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Teaching Athletes to Win Through Preparation

Expecting to win begins with planning to win. For athletes, it’s about nutrition, mental focus, physical preparedness. In business, it’s about creating a plan and a framework to drive your success. A lot of the time winning just comes down to hard work. Sports can be humbling. When adversity hits and you haven’t done the necessary work, things speed up and challenging situations get compounded. Athletes that commit to preparation not only handle adversity, they give themselves a better opportunity to win.

Control What You Can Control

One of the key factors to winning is being able to control the things you can control. A lot of times athletes chalk up a win or a struggle to good luck or a little bit of a fluke. When you put in hard work you can plan to be lucky and you can work hard to be lucky. Athletes that prepare to win are ready for every single situation on the field, or on the court. For myself in business, we plan every single situation so that we’re in control of every factor. We’ve mentally prepared for a great outcome, for a successful outcome, for a winning outcome. When adversity happens in those situations, we’re able to deal with it and it’s not a big issue. We view it as a very minor stumbling block that we’re able to build off and learn from. As an athlete, it happens the same way. Let's say in a three-game series in baseball, you win one extra game because you prepared yourself to win. You’re mentally prepared, you’ve worked hard, you’ve practiced hard, you’ve done everything in your control to improve your odds of winning. And as a result, you’re stronger and you’re faster, or maybe you have more endurance than the other team and you win one. We all know what happens when you go two-for-three in a series versus one-for-three in a series. It's contagious. You learn how to win. You learn how to prepare and you understand the extra bit of preparation helped us win the game.

The Winning Mentality is Contagious

The desire and drive to prepare yourself is even more contagious. The feeling creates a winning mentality which is very important. A business partner of mine – a very successful franchise owner in the National Hockey League (NHL) – and I were discussing the ‘learning to win concept’. He couldn't show more enthusiasm about young people learning how to win and how important it is. As an athlete, you sit back and say “what can I do?” There are a lot of athletes sitting around right now not training, not figuring out how they can be ready when their bell rings. Instead, peak performers ask themselves “what can I do right now to prepare myself to be ready to win when that time comes?”

I asked the NHL franchise owner “What are you doing right now to win?” His response was quick and powerful – “Working hard.” I then followed up with “what does working hard do for you?” He passionately responded with “When I work hard, I test and I build my character, I build my confidence, and I lead people.” I found that to be highly interesting from a guy who is very organized and has lots of people beneath him. I said, “Is that your strategy right now?” and he said, “Yes. Sometimes when you’ve planned and you've done everything you can, one of the key principles is just working hard. It enables you to change your plan as you're moving forward. It enables you to see your plan and how you can adapt. When you work hard, at the end of the day, you win.” I then probed him a bit more on the topic. He went on to say “When I work hard my mental approach to everything I do changes because I feel confident about myself. Maybe it's a cocky-confidence that I know I can do it, but based on experience, when I put in the hard work, I know I can win.”

Expect to Win

When talking about planning to win, one of the topics that I discussed with a couple players that palyed for me a while ago was the expectation of winning. It’s really interesting to hear from athletes that are very high-end athletes. One of them, for example, is Matt McLean. Matt played for me at the Bellingham Bells. He was a 2018 first-round draft pick, and opted to pursue academics and baseball at UCLA. Some athletes who play baseball probably know who he is and respect his approach. When you talk to him about winning, he is elite. He expects when he walks on the baseball field to win – not only for himself, but for his team.

The high-end athletes I’ve worked with, and had the opportunity to be around, come to the ballpark prepared to win. They know they're going to win. Why? They have committed to doing every single aspect of what it takes to prepare themselves to win that night. The great thing about a player like Matt McLean, and there’s been lots of other ones I’ve known, is that they drag their team along with them in their mental headspace. People and athletes are attracted to mindset and character. Myself, as one of the owners of one baseball team, I’m attracted to an athlete that has the winner’s attitude. What ends up happening is athletes get attracted to that mentality. They get attracted to the work that goes into preparing themselves for that and as a result, the entire team is lifted up. Take this same attitude to business and you will notice people gravitate to others who are focused. People are attracted to people who have a great attitude, have a winning attitude, have an attitude of “I can conquer this,” “I can take this on,” “I'll do all the work that it takes to prepare myself for this situation and when this situation comes, I'm going to rise.”

In my business, we have a tendency to hire ex-athletes because they know how to compete – especially in senior executive positions. We find athletes that prepare, put in the hard work, and prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally for every situation. They know what it takes to win and they know the feeling of winning. Athletes are competitors, teammates and are great leaders in business. It’s the cornerstone of our hiring philosophy. In today’s age, we give out ribbons for first through twelfth place. In some cases, winning is shunned upon. I’m not sure why, but I can tell you for myself and in business, I appreciate athletes that know how to win – they prepare to win. They might not always win, but they’ve put in the work and preparation to win. If you’re going into business or whatever in life it is, apply that attitude, and you'll be successful.

Individual vs Team Results

Another topic that came up when we were discussing the ‘learning to win’ concept is the ability for an athlete to balance between individual results and team results. Let’s use baseball as an example. A player goes three-for-four and they're excited. They're walking around like they’re 6’10” and full of confidence, but the team just got shelled seven-nothing. There’s a balance that athletes follow. And when you're an athlete who is preparing yourself to win, you obviously want great results for yourself and that's fine. But great athletes who prepare themselves and value winning, understand that the work they're putting in and their success helps their team win.

When Matt McLean arrived at the Bellingham Bells, his gym time went up by an extra hour and a half a day. Athletes that were on the team, some of them that were very talented, hadn't been putting in the work. He knew what it took to win and he expected to win. That translated into a team mentality of winning, a team mentality of preparation to win and a team mentality of understanding how to win. When adversity kicked in, we didn't hang our heads. We were prepared, we were stronger, we were faster, we were more mentally focused, we were going to win and we didn't give up.

There is a balance between individual and team results. When they’re winning, peak performers understand that they have to put in the hard work, plan for success, and inspire their teammates. They set goals for themselves within their team goals and it's very important you take that into business life. There are people out there that drive hard to win and they might skyrocket up through a company, but they will only make it so far. The power in business and leadership is inspiring others to do more, to work harder, to stretch their goals, to see something they can't see or to believe in themselves a little bit more. That's why learning and applying those skills within a personal environment into a team environment is very important. You see it in great athletes all the time. Some of those athletes aren’t always the ones that lead the team in scoring or batting average, but they’re the individuals that make a difference in the game and in the locker room. The winning attitude comes from hard work and preparation turns into a mental state of going out there and understanding what it takes to win.

What’s Your Next Move?

What are you going to do this week to help prepare yourself for success? How will you prioritize and adjust your schedule to focus on the things that really matter to you? I’d love to hear from you. List your commitments below in the comment section.

Content originally transcribed from the Sevwins College Success Training program.

About the Author

Glenn Kirkpatrick is an 18-year law enforcement veteran and an entrepreneur that has successfully built and sold several businesses throughout his career. As an athlete, coach, and sport team owner, Glenn enjoys the opportunity to give back to students and athletes by sharing his life and sport experiences.


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