141: How to Win Without Thinking About Winning Feat. Nick Saban

There’s not one person in this room who feels like doing what we do EVERY SINGLE DAY he wakes up. It’s just not possible, we demand excellence and that’s hard and there will be days you wake up and you don’t feel like doing it. It’s important that you make yourself do it because it’s the path to getting what you want. – Nick Saban

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I want to start today’s show with a quote from Michael Jordan, it’s been a long time since I’ve mentioned him.

Have you heard this quote from him?

He said: “There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

How to Win Without Thinking About Winning Feat. Nick Saban

How to Win Without Thinking About Winning

No, we are not doing a case study on Michael Jordan today. He has so much we can learn, but many people tend to learn from Michael Jordan and expect to be like him. And when they turned out with not being even close, they shut off and stop what they are doing until they get the next wave of inspiration.

I see many athletes do things by chance. I hear them say “if there’s a place in the team then I will sign up”, or “everyone’s trying out for the nationals, I may not have a chance, I have a long way to go, maybe I will give this time a miss.”. I see too much of this, but I know you are not like that.

Yesterday we went through the case study of Terry Wonderle, a US Olympic Archer coach who banks on everything but the target board. If you’ve not checked that out, take a listen to episode 140, because we are topping up our execution training today with more on the thought processes and action rather than focusing on the scoreboard and championship titles.

So we learned that when we are trying to master a skill, having an aim is one thing, but putting all concentration and effort to just aim to score does not work at all.

Over the years I’ve learned that the hard way. It was hard because I used to believe that “winning is not everything, but the only thing”. I’m sure you’ve come across this quote before. It has been attributed to a few people and one of them is UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell Sanders.

Anyway, I’ve learned that as much as we can get inspired by quotes, we cannot just read them and feel good. They are there for us to dig deeper and find out the actionable steps to reach that feeling. Some quotes can be used to motivate us to work harder, some help to shift our mindsets, while for some, they are just meant to be clever. That’s why I love to uncover quotes that are clever, actionable and those that make a lot of sense. Sometimes they wake me up at the right time.

So, back to the quote, “winning is the only thing, for many years, all I ever thought about was going for the win, and going for the win I did. No, I didn’t do anything that broke the law or game rules. But I based all my training and values on this quote alone.

It was because I believed in this quote that led me to constantly worry about whether we will win or not and focus on the mistakes I’ve made in the past. If winning was the only thing, then I’ve been born a mistake, because I have lost before.

Have you lost any game in your entire life? If you have and if you believe that winning is the only thing, then you are screwed. So that doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

Being an athlete can be hard. It was hard not because it was hard to win, it was hard because I was never able to answer myself the question of “why I wanted to win”. Have you ever asked yourself this and gave yourself a convincing answer? For me, I’ve always been asking myself but without any answers at all.

In the younger years, it was probably more of an ego-satisfying thing, to know that I can be the best among the rest, to standout and to prove to people around me that I am worth their time. But as I grew to search the meaning from my persistent drive to win, I realised nobody cares about my achievements. My parents don’t know what I was doing, my coaches only expected results from me so that they can satisfy their own ego and my country doesn’t benefit from what I’m doing.

What was my purpose then?

Everyone goes about their day with their own intentions and individualism. It seriously took awhile for me to learn that the target board is there not for us to reach. If I were to only do anything to hit the target board, it would be too easy, and there are so many ways to do that.

It’s like if winning is the only thing, there are many ways I can go about to win. I can pretty much compete with players with less experience than I am, players who just started the sport for a few months, still trying to get the hang of it, while I may have more than ten years of experience in my hands. Of course I will win. Wouldn’t I have reached my goal to win then?

Back to the famous quote, since it became public, many people started using it and it took on a life of its own. Then, Vince Lombardi, an American football coach has also been attributed to have used it, but in the later years, it was said that he was misquoted. What he intended to say was “Winning isn’t everything, the WILL to win is the only thing.”

Lesson learned for me is this, whatever we do, even in the things we love, always search for that one good reason why we are putting so much effort in it for.

So the target board isn’t there for us to be accurate and let us feel good about achieving something that only few people can do. The target board is there to end the game. The game needs to end at some point. The target board is there to make it hard for us. It’s there for us to figure out how to play the game in order to reach there. The challenge isn’t the target, the challenge is bearing the pain, tears and struggles, be it running, walking, crawling or climbing to get there.

This is also a reason why we all need to find that number one reason why we are in this boat, in this competitive boat, because the journey is going to be rocky, we will meet storm after storm and it’s not going to be a relaxing ride.

It’s only when we are at peace with this reason that will enable us to take on the difficult tasks ahead. That’s the only way that makes us willing to be open to toughen ourselves up. That’s how the will to win comes about. Nobody is born with it. It takes one reason, and each of us has to derive this reason as early as we can, the sooner the better.

In short, it’s not about the win, it’s about where we are focussing on.

To illustrate this point, today I will share with you a case study on Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

While serving as head coach at LSU (2000-2004) and Alabama Crimson Tide, Saban has won three of the last nine national championships.

The Sports Illustrated College Football Preview edition reported:
“Instead of talking about wins and championships, Saban speaks about the Process. In its most basic form, the Process is Saban’s term for concentrating on the steps to success rather than worrying about the end result. Instead of thinking about the scoreboard, think about dominating the man on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. Instead of thinking about a conference title, think about finishing a ninth rep in the weight room. Instead of thinking about graduating, think about writing a great paper for Intro to Psych.”

What is it that separates you from another player with the same level of passion, commitment, desire, talent and physical attributes?

According to Nick Saban, he is all about the “process”, not the wins. It’s all about conditioning oneself to be a mentally tough athlete.

Hence a mentally tough athlete is not just an athlete who is willing to take the grind, but this athlete must also be able to control his or her thought process to focus on the steps.

When we talk about taking the pain and grinding it through, if you did not prepare days or months before hand, like if I tell you to run a marathon today and you’ve never even ran a mile before today, however mentally tough you are, you will never complete the marathon without suffering and tearing yourself apart.

When it comes to the physical grind, all we need to do is to start early, start as early as possible and do the same thing daily, it’s only by time that we will be able to be immune with the exercises and slowly feel less pain, because we are conditioned.

Same thing as a mentally tough athlete, we need to practice that mind muscles. We need to first believe that only steps can take us there. Then we work backwards from our destination to the first step we need to take. Next we ask ourselves what is required for us to complete the first step, then the next and so on.

The challenge here is the distraction of the destination. As we go on about with the slow daily process of doing one step at a time, there will be periods where we will ask, “Are we there yet?”

Now, at this point, the difference between a mentally tough athlete and one who is weak is, the self control to bring one’s focus back to concentrating on working on the fundamentals and leave the final destination to work itself out. It’s almost like telling oneself to be patient and hang in there.

The aim becomes to focus on the present moment, not to score a goal or hit the bull’s eye.

So back to Nick Saban, he was once interviewed by Forbes and it reported that “The secret to Saban’s success isn’t finding the latest and greatest blocking offensive and defensive schemes. Quite the contrary. What Saban preaches day in and day out to his players and staff is the tested and true fundamental known as process focus. Saban teaches his players to stop actually thinking about winning and losing and instead focus on those daily activities that cause success.”

He encourages his players to adopt a definition of success defined not by results, but rather by effort. That is something I learned to teach my kid as well. Whenever he’s done something, praising him as being clever causes him to feel he needs to do that to get accepted, and if he did something wrong, pointing out the mistake embarrasses him and he will never ever give himself the freedom to try again. As a parent, I want him to do things with effort and be acknowledged so that he will learn to focus on the process and be willing to take on challenges after challenges without giving up too easily.

It’s the emphasis we are talking about here. And when it comes to Nick Saban, instead of emphasizing scoring touchdowns, he asks players to define themselves with such things as completing each set in the weight room or completing practices with 100% intensity. As Saban mentioned: “Everybody wants to be a success. Not everybody is willing to do what they have to do to achieve it.”

According to Saban, process guarantees success. A good process produces good results. Likewise, if the process is off, the results will suffer.

This means that if you want success, yes you can have it, but not without the process. The idea is to work on the steps first.

As I’ve mentioned before, winning and focusing on the outcome is paradoxical. The more one emphasises on winning, the less he or she is able to concentrate on what actually causes success. In fact it doesn’t matter if it’s to win or lose, if we focus on either one, we have a harder time to succeed, precisely because both are not what we need to get there. Both are just short-lived points in our lives.

What I’ve learned is this, if we want to have a significant advantage over our competition, the only way is to prioritise the daily activities. Make activities that influence our performances, and do those activities everyday.

Nick Saban also says: “There’s not one person in this room who feels like doing what we do EVERY SINGLE DAY he wakes up. It’s just not possible, we demand excellence and that’s hard and there will be days you wake up and you don’t feel like doing it. It’s important that you make yourself do it because it’s the path to getting what you want.”

With the help of motivational speaker Kevin Elko, Saban charged the Alabama players with task of putting together a team affirmation—a positive assertion repeated by players to keep them focused on all the small things needed to achieve the long-term goal of a national title.

This could be your actionable step for the day, write them down now and repeat the affirmation over and over everyday. It’s also important to share these with your teammate and accountability partners or buddies too.

First you start with the word:
TEAM: Give 100% effort and accountability

Next, you drill on the
OFFENSE: Be capable of an explosive play on any given snap

And the third affirmation is
DEFENSE: Never give up an inch

If you need everything I’ve shared today in words, today’s show notes, links and more, you can go to starplayeracademy.com/podcast, sign up for my newsletter while you’re there, all you get is my best stuff to your inbox, a form will appear, just type in your email address and click the button to submit. You’ll start receiving tons of value to become a better athlete.

And if you have any burning question to becoming a better player, let me know. I cannot promise you it will happen now. You know this is a long game, but I promise you that I will take you by the hand and walk with you on this journey till you succeed. All I want to do is to help you become a better version of yourself in your sport.

If you want to find me, go to Twitter @MarilynWo.

This is random, but I was just reading wikipedia on the quote “winning is not everything but the only thing” and here’s what wikipedia has:

“Its assertion about the importance of winning has been touted as a basic tenet of the American sports creed[citation needed] and, at the same time, identified as encapsulating what is purportedly wrong with competitive sports.[citation needed] . This credo has served as counterpoint to the well known sentiment by sports journalist Grantland Rice that, “it’s not that you won or lost but how you played the game,” and to the modern Olympic creed expressed by its founder Pierre de Coubertin: “The most important thing. . . is not winning but taking part”.

While at UCLA, another famous quote was attributed to Sanders regarding the UCLA-USC rivalry, “Beating ‘SC is not a matter of life or death, it’s more important than that.”

I want to thank you for joining me today, I hope this serves you well.
Till tomorrow, have a great day everyone.

Big thanks toDexter Britain for composing such wonderful inspiring music:The Time to Run

Show Links:

What Nick Saban Knows About Success – Forbes
Nick Saban on Mental Toughness – Coach Kyle Brown

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