Self improvement gurus often compare sport to life. Sportsmen and coaches do the same. In sport, life is compressed into one location and one short space of time. Golf takes longer!
It is much easier in sport than in normal life to see the impact of attitude, belief, energy and skill on who succeeds and who fails. We can see the same success lessons being taught again and again in one sport after another.
Vince Lombardi is world famous for his perceptive quotes. He saw clearly how American Football can give us success tips about life in general:
“Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
I was surprised to see that Vince Lombardi had left belief and confidence out of the list above. I need not have worried. He was fully aware of the power of confidence:
“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”
He also stresses the power of belief. It must be accompanied, however, by other qualities like the willingness to pay the price of success:
“A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”
Lombardi motivated the players of the Green Bay Packers who had been the laughing stocks of the league and turned them into League champions who won one final after another. They started with little confidence and ended up believing that they were worthy world champions.
The England cricket team, in the Ashes tour of 2006/7, also became a laughing stock. They lost game after game to the Australians as they struggled in the heat down under.
The only relief for English supporters came from English comedians like Al Murray
One night after yet more defeats, he asked if anyone in his mainly English audience was Australian. One man had to own up as he was wearing the Australian colors!
“Are you an Australian? Well you weren’t in the team! “
He hadn’t finished:
“We, English, invented cricket, mate. You wouldn’t have anything to do in that tinder box down under if it wasn’t for us! “
The England team did not believe they were a joke even if the Australians were laughing. They kept on trying hard even when they were losing and, eventually, their persistence paid off.
After three months of losing to the Australians, England won a one day match against Australia in early 2007. The English could now enjoy a joke or two as the Australians left the pitch with their heads hanging low.
Things became even better for England. They next beat New Zealand and reached the finals of the Triangular series. They faced the Australians again and would have to beat them twice to win this one day series.
The Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, alleged that the England team had become too cocky after just one victory over the Australian team that had dominated them for months.
However, Ponting was the one who underestimated English talent and determination. England beat Australia again in the first match of the finals. There was some brilliant play from English players like Collingwood.
England then went on to win the next one day match and had thus won the whole one day series. The main English hero in the finals was Collingwood, the man who had been mocked by the Australians for getting an MBE for his cricket after England won the Ashes in 2005.
Persistence in bad times had turned despair into victory and celebration. The good news is that if you keep going and trying hard you can move from laughing stock to hero in both American Football and in cricket. The England team now believe they, too, can become world champions.
Persistence works in soccer too. Many defeats or draws have been turned into victories as teams kept trying until the bitter end. Chris Coleman, the manager of Fulham, a premier league team based in London, commented on the way his team scored many of their winning goals in the last fifteen minutes of full time:
“We have a lot of energy and belief and hang in there”.
Practice also works in soccer. In February 2007, Manchester United were playing Reading in the fifth round of the FA cup. Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Manchester United and is considered by many to be the best soccer player in the world.
Youngsters love to imitate his footwork. They sit at home watching his every move on TV. So do many adults!
The cameras focused on him in the warm up before the game. He was practising the tricky, flashy footwork that is his trademark. Ian Wright, a great England striker, commented: “What kids must understand is that he is practising all the time”.
Near the end of the second half the commentators noted that Ronaldo used the skills he had been practising to set up the first goal of the game which was scored by Michael Carrick.
However, Reading kept working hard and their defender, Brynar Gunnarsson, scored an equalizer. Reading players began to believe they could win the game which now became exciting but ended as a hard fought draw.
Gunnarsson was asked what was the secret of the way that Reading caused one of the greatest teams in the world so many problems. He replied: “We work very hard for each other. If you want to call that a secret, that’s our secret.”
Jonny Wilkinson also practises relentlessly and puts in plenty of overtime. He has kept his self-belief and hung in there when his future seemed bleak. Jonny is the rugby union hero who scored the winning points for England in the final of the world rugby union championship in 2003.
His final kick of the final match put Australia in second place and made England champions of the world.
Since then he has had 11 injuries covering nearly every part of his body. These injuries have preventing him playing any rugby at all for his national team. He did manage to get in 40 minutes of play in 2 years for his club!
However, Jonny kept hoping that one day he would play again for England. He lived out the saying of the Romans:
“Dum spiro, spero. While I breathe I hope.”
Jonny kept doing rehab and training and hoping for the best. Eventually, he played again in February 2007 against Scotland for the Calcutta Cup. He was named man of the match after England won the match and the cup.
Jonny was back to his best and inspired the whole team to an easy victory. In the next Six Nations match he scored the points which gave England victory over an improving Italian team. He has put a smile back on the face of English rugby.
Jonny, like Ronaldo, never stops practising. Recently, he practised his goal kicking for two and a half hours in the snow when other players were probably relaxing elsewhere.
On 11th February 2007, Ireland played France in the Six Nations Rugby Union Championship. . Keith Wood a former great Irish player said that what was important was “Attitude! Attitude! Attitude!”
He also said that Ireland needed to be unbelievably aggressive to win the match.
In the first half the usual intense will to win and aggression seemed to be missing from the Irish team. But in the second half, the usual intensity was back and the Irish began to dominate the French.
They were in the lead near the end but lost concentration for a moment allowing France to score a match winning try. France, the reigning Six Nations champions, won the match and destroyed Ireland’s hopes of achieving a grand slam i.e. beating all of the other six nations.
The power of expectation and self-belief is clearly evident in every sport there is. The world master of golf, Tiger Woods, is more concerned about his mental attitude than he is about his swing. He has always taken great trouble to program his mind for success.
“My mind is my biggest asset. I expect to win every tournament I play.”
To sum up:
We can learn success lessons from every sport as all sports hold up a mirror to life.
If you believe in your ability and are willing to work hard and give up some of the things you enjoy, you can experience the far greater pleasure of achieving worthwhile goals.
If you persist in your efforts and just hang in there, you can stop being a laughing stock and turn the tables on your critics.
If you practice relentlessly like Ronaldo and Wilkinson you can achieve skills that will amaze your friends and, possibly, a much wider audience.
Realize that attitude is often more important than skill and that it is important to act for as long as possible with intensity and energy to achieve your goals.
Above all, you must expect to succeed every time you attempt to achieve a goal.
Sports men and women are the most obvious heroes and heroines of modern times. Modern media allows us to observe them on a daily basis. They can both entertain us and teach us the way to succeed in our own lives.
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