Monday, January 12, 2015

Building a championship attitude

Let's begin today's discussion with two key facts: 1) not all champions have a championship attitude; and 2) you don't need to be a champion in order to possess a championship attitude.  If you're even moderately puzzled by these two statements, read on.
   Have you ever encountered or read about a champion who lacked a championship attitude?  Of course.  We all have.  In all sports and at all ages you can find gifted athletes who capture gold medals without ever living up to their potential.  They do just enough to get by, and they never seem to learn how to spell team.  And, yes, some of them even make it to the professional level, where they become frequently traded malcontents who blame their shortcomings on those around them.  You find these guys in the NBA, the NFL, and just about every pro team under the sun.  They're the woulda-coulda-shoulda crowd.  They would have, could have, and should have been great if only they had nurtured a championship attitude and pushed themselves to the limit.  But they didn't, and for that they blame everyone but the guy in the mirror.
    Fortunately there's another side to this coin.  We've all met or read about someone who was born without great athletic abilities yet whose accomplishments reflect an outsized championship attitude. A year ago I attended a New Jersey martial-arts tournament and had the incredible experience of watching a 50-something guy compete in both forms and weapons while sporting an artificial leg.  It gets better: at one point in his form, he removed the prosthesis, tossed it to the side, and did the rest of the form on one leg.  He would have been a champion in my book even if he hadn't captured two gold medals -- which, by the way, he did.
   But there are champions, many of them, who never win medals.  Some of them compete in tournaments, and some don't.  Yet they share some important championship characteristics.
     1.  They measure success not by medals or trophies but by personal achievement.   You know when, let's say, you've done your best form ever.  When everything comes together and you've done the best you've ever done, you're a winner.  You don't need a gold medal to feel like a champion.  You've done the best you could possibly do, and that's enough.  You then set the next goal and move on.  This is the mark of a championship attitude.
     2.  They applaud the success of others.  Honestly feeling good about the accomplishments of other competitors is more than just good sportsmanship.  It's a reflection of a championship attitude.  By respecting the hard work and talent of others, you acknowledge that all martial artists are part of something larger than themselves.  Another person's success doesn't diminish your achievements; it reinforces your commitment to your training and your personal goals.
     3.  They willingly share what they know.  When a competitor is willing to help you improve a technique -- perhaps showing you a more effective way to execute a particular form -- he or she is demonstrating a championship attitude.  The message is loud and clear: helping others master a martial art matters more to me than the risk of being outpointed.  Selflessness is the mark of a true champion.
   The secret to success in Taekwondo or other martial arts is really no secret.  Do the best you can.  Always.  You may never win a medal, but you can be widely recognized as a man or woman who always maintains a championship attitude.
   Here's to your success.