Super Bowl 50: Ten ways to think like (and live) like a champion athlete

This Sunday evening the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos of the NFL will play for the 50th Super Bowl championship in Santa Clara, California.

Millions will be watching as fans are enthusiastically rooting for their favorite team.  Some young athletes will be watching and dreaming of someday playing in such a game.  For them the game serves as an inspiration for what is possible later in life.  But for many other non-athletes watching there is much that can be learned from these players, coaches, and general managers that can apply to their own professional  careers.

As a consultant to both professional athletic teams and numerous corporations  here are the ideas that people following the game could learn from these championship teams and apply to their own professional careers.

1. Good is the enemy of great. Champions  decide early on that if they  are willing to accept that “good “ is enough for them that they will never have a chance to be great.  They realize that the odds  on being the best are against them but that is what excites them.  They  want to separate themselves from the pack.  The challenge is to do something special. Non-athletes must realize that committing to going for greatness  assures you that you will have a life filled with passion and challenges.  You will have moments of great joy and satisfaction as well as heartbreak and disappointment.  You must welcome all of these experiences as part of the challenge of going for greatness.

But you must understand that a huge advantage of going for greatness is that even if you don’t get all that you are shooting for your failures will be way better than the so called successes of people who set lower goals.

2. An owner or a general  manager hired you because they believe that you are talented, highly motivated, and a disciplined team player who can help the organization win a championship. Every non-athlete has to ask themselves  if he /she likes and believes in their talent and potential to be great as much as the person who hired them does. At some point your perception of your talent is way more important than your actual talent.  Do you  really want to be great at what you do ?  And do you want a coach or manager who is going to push and demand personal excellence from you on a day to day basis?  Or do you want to just coast and survive and be allowed to be mediocre?  Are you a disciplined person that makes  team  success a top priority.  If you live in a major city or university community do you hold yourself to the same high standards that you have for your favorite sports team?   And are you the kind of person who not only takes care of your own personal success but everyday does something that helps someone else on your team succeed?

3. Great coaches create a vision of winning the Super Bowl and get players to buy in and honor a commitment to the vision without wavering through thick and thin, success or setbacks  along the way. Every non-athlete has to ask “am I willing to create a challenging and exciting vision for my life and career that will challenge me every day and give me a reason and a purpose for getting up every day and approaching the day with passion and enthusiasm.”  Will I be on a mission every day to attack anything life throws at me with a great mindset and mood state and let nothing distract me from that mission?”  And  will I live it every day because I can see clearly that the vision will become a reality?

4. Champions stay the course. Every team starts out the pre-season aiming to win the championship.  But slowly and surely fear and doubt overwhelm most and they start to question their ability to do so.  At that point some  coaches gather in their offices and privately comfort themselves by arguing that they are great coaches but we just don’t have good enough players.  At the same time players gather  in the locker room and argue that they are great players but the coaches are not good enough.  At this point most time and  energy is spent making up excuses to explain failing rather than finding a way to succeed. It is usually self-servicing and  counter productive.

Every non-athlete must ask after making new goals for the year- How long do I stay committed to my goals?  Most honor the commitment for 8-10 weeks and then wonder and waver and find ways to justify doing so. They get focused again with 8-10 weeks left in the year when they try to save the year from being a disaster. Just like champions in sport the key is to stay focused for all four quarters of the year.  The easiest way to separate yourself from the pack is by staying “locked in” during the middle two quarters of the year when most others lose their way.

5. Champions have a well thought out game plan that is clearly defined for getting to the top and a belief in the process that allows them to enjoy the journey. Non-athletes must ask themselves “Do I have a game plan to be great this year?” Do I have a process that keeps my mind right and allows me to live in the moment while knowing that if I do the future will take care of itself?   Or are you just hoping you will succeed while spending too much time worrying about failure and messing up rather than playing to win.

Real champions go to work every day leaving personal issues and problems at home.  Regardless of what is going on outside of practice or game day champions leave it behind, lock in and do their job.  They are really good at compartmentalizing and separating their work from the rest of their  life.  They live the process and find a way to love the day to day grind and challenge of going for greatness.  And they take pride in being willing to do things that other people could do but chose not to do.  

6. Champions treat each game like it is the Super Bowl. Anyone  can get excited about playing  on the Super Bowl Sunday.  But to get there you have to have the discipline to be excited and focused  everyday.   You never know which play, down, or game will end up being the most important play/game of the year.  The great ones appreciate the opportunity and embrace every moment.  They go all out on every play in case the next one is the one that makes the difference.

Non-athletes must ask “Am I an everyday player?” “Do I approach every day or sales call as if it could be the one that will make my career?”  You must be honest with yourself if you are chasing excellence.

7. Champions are resilient and remain forever optimistic. Even the best will face adversity along the way to the top.  The key is to take pride in having the toughness and resiliency to respond to it with increased   energy , enthusiasm, and determination.  The great ones sometimes play with a swagger and a joy of dominating the opposition.  Some just lock in and focus on executing their stuff.  Others  play with a chip on their shoulder and refuse to be beaten.

Non-athletes must accept that going for greatness is difficult and challenging.  It most likely will not be a straight line to the top.  There will be plenty of opportunities to get down, be discouraged, and give up on your dreams.  You must welcome the challenges and embrace them because you are optimistic that you will eventually be a champion.

8. Champions get to the Super Bowl and play loose, free, and focused. It is great to get to the Super Bowl but you only go down in history if you win the game.  Some players and teams play in awe of the prospect of winning the Super  Bowl and play tight, afraid, and concerned about messing up the biggest day in their life. The winners play loose , free, and focused.

Non-athletes must watch and observe how champions get loose and free as they get close to a moment that can make their career.  Once it is game time they forget about the outcome , focus on playing in the present moment, one play at a time and just do their job.  They don’t try to do it all themselves.  But they do their part and trust their teammates.  They appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to play in a game of this stature.  But they are able to remember it is just a game so they must have fun and  play the game in the present moment one play at a time.  They relish the opportunity to show off with the whole world watching.  They love being on the big stage and feel like they have been preparing for this moment for their entire life.

9. Champions are willing to fully prepare. In sport as in life “the real heroics take place when no one is watching.”  Many hours are spent  in closed door sessions studying analytics and game films and visualizing every possible situation they could face and knowing how they will respond when they face it.  There is constant anticipation of problems and preparations physically, mentally, emotionally, and strategically for an effective response.  The true champions prepare for the expected as well as the unexpected.  As a result on game day it often is made to look easy.

Non-athletes must be sure that they are willing to do the preparation in their work that makes the execution look easy.  Preparation is a big part  of peace of mind and confidence when it is time to perform.

10. Champions live a life without regrets. Champions want to be difference makers.  They want their lives to matter.  It is clear to champions  that every day they  are either getting better, stuck in neutral, or getting worse.  Their mission is to get better every day.  So they relentlessly push themselves.  Champions are convinced they thrive under pressure and always perform better the bigger the challenge.

Champions feel they are destined to do something special with their lives.  They love the challenge of fulfilling their destiny.  And they love using their notoriety to help others less fortunate than themselves.  They choose  to go for it and give everything  they’ve got without fear.   And this allows these champions to look back at their  careers  and their lives without regret.  They are satisfied because they know they did all they could do with the talent they were given.

All non-athletes need to learn that career and life are complete if you can look back and know you gave it your all and found out how far you could go with your potential.

It is a great feeling to look back at your career and your life knowing  that  you gave it your all.  The result is contentment and peace of mind.                                                                    

Internationally known for his work in the area of applied sport psychology, Bob Rotella, Ph.D. is consistently recognized as the top Sport Psychologist in the world. His book "Golf is Not a Game of Perfect" is the best-selling sport psychology book of all time and one of the three best-selling golf books in history.

Dr. Rotella's golfers on the PGA Tour are proven winners, including British Open Champions Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke, Master Champion Trevor Immelman, US Open Champion Graeme McDowell, and Keegan Bradley, winner of the PGA Tour Championship.

As a teacher, Dr. Rotella has been selected as one of the top 10 golf teachers of the 20th century, and he directed the leading graduate program in the country for 20 years at the University of Virginia.Dr. Rotella has dedicated his life to helping coaches, athletes, business leaders and salespeople use their minds and emotions to take them to the top of their chosen professions.