overwhelming ability to get back up and rebound. To do so, he/she must intellectually come to grips with the fact that every defeat is simply a tutorial – a mandatory step in becoming better. Here’s what this might look like: I play a tennis tournament and get my ass kicked. I walk off the court and immediately head for my notebook.
While the match is fresh in my mind and my emotions are still pulsing (which is part of the equation, and for many, is the primary reason for defeat), I ask myself questions about the match. What part of my game broke down? How can I turn this failure into a strength? The next time this opponent plays me, he will have to figure out a different way to defeat me. At the next encounter, if I’m beaten again, I repeat the process. I keep repeating this evaluation and exploration relentlessly until, at some point, that opponent has nothing I can’t overcome.
These are the actions of champions. Opponents may best you today, but those same opponents will watch your evolution. Their time is limited if they are not evolving at the same rate. Eventually, the champion will emerge. Champions out-train, out-study, and out-refresh all opponents. Unfortunately, this scenario plays out in many junior competitions and can be the cause of many talented junior burn-outs. A kid may be the top player in the younger age divisions. Rather than evolving, the top player will cling to the habits that got him there, expecting to maintain his dominance.
All the while the future champions are getting pounded over and over, continually honing their rebound skills. Those who are learning to get back up and refresh will become stronger and relentless in modifying their game. When those future champions emerge, their work ethic and mental toughness will win the day. They avoid the perils of the paralyzing negative feedback loop. That former top player who was not willing to change will start to feel the pressure, and sadly resort to a ‘burn out’ mentality and quit the sport.
Many great athletes are interviewed prior to a big sporting event. Inevitably, the sportscaster asks, “Are you nervous?” I find it interesting and insightful to hear their answers. Being nervous before a game or match can be paralyzing. Champions refresh this into excitement. You’ll hear them answer the question with “I’m excited to be able to play today.” And, their words match their feelings inside.
The nuances between being nervous and being excited can make a big difference during the performance. One paralyzes and one energizes. Excitement about competing will compel you to roar out of the gate strong. Go. Go. Go! Excitement focuses the champion. The champion will care less about what others think than about his/her opportunity to improve.
Let me say it again. Your attitude will cause you to care less about what others think or expect, than you do about your opportunity for continual improvement. HARD STOP. Let that sink in. Absorb it deep into your hard-wiring. Getting back up without the mental scarring of defeat is much easier with this attitude. The attitude you have determines whether you will get up or quit.
The rebound effect and the attitude it cultivates after your ass is kicked has everything to do with your path to being a champion. Understand, accept, and embrace this reality. Doing so will allow you to anticipate. This is how the game is played by great champions. In the Tennis environment, think for a moment how many times champions like Roger Federer or Chris Everett lost matches, sustained injuries, got beat down, and even humiliated by their opponents. If you think it never happens to champions, you are not paying very close attention. This is not only part of the process, it is the only process that allows you to become toughened and strengthened.
Japanese sword makers discovered the process of folding steel to remove impurities and carbon. Every time the steel is folded more overlapping layers are created. These alternating layers greatly enhance the toughness of the blade. Each time the steel blade is folded and compressed by hammering, the number of layers doubles. Bladesmiths fold the purest blades so many times they can have up to 65 thousand layers. The folding and pounding make the metal stronger.
In my tennis career, I look at every tournament as a practice match. I treat every ass-kicking as a much-needed tutorial to help me move up a level. When you can dial in on this, the negative feedback loop evaporates. This tempering, like the sword, eliminates weaknesses and inspires you to course correct – to refresh. That, my friend, makes all the difference.
Approaching defeat without a rebound attitude will do little more than make you better at attempting to hide your weakness. Not effective. With each loss – each pounding – a champion will become stronger, not weaker. Confidence in this concept makes going through the process possible. The light at the end of the tunnel is not a train about to run over you (negative feedback and mental scarring of competitors), rather the light is the place where champions emerge.
It is my greatest hope that you will implement some tips from our Bio-Cultivating and Neural-Cultivating blogs. Further, it is my hope you will be inspired to pass these learnings along to family and friends. We all have people in our lives who have the desire but lack the accurate information to improve their health. It is frustrating to sift through the bombardment of data and the misinformation in today’s world. It’s no wonder some give up in frustration. I believe that we deserve the healthiest choices that honest modern science can offer. It is my mission to help as many of us as possible get and stay healthy.
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