“ARE YOU PLAYING TO WIN OR NOT TO LOSE?”

I recently began reading the book The Blueprint by a good friend of mine Will Baggitt. In the first chapter it’s already making a huge impact. It’s not just going to make an impact on myself but many other young professionals starting their careers as well. Don’t believe me or need some more evidence? Mark Dantonio just ordered a copy for every one of his Michigan State football players less than a month after the book was published.

In the first chapter you’ll find a quote “Are you playing to win or not to lose?” Although it might seem like the options are eerily similar, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know this from first hand experience. The mentality of the two choices is what separates the good from the great. It’s not an easy transition from one mentality to the next. It took me about three years to figure this out. I hope everyone that reads this no matter if you’re younger than me or older than me can make this change. Not later but right now!

I can thank wrestling for teaching me many life lessons especially the difference between the playing to win versus playing not to lose. You see, in my opinion one of my greatest accomplishments in high school now seems like one of my biggest failures looking back. It’s not that I’m not proud of what I was able to accomplish in my wrestling career it’s more the fact that I know I could have done so much more.

I started wrestling in 4th grade and instantly fell in love with the sport. It was one of the greatest things since sliced bread (for those of you who know how much I love bread). It was an excuse to go out and beat the hell out of someone without getting my hair pulled by my mom when my older brother and I would fight in the house.

With only five years of experience in wrestling I went into my freshman year of high school with pretty low expectations for myself. Quite frankly I didn’t have that mental toughness yet. As a freshman I wasn’t a varsity wrestler. That honor belonged to my best friend, Spencer Dale. However, I was still able to get 17 varsity matches as a freshman. Out of those 17 matches I won only four matches and lost 13. Most of my losses were by fall and came at the hands of ranked opponents.

Equipped with the experience from the year before and getting a year of butt whoopings in the practice room from fellow teammates and coaches, I improved leaps and bounds. Going into my sophomore year I was able to secure a varsity spot at 130 lbs. My mentality going into each match was not to get pinned and I was pretty darn good at it. Out of 60 matches I only got pinned on one occasion. I even won eight times as many matches as the year before with a 32–28 record. I fell one match short of qualifying for the Iowa High School State Tournament. Which was my goal at the beginning of the season even though I thought it was a bit of a stretch.

As a junior I began to realize my potential and how good I could be with the right training and mentality. I worked my butt off in the offseason for the first time in my high school athletic career. I cut down from 160 lbs. to wrestle in the 135 lbs. weight class. My mentality even changed from not getting pinned to not losing. Everything was going according to plan, or so I thought. I continued to improve and my record showed it. I was 38–17 as a junior and even went the whole season without getting pinned. But yet again I didn’t accomplish my goal of qualifying for the State Tournament after suffering a loss at the hands of a freshman. I was crushed, disappointed, baffled, etc. I couldn’t wrap my head around it because I thought that I had done everything right.

I had one shot left to qualify for the State Tournament my senior year. I was willing to do whatever it took just to qualify. My mentality changed once again going into my final year. I decided I wanted to spend as little time on the mat as possible. I wanted to bury people and get off the mat. I was no longer wrestling not to lose but rather to win or better yet to pin. For the most part that’s exactly what I did. Out of my 44 wins my senior year only six weren’t pins. One of the biggest matches that wasn’t a pin was the match that sent me to the State Tournament. I had finally accomplished my ultimate goal when I qualified for the State Tournament.

I had accomplished my goal of 3 years. But when I got to the State Tournament I got my teeth kicked in. I don’t remember much from either of those match to be honest. I don’t know if that’s from the loss of circulation in my head from the headlock Tony Parks had me in the majority of the match or if I just don’t want to remember it. I felt this empty feeling that shouldn’t be there if you’ve just accomplished your ultimate goal. Instead of setting a “realistic” goal of qualifying for state and being satisfied with that I should have had expected to be at the top of the podium.

I hadn’t really failed at anything but this “accomplishment” of being a state qualifier didn’t really feel as gratifying as I expected when I set the goal. I didn’t understand it for the longest time but I have come to understand it more as my journey continues to unfold. I had finally set a goal that was going to take a lot of work to accomplish. I’m not discounting the work that I put in to reach this goal at all. I’m not saying I didn’t make sacrifices. I’m not saying I didn’t work hard. I’m saying I could have done more. You can always do more. Your body can always do a lot more than your mind tells you.

I made a lot of sacrifices that a lot of normal people wouldn’t make but so did every other wrestler. I had improved from 4–13 as a freshman to 44–10 as a senior. But once I qualified for the State Tournament I had accomplished what I had set out to accomplish. It felt like I had nothing left to prove when I got there. I had already reached that goal. I had set my goal too low and I hadn’t even realized it until then. That’s where the empty feeling came from. That’s why I wasn’t satisfied when I got there. Because I knew I could have done so much more on top of the body of work that I already had. I should have expected more out of myself with the preparation that I put in. But I didn’t.

Now I do. It came after I moved to California at the beginning of 2015 to pursue my goals (I don’t call them dreams anymore) knowing damn well that I had just as many opportunities to fail as I do to succeed. The only difference is I am willing to take the risk this time. I had never been to San Francisco before moving there. I was 20 years old when I moved. I knew absolutely no one in the entire Bay Area. The program I was enrolling in was going to cost $42,000+. Seems pretty scary for a lot of people, myself included. But I chose to embrace it and be optimistic every step of the way.

Whatever it is that you think you can do, you can always do more. There’s nothing that you can’t accomplish if you set your mind to it and actively work to reach that goal. Don’t set goals so low that you know you can reach them. If you’re goals don’t scare the sh** out of you then they aren’t big enough. You’re not going to win every single time. You’re not going to accomplish every goal you set. As Brian Cain would say though “failure isn’t fatal”. If you don’t win there is something you can improve on. Don’t be discouraged by these setbacks. There’s a quote that I absolutely love about facing adversity and setbacks. “Giving up on your goal because of a setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat”.

Don’t tell me the odds are against you. Everyone that is reading this has more opportunities to be thankful for than obstacles to complain about. Chances are you were given the opportunity to go to high school, to go to college, to own a smartphone, etc. You’ve got a place to live and food on the table. Best of all you have a choice to break any mold or stereotype that exists.

Your age doesn’t matter. Your gender doesn’t matter. Your ethnicity doesn’t matter. Where you grew up doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is your attitude, your mental toughness, and the work that you put in. Forget all that outside noise from everyone else. It’s your journey not theirs. People are going to tell you that you can’t do something because they don’t think they can do it themselves. They are scared to set their own big goals because they are scared to fail.

It’s never too early or late to start but you’ve got to start now. Forget the old proverb that says “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Proverbs are general truths. General truths don’t apply to people like you and me. Being young hasn’t stopped me either and it shouldn’t stop you. Just remember “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young to accomplish something. A baby shark is still a fu**ing shark.”. I’m about to get my Masters as a 22 year old less than five years after I graduated high school. I’ve got a full time job with a professional baseball team. I’ve had all the opportunities in the world presented to me and I’m taking advantage of every single one. These are merely stepping stones though because I know I can do so much more to impact children, youth, and young adults which I believe is my purpose in life.

There will always be the potential to fail but don’t let those thoughts enter your mind. Quit setting easy goals that you know you’re going to hit with minimal commitment and effort. Go out and crush goals that you may or may not fail when trying to accomplish them. I guarantee you will learn a lot more about yourself in the process. Failure isn’t really failure until you cease to make progress or learn from the experience. I’ll leave you with another fire quote from The Blueprint below.

“You must remain mindful; however, that failure to move the needle is what ultimately allows colleagues and competitors alike to bypass those who have set cruise control on the path to success (The Blueprint, p. 24).”

– TG