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December 18, 2019

Any Given Monday – Sports and the Modern Workplace

Kevin Dunne


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Not quite making it was never, ever an option for Al Pacino's character in the classic sports movie, Any Given Sunday.

With the team locker room looking like a field hospital, Pacino delivered the kind of speeches that made his bloodied, battered players ready to die for him:

"You find out life's this game of inches; so is football. Because in either game – life or football – the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early, and you don't quite make it."

As he said, "I'm still willing to fight and die for that inch, because that's what living is." The hard yards. And he had counsel for bosses everywhere: "That's what a leader's about: sacrifice. The times he's gotta sacrifice because he's gotta lead, by example. Not by fear and not by self-pity."

These maxims don't just apply to American Football. In sports, in life, at work – getting, being and staying motivated is fundamental to success, however you define it. It's fundamental to happiness, too.

Quitters Never Win

Sports provide an avalanche of reasons why you should get your metaphorical pads on, your head down, and smash into life. What have you got to lose? New York Jets quarterback, Joe Namath, had a question we can all ask ourselves: "If you aren't going all the way, why go at all?"

Storied Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi surely had it right, too, when he said, "Winners never quit, and quitters never win." Or, as the Sultan of Swat, baseball hero Babe Ruth put it, "It's hard to beat a person who never gives up." Ain't that the truth.

So, which one are you? Los Angeles Dodgers manager, Tommy Lasorda, had people divided into three camps: "Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened." Harsh, but fair. And funny.

Opportunities in Sports and in Life

One of my favorite advertisements of all time features Michael Jordan shooting hoops in the gym on his own and missing everything from everywhere. Cut to the tagline, "I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

As basketball coach, player, and broadcaster Jim Valvano put it, "Failure and rejection are only the first step to succeeding."

How you respond to setbacks is vital. And no one responded like the Manassa Mauler, Jack Dempsey. He came up the hard way, and he wasn't going back.

Before his post-World War I heyday, the heavyweight king of the ring was so poor he rode the rails tied underneath the train. No surprise, then, he knew what it took: "A champion is someone who gets up when he can't." Beautiful.

Life is also about making the most of your opportunities. Ice hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky made sure he did. "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take," he said. Well, I guess you can't argue with that.

Sporting Luck or Hard Work?

Excuses? Left it too late? Here's a gentle reminder from Tom Landry, who was Dallas Cowboys coach for 29 years: "Today, you have 100 percent of your life left." You do the math.

Tim Notke was "only" a high school basketball coach. But he was an NBA MVP when it came to motivation: "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."

Hall of Fame college football coach Lou Holtz added another ingredient into the prosperity pie: "Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period."

And attitude was always part of tennis legend Martina Navratilova's recipe: "Whoever said, 'It's not whether you win or lose that counts,' probably lost." They probably did.

Or how about this serve and volley from sports phenomenon Serena Williams: "Overpower. Overtake. Overcome." Not one mention of luck. Well, not unless you're golf great Gary Player, who found that "the harder I work, the luckier I get."

Trample Fear Beneath Your Feet

Bobby Unser won the Indianapolis 500 three times. He was driven by the motto, "Success is where preparation and opportunity meet."

Mario Andretti is one of only two drivers, along with fellow American Dan Gurney, to have won races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR. The quiet life was never something he wanted: "If you have everything under control, you're not moving fast enough."

You have to be brave, too: "He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life." Muhammad Ali wasn't The Greatest for nothing.

And never think about getting in Nadia Comaneci's way. The Romanian gymnast won five Olympic golds, getting a fistful of perfect 10s along the way. She declared, "I don't run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet."

These people are good, but Shakespeare wrote the book. "To be or not to be: that is the question." Write your own happy ending.

More (Non-Sports) Resources

For more inspiration and practical tips, see Mind Tools' toolkits for motivating yourself and motivating your team.

How do you get motivated for Monday morning? What sayings or quotes have guided your life? Share your thoughts and experiences below!

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