Luck, coincidence, magic…do these make champions? Not according to many experts and the champs themselves. Becoming a champion is a personal decision followed by a blend of talent, methodical actions, focused thoughts, and a ton of hard work. Although all great things may begin with a dream, simply wishing for something and sitting back will not make it fly. The good news is… it is possible for anyone to become a champion (at something).
So what makes a champion?
Mental toughness is said to be the defining stuff of champions. When they reach tournament play at Wimbledon women like Serena Williams & Victoria Azarenka, who will face-off tomorrow at the quarterfinals, may be more focused on fine-tuning their mental game rather than their athleticism and talent which at this level are a given.
That isn’t to say they didn’t work hard to get there. These women wouldn’t be champions without countless hours of grueling training, natural athletic ability and playing tournament after tournament to gain experience and strategic skills. They all have these qualities going in, but beyond the givens what makes them go for it?
“Between the player ranked 100 and the player ranked 1000, there are so many very talented players who never make it because they don’t have this mental strength, this dedication, this ambition that is lacking in most people.”
While the difference between the top players’ skill level is narrow their level of mental toughness can create gaps in performance. Doubt, thinking too far ahead, personal life struggles, under or over estimating an opponent — can all contribute to weakening the wiring between ability and execution. While a calm, focused player can make her shots, serves, and returns — the same player will appear to fall apart in a weakened mental state.
“I have to eliminate all doubt. That’s my secret.”
The coach plays a big role in steering these players to “think to win” — but at the break point it’s up to the individual and no one else. Often “thinking less” is the key. The training and ability are already there, what remains is the “now moment”. Good or bad every game has a rhythm and flow. A top-level player is able to tap into that rhythm and flow to create an advantage shift. Remaining unwavering for a critical period of time and focused on what she needs to do in the “now moment”, sets the tone and ultimately the outcome of the match.
“If I’m nervous, it means I have to work harder to get there, whether it’s playing in a tournament or speaking at an event. So, I try to stop and be proud of getting to live in that moment.”
But what about us…We may not be professionally trained athletes with natural abilities and coaches, how do we become champions? It may not be tennis, but you do have a talent. Mathematics, writing, art, business, understanding people, comedy… we all have something we’re good at and we all have something to overcome. Whatever it is that you love to do and you have ability do it well, this is “the thing” that is part of your natural life rhythm and flow — this is where you can become a champion. Just like the top athletes, there will be those who discourage you; you will have to work at it; you will need to hone and fine-tune your skill; study the competition; get help from experts in the field… it’s not supposed to be easy, but you should find joy in it… and you can do it.
Whatever it is that you love to do and do it well, this is “the thing” that is part of your natural life rhythm and flow —this is where you can become a champion.
We can cry all day because we may not play at the US Open or even the club championship. Or we can just enjoy tennis as a life enhancing experience where we strive for our personal best, and we can work to become champions at something else we love — something that is our natural given talent. The toughest part is recognizing what you’re good at and not allowing naysayers, doubt or fear cloud your way to championship.
When you do find “it”, it will feel great. You will love doing it. Working hard will mean that you get tired but wouldn’t mind going longer. And you will see results quickly. With this you will need to get better, and improve your weak spots. According to Dr. Jay P. Granat, psychotherapist and founder of www.StayInTheZone.com, these are some of the qualities of champions on and off the court:
- Ability to focus
- Positive self-talk
- Willingness to work hard
- Practicing what they are weak at more often
- Getting support from experts: doctors, coaches, trainers, agents, attorneys, mental coach
- Passion for their endeavor
- Willingness to take risks
- Unafraid of failure or setbacks
- A system for making goals and dreams come true
- Asking smart questions to solve problems
- Viewing problems as opportunities
- Knowing how to get into the zone and stay there
- Daily practice of meditation, visualization or self-hypnosis
We all have doubt. Serena Williams is the number one in the world; she seems unbeatable; she is an incredible well-rounded player; she is a superstar… Victoria Azarenka is cunning, strategic and intentional; she’s a warrior and thrives on competition… Even these greats have moments of doubt. Tomorrow at the Wimbledon quarterfinals only one player will move on.
We are all human and fallible, but we are also all capable of unbelievable moments of greatness. If we could move beyond the losses and instead be grateful for the moments of achievement… we just might all be capable of becoming champions at something we love.
No doubt tomorrow… Serena & Vika!