Everyone wants to win a championship but not everyone knows what it means to become a champion. A parent of a collegiate athlete made a boisterous claim that a certain professional athlete who never won a championship would have if he had his championship mentality. Now it is fair to note that this parent doesn't possess professional championship hardware in his trophy cabinet. But the statement raises the question of what exactly is a "Championship Mentality"? Does having a championship mentality mean you actually have to have won a championship or does it mean you posses the attributes needed to become a champion? If you believe that parent, you will believe that winning a championship is what defines a person who is a champion. One might be inclined to believe that but if you follow that logic all the way through, the majority of people don't have it. When it comes to sports, the word champion is defined in two ways according to Webster's Dictionary 1. A winner of first prize or first place in a competition 2. One who shows marked superiority The first one is pretty cut and dry, but the second definition is the one that applies more commonly to sports and life. Becoming a champion in whatever you do takes a certain mentality. Now it doesn't always result in a championship trophy, but it does result in success in your field. There are a few things that I have observed over the years that those who are considered as having a "Championship Mentality" tend to do. 1. Champions prepare more than they play games: Larry Bird was quoted as saying: " There are many times when you are better off practicing than playing; but most people just don't understand that." It seems that we have this notion that the more games we play then the better we get but the opposite is true. To play a sport requires a certain level of proficiency of skills. The top players in every sport spend hours in practice, beyond team practice, working to refine their individual skills. Gordon Heyward of the Utah Jazz was quoted as saying: "after practice was over, I'd go do an individual workout on my own. That's how I separated myself" Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans said: " I thought I was done after practice. The Team USA guys taught me after practice that I need to work on my game" 2. Champions compete consistently: Having a championship mentality means that you bring your "A" game every time. You bring your best to the game no matter the opponent.The key to winning lies in the ability to be able to play your game and not your opponent's.That is accomplished when you focus on doing what you do best. Too many people try to succeed by doing exactly what others have done or are doing without recognizing the things that they are already good at doing. In a recent interview Ken Griffey Jr repeated a quote that his dad always told him "stop comparing yourself to others because they aren't you!" Champions understand that their God-given abilities and talent are what they have and that they learn how to maximize them every time they compete. 3. Champions aren't afraid to lose: Nobody plays sports to lose, but losses happen to the best players and teams. In the NCAA tournament selection process, one of the criteria that they use to select teams to invite to the tournament is what they call "strength of schedule". In the simplest terms, what that means is they are measured by the types of opponents that they face. The tougher the opponents, the higher the rankings. It's possible to be a tops amongst your peers but yet not be the best in the larger competitive field. Champions seek out opponents who can push their limits, they put their winning records on the line to see how good they really are. 4. Champions know how to bounce back from adversity; Adversity doesn't always mean losses. There are times where things happen that are beyond our control. Champions recognize that things happen but what they do afterwards is what separates them from the rest of the competition. One of the most amazing stories happened in this year's BIG 10 tournament with the Michigan men's basketball team. Their plane was forced to abort the takeoff which resulted in the plane sliding off the runway and crashing. Obviously shaken but not hurt, the team had to decide the next day if they were going to compete in the tournament or forfeit their game. After discussing it and putting it to a vote, the team decided to board another plane and head to the tournament. Long story short they showed up, having to play in their practice uniforms and dominated their first game on the way to winning the tournament title. 5. Champions see the bigger picture; The old saying "winning isn't everything" is one that tends to prove itself true. Champions understand that the joys of winning are only temporary but there is life beyond the win. Beyond the celebration of the crowd, cutting down the nets and hoisting the championship trophy there's more out there to accomplish. In this year's NCAA tournament, this was best displayed by one player who hit the "shot of his life" in the elite 8 game and then showed up for his 8am class the next morning. For him, it was pretty simple, it was a matter of priorities. Though he is on the team and chasing his basketball dreams, he understands that he is in school to get an education. Champions understand they are really in pursuit of bigger goals than their sport. What is that bigger goal? We've all been created with a purpose and a destiny. The things we endeavor in along the way are meant to help us get there. As an athlete, you learn things like teamwork, work-ethic, discipline to help you achieve your goal of winning. These things carry on well beyond your athletic career into every aspect of your life. Successful people throughout the ages have recognized this. One of the greatest men of the bible, Paul understood the connection between what we learn through sports and our faith. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, he says:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified" (ESV) Not everyone can win the championship trophy but everyone can win at life. The pursuit of the trophy can lead us to greater things that will help us in life. Fame, fortune and all that goes with it are only temporary. Our focus needs to be on things that will last beyond all the benefits of winning titles and accolades. Champions understand that the big picture is what counts and they live their lives in a way that not only accomplish their own personal goals, but helps others achieve theirs. Stay Forever Strong!