The Infection of Success
Learn from the past, don't live in the past. The infection of success can lead you to live in the past... when that occurs you have been infected by success... How you respond to past success can be damaging if you let it diminish your preparation in the present for the future." John Wooden
In my opinion, the hardest thing in sports is sustained success. Everyone wants to win, but not everyone is truly hungry for success. People think they are hungry, but really they are just wishful. When I get bored, I look in the pantry. Not because I am hungry, but just because it gives me something to do. Half the time when I look in the pantry, I don't even pick anything out to eat. I have a theory that a lot of professional athletes are not truly hungry. They are just looking in the pantry.
It is hard to tell if someone is truly hungry for success because a lot of people fake it. You can't always tell if someone is faking it because a lot of time, they don't even realize they are faking it. People like the idea of success, but those who are truly hungry don't just like the idea of success, they like the idea of the climb. And not just like the idea, but need the climb itself.
The ones who move their own goal posts. Not closer, but farther. The ones who can push themselves, day in and day out to be better. The ones who don't let circumstance change their desire.
I don't want those who are chasing rings. I want those who are chasing the climb. The rings are just for show; just jewelry. I want the ones who don't put too much thought into what winning comes with. I want the players who talk about what they can improve on, and if they have to talk about what went well; it should be not in reflection, but in realization. Such as, I was able to see how this part of my preparation led to success in this area. Or this allowed me to realize that I could be better in this area or I need to continue with this.
Anyone can taste success once. While sports take a lot of skill and hard work, luck plays a huge role. John Wooden said, "Even if we were big underdogs, I always felt anything could happen. Often enough, I was right. That's also why I never assumed we were going to win." But it is not often that luck gets repeated.
It is easy to tell if someone is truly hungry by their response to success. Success does not satiate their hunger, it only makes them hungrier. The hungriest also tend to be the most innovative, because they will try any method to find success. Finding those methods are part of the climb. I look at Tom Brady, the poster child for sustained success in the game of football. He is not afraid to be the first to try something, as long as the intention is improvement. Whether it be the Avocado ice cream or the pliability workouts, Brady was willing to act different because he understood that what he wants is different from the pack.
From a scouting perspective, I want to know how to identify those who have that hunger and those who don't.
How does a player perform after a big win or play. Do they let it get to their head? Does it give them freedom/breathing room for future mistakes? Do they apply the needed pressure to be successful on their next rep? Does winning have a positive snowball effect?
How does a player perform after a big loss. Do they make the same mistake twice? Do they comeback the next offseason with apparent improvement? Does struggling in one area or on one play cause them to play slower? Does struggling have a negative snowball effect?
I think one way you can tell is by watching how they play after taking time off. Being away from the game, should make you want it even more. It shouldn't remove you from it, or let you get comfortable. Packers defensive end Rashan Gary is a perfect example of someone who used his time away from the game to make him that much hungrier. This is stuff you can't just fake.
While it is important to celebrate your victories, the greatest competitors think more about the bad plays than the good ones. Not because they are down on themselves, but because it is opportunity for improvement. Improvement is that chase. If you ever listen to guys like Brock Purdy or Jalen Hurts talk about what happened in the game, they are not talking about it in reflection mode, they talk about it as a realization of what they could do better or what they can do next.
As Dan Campbell says, pressure isn't weight on his shoulders, but it is wind beneath his wings. The best competitors don't ever feel that weight on their shoulders because they are so busy focusing on the climb. Nothing can stop a true competitors climb, not even weight on their shoulders.
I believe a coaches job is to guide the competitor's hunger in an effective manner. I also believe it is the coach's job to find ways to bring out competitiveness in those who aren't naturally wired this way. Find ways to make people enjoy the climb and crave the climb. Whether it be motivating people by giving them a chip on their shoulder or positive reinforcement. Find what lights the spark, and let them be the one's to keep the flame going.
If a team is built with scouts who can identify those who have the hunger, coaches who can bring the hunger out of people, and athletes whose desire for sustained success trumps their desire for what comes with winning; success is inevitable.
It is the people who go to sleep hungry and wake up even hungrier. The ones who are up at 4 in the morning with a pit in their stomach because all they can thing about is what they need to do in order to win. The best teams are filled with players who aren't just looking in the pantry.