posted on: April 1, 2020
author: Brian Lomax
As athletes and high performers, we all have dreams of achieving true greatness. But what is true greatness? What does being great mean to you? And how do you achieve it? These are important questions to consider. And here is a first principle of being on the path to greatness: If you want to be truly great, you must be humble. You need humility in how you train, practice, and learn. It’s one of the most important character traits of a great competitor. It is only through humility that you will open up yourself to what you truly need to do in order to achieve greatness.
“Confidence is important, but ego is something false. Humility is the way to build confidence, and ego is hugely dangerous in this sport, because if you are running on ego you aren’t running on good clean emotions, or cause and effect. You bypass it to support a false idea. It’s all garbage, the ego is garbage.” -Frank Shamrock, MMA Fighter and undefeated UFC Middleweight Champion (Sheridan, 2010)
On the flip side of humility is the ego. The ego can be very dangerous for an athlete as its concerns are not always in alignment with producing great performances or becoming the best one could be. It’s often focused on being better than others, or believing that you’re better than others. It cares mostly about results and what other people think. The result of too much ego can be cockiness and arrogance.
With that being said, the ego definitely has its uses. In a competition, there might be times where you have to have a bit of cockiness and arrogance. For instance, one of the key components of mental toughness at the elite level is believing that you’re better than the opponent, especially at the critical moments. You have to have that unshakable self-belief.
“I think there is always this self-belief. You have to keep reminding yourself that you’re there for a reason and that you are better than the other guy. As hard as the moment is that you are in, the more you have to remind yourself, the more you have to talk to yourself.” -Novak Djokovic after defeating Roger Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon Final
In the above quote from Novak Djokovic, we can see a little bit of ego when he’s reminding himself that he is better than the other guy. In this case, the other guy was Roger Federer, who is often referred to as the greatest player of all-time – not bad.
So perhaps there is a bit of cockiness and arrogance involved. But that doesn’t affect how Djokovic trains. He has enough humility to work on the little details of training like visualization, footwork, stretching, etc.
If we examine this quote further, we realize that what Djokovic is really talking about here is self-confidence and self-belief. How do you build self-confidence and self-belief? You guessed it – by being humble.
Humble competitors can build true confidence because they don’t perceive any task as being beneath them or too basic. They are open-minded to learning, and they are willing to learn from others. Being the best they can be is the most important thing; being better than others is a by-product of that philosophy.
The best athletes and the best coaches learn from all of their interactions because they are open to doing so. They don’t let their egos get in the way with statements like, “I already knew that.” That’s arrogance and close mindedness. Those are barriers on the path to greatness.
When you are willing to trust a coach and willing to do whatever it takes to improve, you will build true confidence. You will be training areas of your game that the ego-driven player wouldn’t even consider. The foundation of your game will be better than theirs.
Being humble is especially important after a game or match is over. If you were beaten soundly, have the humility to recognize that and learn from it. Give your opponent credit. He or she was better than you today. Making excuses for why you lost is your ego talking.
If you win, talk less about yourself and more about the performance. Learn from it. You should always have an eye toward improvement. Lastly, praise your opponent for his or her effort and courage. This is a sign of respect that will help you look at your opponents with a challenge mindset.
To conclude, be humble in your training. Be humble after you compete, and open minded and willing to learn. Trust a coach or mentor, and follow their program. If you can be this competitor, you will see how humility is the path to building confidence, self-belief, and greatness.
Sheridan, S. (2010). The fighter’s mind: Inside the mental game. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.
Learn more about the author: https://performancextra.com/brian-lomax/