They say that people’s character is formed early in life. If one is submissive you can tell right away, if one is competitive just as much. However, there is a difference between being competitive and being successful. In the former case you want to excel over others, in the latter you want to excel in an absolute sense. In short, one is competitive relative to a certain context (a race, a child’s game) but being successful means having a vision that transcends the contingency of the moment and expands to the whole of life. Those who are competitive spend their energy now and here to emerge; those who are successful do so more strategically, planning for the future, and then shaping it, or at least trying to.
I ask you now for a little effort: forget that obnoxious expression you have heard repeatedly quoted by ramshackle motivators and life coaches: I am not talking about *that* winning mentality. I am not talking about that desire to excel that has no basis and is only a cry to fate in the hope that it will listen. The mind of a winner is quiet and precise and does not have to shout. Maybe I can explain it better with a story. In fact two.
A dive and a tennis court
He tells it in a beautiful interview a few days ago in the Corriere della Sera to Marco Imarisio, Riccardo Piatti, coach of the world’s greatest male and female tennis players, and in particular of Jannik Sinner, the most promising Italian in the field in recent times (as well as, as of today’s date, number 11 in the world according to ATP ranking).
Piatti says he realized very early on that Sinner had the mind of a winner. When he began coaching him he was only 13 years old and was at the summer training camp Piatti holds each year on the island of Elba. The boy, a native South Tyrolean, was unfamiliar with water, yet when he went for a swim with the other boys at the academy, he dove in, completing a lap of death. “When he resurfaced, everyone asked him how he managed to do it. He replied that when he was in the air he had planned to do two consecutive somersaults, so at least one would have to be done. He already had the head of the true sportsman“.
Here, in a simple anecdote, is the mindset of the winner: body and predisposition help him, but the mind and the vision he can create shape reality.
Physically Sinner still would have been able to do that flip dive but he had never done it, nor did he know if he could. To have some margin of safety he raised the level of the challenge already in his head: the goal was to do a double somersault, so at least one would succeed. With this in mind, it might seem that he lost the challenge to himself, but remember that the failure would have been not to do even one.
This is an attitude of the winner: demanding more of oneself in order to be ready for any situation, even one that cannot reasonably be overcome with the resources at hand. Yet, if in a borderline case like that he had thought that already doing one was a lot, he would not have been able to do even that.
There is then another story that Piatti tells. Regarding Maria Sharapova: “She called me from London,” Piatti says. To ask me to work with her. I told her she should come to Elba, where I was doing summer camp. She arrived by helicopter. I had reserved the only court available at that time, as in any circle. It was a concrete ground, stripped bare, with a few holes. I feared her reaction. Instead, she looked around and said that if she played well here, she would play well anywhere in the world. And we began. This is how champions think“.
Champions-the winners in short-not only measure effort on a larger scale than is required of them but they always manage to see the positive side of every situation. Was it a field unworthy of Sharapova that she had found herself training on? No: it was a field that challenged her to give even more of herself. If she could play well under uncomfortable conditions she would be able to play even better when she was comfortable.
A third characteristic of winners also emerges: extreme focus, the ability to concentrate like laser beams on something specific: doing a double flip for Sinner or playing on a bad court for Sharapova. Succeed despite everything or at least try to.
What we can learn from them
Not everyone can be a champion. The champion is the one who excels in the field, the one who emerges. Very few can be like that. However, one can take inspiration from them, one can try to imagine how a champion would behave in the situation we are in: would he or she play defense, minimizing effort? No, it is likely that he would give his best while in his head he is preparing to give beyond his best. Would you be influenced by external factors, such as a shabby field or bad weather? No: he would think that if he can do his best in unfavorable conditions he will succeed even better when everything is perfect.
He would waste energy thinking that not everything – indeed nothing! – Is it going as you expected? No: he would only concentrate them in focusing his effort to the maximum expression of his abilities in an adverse condition.
That is why it is nice to see one’s team win, but it is even nicer when it does so by having to come back from an unfavorable result. Just as it is wonderful to see the one who makes a comeback after a run in the background and emerges from the middle group win, or the one who, in the front group, always lags a little behind and, except to explode in the final rush.
The champion is the one who believes until the end, because he has seen that end even before: with his vision, with the generosity of his gesture, with his mentality. The right, winning one.