THE CHAMPION’S MINDSET
A Story of Max Lyons, by Max Lyons, for Max Lyons
Finding analogous relationships between proven business principles and the world of sports. When it comes to success, they have a tremendous amount of shared aspects.
In my opinion, 2016 was the greatest year of sports championships of all time (with the inclusion of Super Bowl LI. We all want to see close games, and all across the board in 2016 we were lucky enough to witness so much greatness.
The Champion’s Mindset
What is the champion’s mindset? Is it something that you are born with, or is something that you can condition yourself to have? I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. A lot of that thinking was done when I played sports in high school, but I have especially thought about it a lot since graduating college and trying to figure out what exactly what I am going to have to do to have everything I want in life. I see sports heroes like Lebron James, Tom Brady, Joe Maddon and many others and I cannot help but think, what makes these people so special?
I’ll take you back to my high school days. I quit the basketball team my junior year for a couple reasons. One, the coach sucked. Two, I realized that I did not love basketball enough to pursue it as my career, so why do I want to go chase this thing into division II or III and get a sub-par education when I had the opportunity to work my ass off in class and attend a more prestigious university and pursue something else; maybe even something that will allow me to experience the same success as those men mentioned above. I believe that anything is possible, and being a 5’ 8” half Asian half White point guard I believed I had just as good a chance as my more physically gifted peers. I loved basketball, and I still do, but not enough to let it consume me. And to get to the next level, you have to be absolutely obsessed with basketball. I loved basketball, but also golf, the idea of being a businessman and philanthropist, my social life and hanging out with my friends all the time and plenty of other things that prevented me from becoming obsessed with just one thing. As much as I loved basketball I was never going to be as good as that guy, or that guy or even that guy… I just did not love basketball as much as them, I did not have the killer instinct they had. Now if I was mentally in the same place as them, yeah, then I could compete with the best and chase that dream- but I didn’t.
Sometimes, I would go on these spurts where I would practice super hard for a month or two, but then it would slowly subside as I would take a couple days off and realize it was not the end of the world, and I was back to under-achieving. I’m going to take a page out of highly renowned public speaker Eric Thomas’ book right here. It subsided because all I did was change my behavior for a short amount of time, and your behavior, man that shit just goes up and down, it’s always changing! This behavioral change was not enough to make me great, because it was not a change in who I was a person. Let me say that again because I cannot stress that enough. It was a behavior, not who I was. These great players that I would look at and know were better than me, they knew they were great players, they did not just think they were great. They knew where they were headed and they were so in love with the process that they were too busy to notice if anyone was better than them. One of those guys, a football player I was close with, well, he’s in the NFL now. He was never going to let anything stop him from getting what he wanted. Now, just because I could not adopt this mindset with basketball did not mean I could not adopt this mindset period. I could accept that I was not born to be in the NBA. But I am sure there are plenty of other things I could find that I was born to do- I just had to look for them, and they were everywhere. Now let’s look at some people that are there.
Tom Brady and the Patriots just completed the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time, and quite possibly the greatest championship comeback of all time. The Falcons, well yes, they choked, but the Patriots had to be there to capitalize on it. That comeback did not happen by accident. I don’t personally know the guy, but I can promise you that it never once crossed Mr. Brady’s mind that they might lose that game. If that game ended and the Falcons were Super Bowl champions he would surely be able to accept that, but as long as there was time on the clock, he knew he was still in it. Jordan Spieth gave the 2016 Master’s to Danny Willett, but Danny was right there when Spieth dropped the ball, again, not by accident he won. The Cavs were down 3–1 to the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. They came back and won the series. A feat that pretty much everyone, including myself, thought was going to be impossible. But I guarantee you that Lebron James, who is going to go down as one of the greatest player’s in NBA history, knew he was not going to let Steph Curry and the Warriors just walk away with his trophy. I saved the best for last. When my Cubbies were down 3–1 to the Indians in this past World Series, do you think Joe Maddon thought they were screwed? No way. They came back and beat the Indians in one of the most thrilling game sevens of all time.
There was something magical about all these games. It wasn’t just incredible that these teams were able to pull off these insane comebacks, it literally felt like some magic or other-worldly had to be at play. And for all of these championship games to take place in the same year… C’mon, we were absolutely spoiled last year! One very crucial thing that all of these championship teams had in common, was their mindset. That’s what made the magic happen. They had the champion’s mindset. I cannot speak for every player on these teams, but you can look to their leader’s that I mentioned in the last paragraph, as well as the team as a whole. Now, believe it or not, this ‘mindset’ that I am referring to, is not unique to these sports heroes. There are people all over the map doing myriad different things that think just like Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Joe Maddon. But how do we adopt this championship mentality? I would imagine that most of you reading this would agree with me when I say that this mindset is the key to getting what we want in life.
Man, I want to think like this! I know I am writing about this but I am still working on mastering the mindset. I want to be so damn naïve, that I know I can make a comeback down 3–1 in a series, when I am going up against the odds, when people would laugh at me for thinking I could accomplish “the impossible”. Back to my original question of “are we born with it or do we condition ourselves to have it?” I’m thinking a lot of you reading would agree that we have to condition ourselves to have this… I respectfully disagree. We are all destined for greatness, and we can all be that naïve, hell, isn’t being naïve easy? Does that not just come natural to us? We condition ourselves to listen to the odds, to give credence to the nay-sayers. Well forget that, I want to be great, I want to un-condition myself, because I know that if I know, not think, I can accomplish what I set out to accomplish, I will do just that. I’ll leave it all out there. So if the game ends and unfortunately, I did not come away with the victory, I will be a lot happier with losing that one game than if I had not tried at all. That’s what it’s all about. If I leave it all on the field I am going to be happy with myself; only then is it okay that someone got the best of me… but they aren’t beating me next time I can tell you that- because I learned. One of my favorite quotes comes from a man by the name of Nelson Mandela: “I do not lose, I either win or I learn.” You can either win or learn; or I mean if you really want to you could just not try at all, the choice is yours.
There is one more thing I want to talk about to tie all this together, and it’s just a little success story of a friend of mine, that is not a professional athlete… but he has the champion’s mindset. And if he could achieve that mindset with the cards he was dealt in life, any of us can. This guy is living his dreams every single day. His name, Jose Angel Manaiza, Jr. To anyone reading this, I’m guessing you have not heard this name before, at least not yet. However, when it comes to people I look up to that have the champion’s mindset, that name has the same ring to it as all those sports heroes. I could talk about Warren Buffet, Jamie Dimon, Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, or any other non-athlete that I look up to, but I am going to talk about Jose instead, and hopefully you will understand why.
Jose was my speedreading tutor this past spring. I met him through a mutual friend and hired him to help me prepare for the LSATs since I was really struggling with the reading comprehension aspect of the test. What started as a teacher-student relationship very quickly turned into a friendship. We would finish our lessons and I would pick his brain about his businesses and his story. The only problem was he was too damn humble to really share his story with me. I stumbled upon a video on his Facebook one time that I urge all of you to check out, it’s called (and I’m sure you can YouTube it): “THE POWER OF OUR WORDS” by José Angel Manaiza, Jr. This is how I learned Jose’s story.
This man is an immigrant from Honduras. He came here with close to nothing, and now he has already graduated from college, founded an extremely successful tutoring business where he has tutored students from algebra to LSATs and helped students like Russell Westbrook achieve success in the classroom, involved in the real estate community in which he is currently residing in a beautiful beach house mansion in Malibu, become a writer for The Huffington Post, and many more things that he is probably too humble to share with me. Jose was ridiculed and bullied by his peers in Honduras when he with them his dream of going to The United States of America. This did not stop him, in fact I am sure it just fueled the fire.
Do you want to you know how he was able to accomplish all of this? I can tell you one thing, it was not from listening to those bullies and looking at the odds, and (again another Eric Thomas quote) counting the costs of what it would take to make his dreams come true. It was because he quite literally declared: “I am going to the United States of America”. And look where he is now. Forget the odds, life is too short to not create your own world. Jose has the champion’s mindset, how about you? It’s not as hard as Tommy, LeBron and company make it look now is it. And if he started out there and accomplished all that, if he started down 3–1 in the series and was able to beat the odds, what are you capable of if you are starting life in a more opportune place than him? What if in your life, the series is at 0–0, do you think you can accomplish something great? Because I do. No matter what the odds are, or where we start in life, we are all born with the champion’s mindset, it’s just about trusting in yourself and not seeing the “odds” or listening to the nay-sayers. Jose took it just one day at a time, much like all those champions took it one play at a time, and look what they were able to do with their lives.
I’ll be able to accept everything how it is at the end of my life when there is no time left on the clock, but while there is still time, I know that anything and everything is possible. What I will not be able to accept is if I am forced to look back and know that I was the only person holding me back from getting everything I wanted from life. That is how we must live our lives, it may be an uphill battle, we may be down 3–1, but we can all tap into the champion’s mindset, so why settle for anything less than greatness. Leave it all on the field.