What champions are made of

I’ve finally figured it out.
Actually, not true. I’ve known about it for a while now. But there is a palpable sense of ‘knowing’ that hit me recently that tells me the answer to the most pressing question that is plaguing all our minds, messing with our sleep patterns, and generally causing us general discomfort.
The question is, of course, what does it take to make a champion? (See? Doesn’t this question bother you?) By champion I don’t mean some evangelist or something that IT companies nowadays keep tagging their most enthusiastic personnel i.e. Java Evangelist, Microsoft Vista Product Champion, etc. No. I mean the ultimate in sporting excellence. Champion with a capital C.
I mean, take a look around you. Roger Federer is at the top of his game, and nobody comes close within touching distance of what he has achieved. Tiger Woods is another prime example. Now him I’ll talk about a bit later. And in my favourite sport badminton, the top dog happens to be a rather arrogant chap named Lin Dan. Women’s golf – Annika Soremstam. All these people have something in common – they win. And they keep winning.
You see, I’m baffled by the inadequacies of the Malaysian badminton team. The Malaysian hockey team. (I’m tempted to say Malaysian football team, but let’s be honest here – whom are we kidding? I’d sooner pay more attention to MyTeam than to bat an eyelash at what the national team is doing).
I simply do not understand. For years I’ve been puzzled by this weirdness. Take the badminton team. Our players are brilliant. Let’s face it – they are actually pretty damn good technically. They have all the strokes, footwork, wristwork, skills, shots, even the damn t-shirts down to pat. I’m of the opinion that our best players are as good as or even better than the top players of the world. Actually, I believe this to be true of all head-to-head sports – the top players of the world are separated in the skills department by a factor of less than the width of a molecule. They are so close it doesn’t bear mentioning.
HOWEVER. However, there are people like the ones I mentioned above who keep on winning. What is it that keeps tipping the winds in their favour?
The answer: mental toughness. Champions simply think differently. They have a different mindset. They don’t exist on the same plane of consciousness as lesser players (okay, that was stretching it a bit. I’m rambling okay, stick with me).
I believe that the difference between a champion and a wannabe champion is the way they think their way through a match. It can be very simple – the champion focuses on the prize, and blocks everything out except the prize. Like Rand Al-thor in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, they focus on the ‘flame’. Or it can be the ability to withstand pressure – especially when matches come down the wire. Or it can be more complicated that that, although I can find no examples for complicated champion thinking because I think simply and I’m not a champion of anything yet. But you get the point.
Tiger said something recently at World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational 2006 that resonated with what I was feeling: “My body took me out of the tournament and my mind will bring me back in it,” he said, when asked what his attitude had been after a very bad second round. “I didn’t hit the ball good and my [putting] speed wasn’t good early, but the mind is powerful enough to tell the body what to do.” He went on to get within 1 shot of the leader the next day, and won it eventually.
And I just (just! The power of the Internet…) found out that he has won his fifth straight golf tournament in the Deusche Bank Championship, bringing his total to 53 career wins thus far.
In fact, I think the very definition of a champion is how he/she can overcome difficult or almost insurmountable resistance to rise above it all and win. I can’t count in my hands how many times I’ve seen Roger Federer dig a whole so deep for himself (or the opponent digs it for him) that he is sure to lose, but somehow he finds strength from deep within to still come back and win it. Lin Dan can surely come from behind for a famous win. He’s done it so many times.
Champions don’t sweat it when they are behind. They *know* they’ll catch up. This is what’s missing from the Malaysian badminton players. They think ‘oh, I’m losing, but it’s okay because the person who’s whipping my ass is better than me, and I’m already in the semi-finals’. That’s not the attitude to have!
Granted, there are those who focus on the flame so intently that it may as well be a freaking bonfire and still not win anything. Now that is the skill of the champion mind. I acknowledge this happens – sometimes not everyone can simply ‘think’ like a champion to be a champion. That is the conundrum of the situation, and a secret I know no answer to. If I knew the answer to that you’d be watching me wipe the smirk of Lin Dan’s face, I kid you not.
But truly the key to greatness is in the mind.
I think there should be fundamental trainings on the mind for all our atheletes, especially our badminton players (because I love the sport and they break my heart everytime. I hate that feeling). They should be trained to think like a champion (yes, even though I said they may still not be champions even after such a training, but training is better than no training). They should learn not to buckle under the pressure.
I’ll talk about Tiger and the power of his mind later. I’m supposed to go to sleep. Champions have to sleep too, you know.


4 Comments

  1. direstraits

    Thank you for dropping by, pinolobu! Do you know if the teams are getting mental training classes at present? I think this may already have been done, but either the trainers were poor, or our athletes don’t understand them yet.

  2. what malaysia needs now is not top coaches but top psychologist to drill their mind. At least Nicol David keeps winning. Maybe they should consult her help.

  3. I agree to an extent, Ulquiorra, because a good coach can do more for mental toughness than maybe a sports psychologist can. The problem is retaining the coaches… we’ve seen Morten Frost, Park Joo-bong and the man largely responsible for Chong Wei’s rise, Li Mao. Rexy wanted to quit twice! This is BAM’s mess to sort out.
    The mindset has to change, and I’m not sure if a sports psychologist alone will improve the situation. Giving access to the sports psychologist to Chong Wei alone sends out the wrong message to everyone in the team, and definitely will affect him as well.

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