Champions do so much more than win. Part attitude, part natural ability, and part hard work, living your life like a champion is possible in all walks of life, whether you’re an athlete, academic, or air-traffic controller. You can learn to find the right kind of championship and define success for yourself, laying the groundwork with a training regimen, and how to be a good winner who carries yourself like a champ. See Step 1 for more information.
Finding Your Championship
Identify your natural talents. Champions identify the gifts that they’ve been given and seek to develop them into expertise. Competitive skill, natural athletic ability, and other talents are the seed from which championships grow, but they need to be watered with intelligent focus and hard training. You can’t hop straight into the NBA or get hired on as a CEO for a tech company without identifying your talents and training to improve them.
Identify your limitations. An athlete who is not gifted with blazing speed can make up for it by increasing their agility, strength, jumping ability, or strategy, but it’s important to be honest. If you’re an intelligent soccer player, you won’t develop an attachment for playing striker if your shot is inaccurate, but your defending skills are top-notch.
Explore different fields of play. Explore lots of competitive and non-competitive fields to see where you might be great. Diversify your talents and find your expertise.
Maybe you’ve idolized LeBron James since childhood and can’t get it out of your head to be a professional basketball champion, just like him. If you can’t shoot your way out of a cardboard box and stumble on your own feet when you try to shoot a lay-up, that might be hard. But maybe you’re built like Dick Butkus, or you can do the quadratic formula in your head–maybe you were destined for greatness in some other field.
Play lots of different sports, even if you’re worried you won’t be good. If you love football, try out volleyball to develop hand-eye-coordination and see if your skills translate. If you love playing tennis, try out a team sport like soccer to see if you don’t enjoy playing a role in a group of champions.
Choose to master every skill. Approach every new field of play with the desire to be great at it, with the expectation you will master it. When you’re learning how to cook, when you’re learning how to drive a manual transmission vehicle, when you’re learning to speak German, treat it like you’re walking onto the field of competition and that you’ll come out champion.
Identify the gold ring. If you’ve narrowed in on a set of skills and natural abilities, what is your ultimate goal? What will make you a champion? What will make you satisfied? Set a goal in mind and start yourself in working toward it.
Being a champion is partly a list of achievements, but even more so a state of mind. Being a champion has to do with knowing–really knowing–that you’re the best at what you do. Winning the National Book Award might be a great achievement, but does that really mean that writer is the best?
Being a champion student might mean getting your grades up to at least Bs–something that might’ve seemed impossible at one point. Maybe being a champion worker means that you show up early and stay late and can walk with the confidence that you’re great at what you do. Find your championship and define the terms.
Training to Win
Become a student of the game. A chess champion studies opening strategies and finds new and creative ways to defend them. A champion football player exhausts himself in the front yard doing bunny hops to improve his speed and agility, instead of playing Madden on X-Box. A champion chemist forgets to eat dinner because the new issue of Science is too compelling. A champion lives and breathes the field for which they have talent.
Study the competition and study your competitors. Professional athletes devote countless hours each week to studying film of their next week’s opponents, dissecting the strategies the other team will employ, the techniques they’ll use, and the abilities of the athletes. Businessmen at all levels make a point of studying the sales strategies and the product quality of their competitors as a way of improving their own.
Find great teachers and learn as much as you can from them. For every Michael Jordan there is a Phil Jackson. For every Messi a Maradona. Champions need great coaches, teachers, and motivators to keep them succeeding at a high level. If you’re going to be a champion, you’ll need help along the way. Athletes should consult good exercise trainers and coaches, as well as good weightlifting trainers, fitness and rehab doctors, and often diet coaches to stay fit and healthy.
Look for coaches that you can build a relationship with on a personal level to make your training as enjoyable as possible. If you look forward to sessions with your coach, you’ll be a better and more receptive student.
Learn to take negative feedback and motivate you to improve. If a coach tells you that you’re doing drills like a grandmother, you could collapse and complain, or you could kick it into high gear. Even if you were working hard, is it such a bad thing to go faster? If you’re a champion, you’ll say no.
Develop a strict training routine. If you want to be a champion–to be the absolute best at what you do–it’s important to devote time to training for that championship each and every day. You need to actively work on building skills, studying the game, and making yourself the best. Train like a champion and you’ll be a champion.
For athletes, it’s important to give equal weight to studying strategy, building fundamentals, and playing the game to have fun and learn to get better in competition. More specific instructions can be found for specifics sports below:
For other fields, it’s important to devote time and active effort in improving your skills. Depending on your field, this could be drastically different, but some important ways to improve your mind and your interpersonal abilities. You can learn other essential skills of the champion, translatable to all fields, below:
Train your body and your mind. Champions should cultivate positive thinking, confidence, and intelligence in regard to their work. Make it a priority to not only be a physically talented specimen on the field, but to be a smart worker and a reliable strategies, whatever your skill-set.
If you’re an athlete, read up on biographies and strategy guides about your sport. The Art of War by Sun Tzu, a military guide, is a popular reading choice among hyper-competitive athletes. Even when you’re not working on improving your physical skills, work on your competitive edge.
If you’re a champion of the mind, train your body as well. Exercise can help improve memory retention, energy, and overall health, making you a better version of yourself. If you spend all day working indoors, it’s especially important to get out and get moving to keep your mind fit.
Find ways to motivate yourself. Eventually, you’ll hit a wall. All champions struggle to find good reasons to get up every day, sore the day before, and hit the weight room, or head back to the office. It’s hard to be great day after day. That’s what real champions–the best of the best–find ways to stay motivated and keep themselves one step ahead. It’s an essential part of training to be a champion.
Lots of champions are big fans of using motivational music to psych themselves up before big games, or even practice. Heavy music with a big beat tends to be popular among athletes, making metal, hip-hop, and dance music iPod staples. Get “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes going in your headphones and try not to hit the gym with energy and enthusiasm. It’s impossible.
Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game, used to tape newspaper articles and quotes from opposing players that said negative things about him in his locker. Every time he got ready for practice and games, he would look over the negativity to psych himself up and light his competitive fires. If opposing players hadn’t said anything negative, he would make stuff up. That’s how much of a champion he was.
Discipline yourself and reward yourself. Champions make self-improvement a priority, and while they might work alongside coaches, trainers, and other teachers alone the way, are driven from within to succeed, not by the opinions of others. It’s important to put a system of punishment and reward in place to get yourself to champion-status.
Pact and FitLife are recent innovations in exercise motivation. By entering your fitness regimen into the system, these exercise trackers will punish you by taking money out of your account if you fail to exercise according to your initial plan.
Champions need to blow off steam more than just about anybody. Find a way to unwind after you work hard training, to keep your mind sharp and relaxed. Lots of athletes enjoy video games, music, and reading after a long day of training.
Being a Good Sport
Expect to win. Every time you step onto the field, whether it be the office or the playing field, you need to go in expecting that you’re going to walk out having done your best and proven your worth as a champion. Visualize yourself winning and doing what will be necessary to be the best and believe that it will happen.
Eliminate mental distractions when you’re competing. When you’re on the field, it’s not the time to worry about your partner at home, whether or not you’re going to be able to score concert tickets this weekend, or where you’re going to party after the game. Focus on what needs to happen to win.
To help with your confidence, you have to train effectively. When you’re about to compete, it isn’t the time to be wondering if you could have worked your reps in the gym better, or if you could have watched more tape of the opposing team. Train hard and you’ll know that you’re at your best.
Leave it all on the field. When you compete, you need to compete like a champion, which means saving absolutely nothing of yourself in the tank. All your energy, all your heart, all your soul, all your competitive fire needs to explode from you during the course of the contest. You can’t be left wondering if you could have chased down that shot along the baseline a little faster, or if you could have been a little more energetic in your presentation. A champion shouldn’t have to wonder.
All athletes and champions of the mind have to confront exhaustion at some point. Losers pack it in, close up the shop, and cash out. Champions dig deep and find a little bit more where it seems like there shouldn’t be any. Work hard in your training regimen and you’ll have enough endurance and stamina to see the competition through.
Win gracefully and lose graciously. When the whistle blows and the game is over, an athlete can reveal the grace and humility of a champion, or the childish behavior of a loser, regardless of the outcome.
If you win, treat it like business as usual. It’s ok to celebrate, but you should act as if you’ve been there before. It shouldn’t be a big surprise if you expected to win in the first place. Compliment the opposition and give credit where credit is due.
If you lose, it’s likely that you’ll be feeling frustrated and annoyed. If you’re dealing with a sore winner, too, it can make it a lot worse. Don’t sling mud, make excuses, or throw a tantrum, though. Shake your head, take your licks, and look to the next contest. Learn from losses and use them to motivate yourself to improve.
Give credit where credit is due. We’ve all seen the gloating self-absorbed athlete bragging after making a game-winning play, forgetting the fact that teammates were there contributing the entire game. Winning champions share the credit and praise their fellow competitors, coaches, and teammates. Even if you’re feeling particularly proud of what you accomplished on the field, find something to praise about others who competed. Staying humble and showing perspective is an absolutely essential part of being a great champion.
We all like to think of ourselves and self-starters who are responsible for our own success, but try and widen perspective to see the bigger picture. Your success as a champion is dependent upon your teachers, your parents, even the people working the concessions stand, or driving the bus you use to commute are contributing to your success. Don’t forget that, big shot.
Take responsibility for success and for failure. Before you compete, treat it like your responsibility to win. Take on the burden of success and decide that it will be your fault if you don’t come through as the champion. Put yourself in a position to win. If you don’t come through, put your name on it and stand up to the blow-back like a champion.
Only you can decide whether or not you’re a success. It might be good enough for you to have made a personal best on the golf course, regardless of what Tiger Woods has to say about it.
Never throw any of your teammates, coworkers, or fellow competitors “under the bus.” Don’t call someone out for blameworthy activity, even if it’s deserved. Doing so is classless, a sign of pettiness. Share in the blame, if something went wrong, and act like a champion.
Carrying Yourself Like a Champion
Celebrate wins, big and small. Treat every occasion as a chance to celebrate your achievement. Very competitive champions are competitive all the time. Michael Jordan was known for his ruthless games of playground pig, a kids’ game. Rafael Nadal, when injured, picked up high-stakes competitive poker to keep up the competitive energy while recovering from surgery. Competing regularly is an important way to keep your competitive edge sharp. As a champion, take the time to Approach every game of checkers like the Super Bowl. Approach every day like a gift.
Take the time to celebrate your victories. In an effort to appear stoic, some champions can go too far in the opposite direction, accepting their accolades with grim solemnity. Cut loose every now and then! You’re a boss!
Surround yourself with competitive winners. Champions want to align themselves with fellow champions. Don’t waste your time hanging out with people who aren’t willing to put in the effort and the investment into their own success. Spend time with the greats.
Strive to be part of a “power couple,” a couple that supports each other in mutual success. Power couples are made up of two motivated and ambitious people. Think Jay-Z and Beyonce, or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Power couples are made of champions.
Try and befriend champions from different fields than your own. It might be too difficult to be best friends with the best-ever masseuse in your town, when you’re second-best. Cormac McCarthy, mega-acclaimed author, claims to never associate with other writers, preferring the company of scientists.
Be an optimist. Your mind and outlook have an incredible impact on your performance. All champions have positive, unstoppable attitudes that contribute to winning and staying on top. Think positively in all things and look for the best in the people around you. Seek to bring out that better quality in others and focus on the positives.
In golf, long slumps are called “the yips,” and have been clinically verified as a psycho-phsyical phenomenon related to receptive tasks, the sort of which are found in sports. The effect of the mind on the ability of the body to produce is profound, making positivity an important quality to cultivate in champions.
Find champion role models. It’s important for champions to look up to winners and model themselves accordingly. How did Muhammad Ali train for big fights? How does Tom Brady like to spend his off-season? What did William Faulkner like to do for fun? Study the greats and learn everything you can about them to learn more about properly applying yourself toward your own championship. Find role models in your own field and role models in other fields to learn unexpected pearls of wisdom. Kanye West constantly compares himself to the innovative geniuses of history in interviews: Einstein, Henry Ford, and Mozart are names he constantly drops in comparison to himself, as inspirations.
An old Buddhist saying: When you see the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha. Champions want to conquer their heroes. If you really look up to your track coach, who has had the state record for 25 years, make it your goal to best it. Keep working until you do.
Find the next gold ring. As you climb the ladder and continue collecting championships, try and diversify your palate of competitions. What else are you great at? Where’s the next challenge? A champion constantly seeks competition in all things.
Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, and Russell Simmons are all hip-hop impresarios who’ve cultivated multi-million dollar business empires, though they started by just wanting to be the best MCs. Now, the impact of their various businesses on style, culture, and music is enormous. They’ve become champions’ champions.
Listen to DJ Kahled’s “All I Do Is Win” song or other motivational songs to get you pumped up or “in the zone”
Practice makes perfect. Keep trying until you have reached the level you want to be at, and then keep working to maintain that level.
Don’t be arrogant, and don’t let becoming a champion consume you.
Winning is not the end of it, unless you don’t intend to keep doing whatever it is you have become a champion at. Keep yourself working to improve yourself, or your competition will reach and surpass you.
Sources and Citations
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