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7 Concepts in Developing a Winning Mentality

by: Bryon Hamilton
Head Coach, Foothill High School, Palo Cedro (CA)
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As a seasoned coach and life-long sports fan, I am always intrigued by teams, players and coaches who never reach their full potential and also those who do. I am intrigued by overachievers and curiously puzzled by those who consistently settle for less. Is it simply DNA? Do some possess genes that demand a lifelong pursuit of excellence while others inherit traits that have them looking for the paths of least resistance? In a competitive environment where everyone professes a desire to win, what is it about those who consistently achieve success? What, besides obvious talent, makes the Kobe Bryants and the Jerry Rices so successful? I realize that this complex question can be debated easier than solved. But in my examination of what defines a true winner I have identified seven key components that many champions and winners seem to share. I believe that these winning thoughts and habits are achievable for each of our players and for us coaches as well. I am convinced that a winning attitude can be woven into our daily lives. I believe that the traits of the successful can be instituted into our practices, into our meetings, demanded in every drill and expected from our players and ourselves. In short, if your players and your team possess these qualities, I am confident that you will win and I am confident that you will equip your players to have a winning mentality.

I recently heard Bill Walton describe the great John Wooden a day after the legendary basketball coach passed away at the age of 99. Walton stated that Coach Wooden never talked about winning. Does it strike you as odd that arguably the world’s greatest coach never talked about winning? According to Walton, Coach Wooden was one of the most competitive people that he has ever known. But he never felt it necessary to talk about winning? Why? I believe it was because winning was a byproduct of his character, a byproduct of his daily life. He was the embodiment of a true winner. That’s what I want for my players, for our team, for my fellow coaches and certainly for myself. I want to be saturated with a winning attitude. I want the characteristics that produce winners to be evident in my daily life. I want it to become a part of my coaching DNA.

As we embark upon the 2010 season, I want to share with you seven concepts that I feel are crucial to developing a winning mentality. As a coach, I am constantly finding ways to incorporate these concepts into every phase of our program. I believe that if we develop winning attitudes and habits in our players, success on the scoreboard will certainly follow.

1. Having a Positive Attitude Is a Daily Choice. How many times have we witnessed a destructive attitude overshadowing great physical talent? It seems almost rampant these days. Attitude is a crucial factor in how we deal with the unavoidable adversity and challenges in our life. A winner’s attitude can take a poor child from the streets of Cuba and transform him into a major league all star. A poor attitude, on the other hand, can take the first pick in the NFL draft and reduce him to nothing more than a locker room joke. The thing that is important to remember is that, unlike natural size, speed and athletic ability, attitude is 100% controllable. Charles Swindoll described the importance of attitude so accurately when he wrote, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, gift, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home, (a team). The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.” Take the time to remind your players and coaches that their attitude will have a huge impact on the success of the team and will also play a significant role on their personal success as well.

2. Education Stops When Your Heart Does. A good friend of mine and a fellow coach once stated, “I have been coaching for many years and I finally realized that I am calling a game from the wrong part of the stadium. All of the answers apparently are in the bleachers. I wish someone would have told me this earlier in my career.” That quote always makes me laugh. In reality a lot of people think they know a lot more than they do. This does not seem to be exclusive to young football players or old coaches. The pursuit of knowledge, of advanced skill and of wisdom never ends for those with a winning mentality. I continually reinforce to my players that the fastest way to become a better player is to become a smarter player. Winners know that knowledge is one of the key ingredients in the formula to becoming great. Encourage your players to be lovers of knowledge. A passion to learn will serve them well for their entire life.

3. Tenacity Is Not Optional. If I had a dollar for every football player, or person for that matter, who possessed great physical gifts but lacked the tenacity and perseverance to reach their potential, I would be in Urban Meyer’s tax bracket. The truth is, tenacity is required to be a true winner in football and in life. The ability to get up time and time again with the belief that “this time I will prevail,” is a crucial component for a winning mentality. I love the quote by Malcom Forbes, “Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.” That is a great description of the results of tenacity and perseverance. Give your players the opportunity to display their tenacity on a regular basis. Design practices so that there are times when their tenacity is being tested and thus is being developed as part of a winning mentality.

4. The Pursuit of Excellence Is Never Ending. Last month, I spent several early morning hours watching the British Open. The best golfers in the world were battling high winds and a course filled with bunkers that looked like moon craters. These players have hit literally hundreds of thousands of golf balls in their life time. They are the best at their craft and many of them are very wealthy as a result of their skill. Yet as soon as they completed their rounds, they were headed for the driving range to hit more balls and work on their technique. Understanding that there is usually a way to improve what you are doing is part of a winning mentality. As a coach, I am always looking to advance the way I am coaching and the things we are doing. Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Winners are on a life-long pursuit of perfection, undoubtedly knowing that even at their very best they may only get close.

5. Being Comfortable is Uncomfortable. I am sure you have heard the old adage “You are either getting better or you are getting worse.” As much as that saying may be overused, it is true. I often tell my players to push and challenge themselves out of their comfort zone. As coaches, we are constantly trying to find ways to constructively challenge our players to be great. We strive to demand greater attention and effort from our players and coaches on a daily basis. I am a firm believer that winners are always exceeding the limits of what is expected. Those who have experienced true success can and should enjoy their place, but a prolonged stay in the land of contentment often leads to complacency. Winners know this. Therefore, they never get comfortable for too long.

6. Fun Is Earned. A player recently told me “Coach, I’m just not having fun anymore.” My response was a simple “Good.” I certainly want our players to have some fun. This is, afterall, a game. But my problem is too many players, and people in general, want the fun without the work. There is not a ton of fun to be found during workouts in 100-degree heat. Fun is also fleeting when you are sore, tired and beat up from a week of double days. A winner understands that in order to have fun and truly appreciate the riches of success, a price has to be paid. Explain to your players that fun is not part of the equation without hard work. Fun is earned and only those who are truly willing to pay the price will have a real appreciation for what they have accomplished.

7. Every Opportunity Matters. The Latin phrase Carpe Diem is well known. “Seizing the Day” or taking advantage of your opportunities each and every day is a trait that all winners seem to share. We have all experienced the thrill of watching a great athlete seizing the opportunity to make a great play in a critical or “must have” situation. The knack for maximizing key moments in their lives seems to find those who are defined as winners. The saying that “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” is very true. Remind your team that time is a non-renewable resource. You only get so many practices, a limited number of games and a few special opportunities to leave your mark. Winners understand that every opportunity matters and they cherish the opportunity to make them count.


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