by Jeff Janssen, M.S.Peak Performance ConsultantUniversity of Arizona
Think of some of the all-time greatest athletes in sport - Joe Montana, Bille Jean King, Muhammed Ali, Cheryl Miller, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan. As you think about these people, reflect on the characteristics they possessed that made them so legendary. While most likely these athletes were physically gifted, I'll bet it was their mental approach to the game that truly made them outstanding. For example, one such superstar we all are familiar with is Michael Jordan. While Jordan was blessed with quickness, jumping ability, and height to help him excel, Michael's biggest strength was his mental game. Jordan held a decisive mental edge over his opponents throughout his entire career. It was his mental toughness that propelled him to numerous individual awards as well as six NBA championships.
Why was Michael so mentally tough? Five things truly set Michael apart from his competition:
1. Committed - Michael made a commitment from early on that he was going to push himself to be the best. He was self-motivated enough to put in all the long hours it would take to perfect his game - whether or not a coach was watching him. Over his career, he continually developed new aspects of his game as well as took care of his body in the weight room. "I had locked in, committed to my goals. I've always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come. I don't do things halfheartedly."
2. Competitive - Michael is probably one of the most competitive people who ever lived. Whether it was basketball, business, or golf, Jordan had an intense desire to win. Opponents quickly learned not to challenge Michael with trash talk because he would take his game to another level and embarrass them. Competitiveness really encompasses two things - a strong desire to win as well as hating to lose. "I always had the ultimate goal of being the best. I feel that if I am considered one of the best players in the game, then I have to prove there is a reason for that."
3. Confident - Michael had supreme confidence in himself and his abilities. Even when he might have had an off night, he still wanted the ball at crunch time. Jordan's confidence was earned by all the hard work he put into his game. Michael was also confident because he focused more on the positive things he wanted to achieve instead of fearing failure. "I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot. If I'm jumping into any situation, I'm thinking I'm going to be successful."
4. Leader - Michael Jordan was the undeniable leader of the Bulls. He held his teammates to a higher standard and made sure he walked his talk. If any of his teammates dared to slack off or disrupt the team such as Dennis Rodman, Michael quickly and effectively addressed the issue, often before coach Phil Jackson had to. Michael earned the respect of his teammates because of his commitment, competitiveness, and confidence. "The second I let down, particularly if I'm perceived as the leader of my team, I give others an opening to let down as well. If the person out front takes a day off or doesn't play hard, why should anyone else?"
5. Team Player - Finally, despite all of his individual accomplishments, Michael eventually learned that the true measure of any player is how well he can contribute to the team's success. Instead of complaining about his teammates shortcomings, Michael learned to make his teammates better by maximizing their strengths and allowing them to play important roles. Instead of complaining about his coaches inconsistencies, Michael learned to adapt and accept the beliefs and strategies put before him and made them work. He changed his focus from "me" to "we." "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."
While physically you may not always be like Mike, mentally you can work to develop the commitment, competitiveness, confidence, leadership, and team focus that propelled Jordan to greatness.