Monday, February 27, 2012

The Mindset of a Champion

The Huffington Post recently published an article discussing the grueling nature of sports, specifically tennis. With the close of the Australian Open, being the longest Grand Slam Final of all time at a total of 5 hours and 53 minutes, journalist Karthika Muthukumaraswamy notes the grueling nature of the sport and the length of its season. More importantly, however, the writer raves about the talent and game style of several steadily top ranked players. Yet she fails to mention the hard work, determination, and perseverance on the lengthy road that got them there.

Muthukumaraswamy notes, “Nadal and Djokovic, while blessed with enviable endurance and amazing abilities to defend and prolong matches, have effectively threatened the brilliance of mental acuity and shot-making on the fly, exemplified by more cerebral players like Federer and Andy Murray.” I do not to believe that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were simply “blessed” with such talent. Their abilities were not merely born within; handed to them like some package of luck. Nadal states, “I always try to improve and play better and betterthe only thing that is going through my mind now is having enough illusion to keep practicing hard, enough motivation to keep trying my best and to keep finding solutions to be a better player for next year.” Nadal credits his talent and leading success to hard work, resilience, and constant improvement.

Carol Dweck calls this mental state “the mindset of a champion.” She, too, believes that success does not stem solely from natural talent but rather from diligent work and fierce determination. She notes in her writing, “It’s more about the process than about the talent.” I believe Rafael Nadal would agree. Dweck argues that people, especially the media, are too often guilty of revering “the naturals.” It is too frequent that we act as though true champions are born, not made.

Dweck provides numerous examples of those who did not fit the criteria for natural ability, nevertheless rising to the top despite their grim forecast. Consider famous players Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and most recently Jeremy Lin. Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity basketball team. Practicing his shots for hours, shocking everyone with his resilience and determination, we all know who Jordan turned out to be. It is no streak of luck that Jordan’s courage and dedication took him to the top. Yet the false notion remains, as Dweck notes: “Because now we know he was the greatest basketball player ever, and we think it should have been obvious from the start. When we look at him we see MICHAEL JORDAN. But at that point he was only Michael Jordan.”

It is undeniable that certain players possess different levels of talent. It is hard work and the mindset of a champion, however, that takes true talent to the top. People are not born stars, they become that way. Dweck does an excellent job of opening our eyes to see the real road that got them there. Nadal, Jordan, and many alike do not attribute their talents and success to any sort of physical gift or talent. Rather, they point to their laborious efforts and never fail attitude that continues to drive them along the road to success.  

"ATP - Nadal Talks to Media about Current Form." Tennis World. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. <>.
Dweck, Carol S. "Chapter 4: Sports, the Mindset of a Champion." Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.
Muthukumaraswamy, Karthika. "Professional Tennis Today: A Grueling Season or a Grueling Style?" The Huffington Post., 02 July 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. <>.

Jennifer Kellner
Notre Dame 2014
Social Foundations of Coaching