Getting from “Good” to “Great” – Lessons from the wrestling mat

Last week, I just finished putting one of my wrestlers through a workout, and the question came up, “How does one go from being good to being great?”  That’s where we are as a team right now; lots of good efforts, lots of good wrestlers having success.  But if you ask everyone one of the guys on our team, they wanna be “great.”  Their goals are national titles for themselves and the team, all-america status on the mat and in the classroom. 

But how do you get there?  That’s a difficult question to answer, because there is no one universal roadmap to get there.  But nonetheless, it’s hard, and here’s why:  Getting from average/ mediocre to good is easy  – especially in our culture today.  The minimal acceptable effort that most people consider as average is effortless – simply exist.  Simply show up, punch the clock, and be a body in the room.  That’s average.  Do a bit more than that, you’re good.  Don’t make mistakes, go through the motions, don’t rock the boat, and if you do, certainly do it at little risk and cost to you – that’s being good at something.  Stay the course, play it safe and stay comfortable – and you’ll be successful simply becuase you outlasted everyone else, because they’ll give up or make a fatal mistake. 

But I don’t know about you, that’s depressing.  It’s depressing in the way that people will actually sell themselves that short and actually think that going through the motions, avoiding the things and moments of challenge that actually bring real growth to one’s character – is all their capable of. 

So, back to greatness….it’s hard thing to achieve because it requires a lot of effort and discipline to get there.  But you don’t actually have to make big, sweeping changes or risks.  Greatness often comes about by tending to those seemingly mundane and routine details of life.  The simple things really; minor tweaks.  But it requires a HUGE effort in committing to constantly tend to those things. It’s not getting complacent and staying disciplined when everyone and everything else (even yourself) tells you to back off.

 With that said, here are a few points to chew on, reflecting on what it takes to get from “good” to “great.”

Make your world “small,” and be fully present in it.  Lately, a lot of my athletes throw themselves into a state of panic that seems to come out of nowhere.  What I find is they’re trying to deal with everything at once in their lives. To the first point: life is never simple; it’s often complex.  For my wrestlers, it’s school, cutting weight, practice, competition, social life, friend and family relationships.  That’s a lot; to take it all on at once is almost impossible.  I tell my athletes to “shink” their worlds – when they’re on the wrestling mat, focus on that task.  When they’re in the classroom, focus their concentration efforts there.  When they’re on the phone with friends or family, focus their attention fully in that conversation.  “Shrink” the world into what’s right in front of you and give it your maximum time and effort.  You’ll find you’re much better doing one thing at a time rather than trying to address it all at once.  Don’t try to address everything at once – what you find is you get a minimal effort in all things.

I tell my athletes that my life is a lot like that now – coaching them, ministering to people at my church, spending time with my wife and friends.  One of the hardest things to do is give my 100% attention, to be fully present when I’m in that particular role during the day.  But, when I’m giving my full attention to my wife when we’re together, to my wrestlers when coaching, and to people as I minister to them – people get my best, and that’s important, because they deserve that.

Control what is within your control. People like to spend a lot of time worrying about things they simply cannot control.  It’s a waste of time.  Spend your time on the things under your own control.  It seems simple enough, but it’s really hard, because we’re conditioned in many ways to control everything, and especially the things outside our control.  I think we do it because we fear failure so much, when we do fail, we have somewhere to place the blame.  “I would’ve been fine, but my boss screwed me.” “I won that match, but the referee screwed me.” “If it wasn’t for that injury, I would’ve succeeded.”  You get the point.  Put maximum effort into the things within your own power, into things right in front of you.

Goals are important, although not so much the expected result.  Goals that are challenging and a bit out of reach are important.  They set up everything we do in pursuit of them, and establish our commitment to discipline in working towards them.  But here’s the deal: greatness isn’t necessarily achieved solely based on whether we’re successful in achieving our goals or not.  As I pointed out above, there is only so much within our control.  Things and circumstances change, and thus results change, things are taken away from us.  We can’t plan a blown call by a referee, a better effort from an opponent, news of a major injury or illness.  Think about it: someone who puts maximum effort and time into a goal, but doesn’t achieve it – are they not somehow changed?  Did they not learn something about themselves in the process? 

And I think, when we free ourselves from trying to control things outside our control, and from thinking of greatness strictly in terms of achievment of goals – it frees us from that life of regret and blame if things don’t turn out the way we planned.  We’re a bit more resilient as athletes and people because of it.

Seize opportunities when they come up – always.   You know what I think really separates great people from all others?  They ability to recognize opportunities, and to sieze them even though they don’t know what the result will be.  They do it because the potential far outweighs the risk.  The worst thing that will happen is they sieze the opportunity, and they don’t make it or someone says no.  It’s back to that “control what you can control” issue.  But for most of one’s life, great opportunities don’t come up very often – they’re privileges really.  Perhaps the risk is worth it.  It’s far better than sitting idle and letting them pass you by all because you were afraid of the effort or change it would bring.

Open, honest communication is a must.  That means telling someone the hard truth about things.  Right now, some of my athletes aren’t doing the things they need to in order to put themselves in a position to be successful at the end of the wrestling season – the National Tournament.  And so I have to say things from my perspective.  And I’m ok with the fact they don’t accept it or disagree right away, but they are receptive to it, willing to talk it through with me – because the lines of communication are open and honest.

Being open and honest with others is pretty obvious in theory – listen and accept feedback from others, be honest about what you’re feeling and how you are taking someone’s words.  It’s really difficult though in reality.  I think it’s that way because you give up some personal power and control in order to achieve honesty.  But, it’s through such honesty that growth can happen.  Those things you need to tend to, but have become blind spots get tended to because there are people who care about you, and are open and honest with you enough to tell you, because they care about your well-being. 

Believe in something.  What you believe in is what shapes and defines you as a person; it’s what shapes and defines your life.  I don’t care what that thing is – Yourself, God, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny –  but it’s important because it separates who you are from what you do.  There has to be something outside the work/tasks/activities you do that define who you are as a person.  If not, you tend to define yourself by either your successes or failures.  And that can be really detrimental to your relationships and to your own sense of self.

So this is my “short” list…..there are a few others I’m sure, but I’d rather hear from all of you: What do you think it takes to get from simply being “good” to being “great?”


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