Review: Dr. Bob Rotella’s How Champions Think in Sports and in Life

how-champions-think-9781476788623_hrThis review first ran in the May 25 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

How Champions Think in Sports and in Life

By Dr. Bob Rotella

Simon and Schuster


You’ve got a shot at doing something exceptional.

It’s your life-changing, career-defining, legacy-making moment.

But here’s the catch.

Success isn’t guaranteed. The odds aren’t in your favour. There’s a good chance you’ll fail with the whole world looking on. And lots of folks will make it their mission to remind you that you were being hopelessly unrealistic.

So do you step to the line or do you sit this one out and play it safe?

“Most people never commit themselves to doing anything that offers worse than fifty-fifty odds of success,” says Dr. Bob Rotella, author of How Champions Think and director of sports psychology at the University of Virginia. “Most people choose to live lives that are as safe and secure as they can make them. But then, most people don’t really think through the human situation. We’re blessed with one life, and that’s all we can be certain about. They take that one life they’re given and they drift through it. Maybe they’re satisfied with that.”

Rotella works with professional and amateur athletes who aim higher and push harder than the rest of us. They’re not satisfied with drifting. “The people I know who seek to be exceptional would not settle for a safe, secure and ultimately dull life. They have a different attitude toward their lives, a philosophy that impels them to go in the opposite direction, to seek excellence, to be exceptional.”

So why do they head in the opposite direction and shun a safe, secure and dull life? Based on his decades of experience, Rotella’s identified how champions think.

Champions learn to be optimistic. Regardless of what happens, find a reason to be hopeful.

Adopt a confident self-image. To borrow a line from William James, “people tend to become what they think about themselves.”

Respect your talents. “The most successful people have some of what we call natural talent but not so much that it makes them complacent,” says Rotella. “They’re brimming over with the character traits that promote patient, persistent hard work.”

Commit and persevere. Exceptional people honour the commitments they make to themselves and they learn to love what they’re doing even when it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Dream big but also have goals and a process for getting there. “Dreams are cheap. Lots of people who never achieve much have dreams. Exceptional people go well beyond dreaming.”

Be single-minded. Have a passion for one thing and pursue it zealously. Be willing to lead an unbalanced life.

Evaluate yourself based on how well you’ve prepared and performed. Exceptional people are “process oriented not because they don’t care about outcomes, but because they know this attitude leads t the best outcomes.”

Be willing to go through the fire. “People who go for greatness are going to get knocked down a lot. The issue is not whether you’ll fail, because you will. It’s whether you’ll get back up and keep going.”

Work hard when you’re young and work smarter and more strategically as you get older.

Be patient while you’re working to do better and be impatient with the limits that others put on.

Surround yourself with the right people. When you find someone who believes in you and your ability, latch on and learn.

And stick with your bread and butter. “There’s a happy medium between listening to everyone and taking all the advice you’re offered, and listening to no one and stubbornly hanging on to the same flawed techniques and habits,” says Rotella. “It’s a subtle sweet spot, but it’s one that champions seem able to find.”

You and I likely aren’t going to win a Stanley Cup, Superbowl, World Series or The Masters. But we all have a shot at doing something extraordinary with our lives. The only question is whether we have the mindset to stop settling for safe and secure.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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