Pursuing Greatness: Strategies to Gain a Mental Edge in Sports and Life is now available on Amazon in ebook and print formats (audiobook edition will be coming later this year) Click here to grab a FREE sample or purchase your copy today.
***FROM THE BACK COVER***
"GOALS WORK FOR US WHEN WE WORK FOR THEM
And...just for my book blog readers, here's a SNEAK PEAK inside of the book:
YOU CAN BE ANYTHING YOU DESIRE
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”
Jackie Mitchell did the impossible. The odds were not in her favor. It was 1931 and she was just seventeen years old. At the time, it was unthinkable for women to have an opportunity in sports. Yet, despite what most saw as unsurmountable, Mitchell succeeded. She signed a contract with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts and became a professional baseball pitcher. In the exhibition game Jackie Mitchell struck out two baseball legends: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. One sports writer shared: “Of course, given the improbability of what happened, many have wondered whether there was some kind of conspiracy behind these strikeouts. However, judging by the fact that the Great Bambino was less than gracious when interviewed about the incident, I’m going to take the position that the strikes were legit. So consider me inspired.” Jackie Mitchell decided to not only dream her dream, but to take action against all odds. And that action was rewarded. Mitchell became what she desired. She obtained her goal of becoming a professional baseball player, even when it seemed impossible.1
In 2015 Zach Kreft was a favorite in the Ohio High School Cross Country Division II State Championship race held at The National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio. The race distance was 3.1 miles. Spectators watched as Kreft started the race in his golden team jersey with the front pack of runners, looking strong. However, things were not as they may have seemed. By the time the front runners emerged from the back of the course with less than a mile to go, Kreft was nowhere in sight. A dozen runners made their way to the finish line. And then a dozen more. The parade of runners continued, Kreft not among them. Hordes of spectators began to move away from the sidelines, as it seemed that all of the runners had completed the race. The show was over. But Kreft’s coach, teammates and fans knew he was still on the course. Kreft, a favorite to win the championship race was now the only runner who hadn’t crossed the finish line. In time, Kreft emerged. The strain on his face was severe. His coach walked along the sidelines, parallel to his runner, offering support in the only way he could. Kreft made his way to the finish line, finishing last in 146th place. As one journalist stated, “Zach Kreft of Buckeye Valley received an ovation that no runner wants to hear: pity applause.” Yet, despite his unexpected placement in the race, Kreft kept his dream alive. He continued to train over the course of the year and found himself a favorite in the State Championship race once again in 2016.
In 2016 wearing his golden Buckeye Valley Barons race jersey, Kreft started the race strong. And he held on. Zack took the lead near the 2 mile mark. Not only did he maintain his composure throughout the 3.1 mile race, Kreft won in a time of 15:16.4. As Kreft raced down the final stretch of course and reached the finish line, he was greeted with enormous applause, yet again. Only this time, it was for the win. For those who had been following Kreft’s journey, the cheers were not only for the win, the shouts of joy were for all that Kreft had overcome. Kreft went from last place to first place within the span of one year; 365 days.
Speaking with a journalist after the 2016 race win, Zach explained: “I’ve been on a mission since that day  to come back here and redeem myself. That performance just fueled my training and preparation every day of the year. I can’t even begin to describe how fulfilling this is.” A challenger in the race shared: “I wanted to win, but when I made my move and couldn’t gain any ground on Zach, I figured I might as well stay solid and put myself into position for second. I knew there was no catching Zach. He was really moving.”2 Kreft’s coach, Nate Ritz spoke about pushing forward after the 2015 setback: “Zach was extremely focused to redeem himself in the 2016 cross country season and State Meet. The set back in the 2015 State Meet helped motivate him on a daily basis to make himself even better in 2016. I'm guessing not too many other athletes in the State Cross Country Championships have finished last one season and then came back the next year to win. Zach is not one to have a negative attitude towards life. He was down for a bit after the 2015 State Championships, but I knew once he physically recovered, he would come back stronger the following year. Some athletes would not be able to bounce back from such a setback, but Zach is the type of person that it motivated him to come back even stronger.” He added, “Zach's goal was to win. The same goal he had going into the 2015 State Championships. He was confident and mentally ready to run well in 2016. He didn't talk a lot about the 2015 State Meet [over the course of the year], but I know it fueled him to train harder for the 2016.” When asked what advice he would give to others who face setbacks in life, Kreft’s coach explained, “…life is like a rollercoaster. Everyone is going to have highs and lows. It's how you deal with the lows and use them to bounce back that makes you better. The lows make the highs even sweeter and it really made winning in 2016 even better for Zach with the setback he faced the previous year. It would have been easy for Zach to hang it up after the 2015 season. Knowing him, I knew this was not an option. Using setbacks to make you stronger is what I've learned from Zach this past cross country season.”
“Optimism isn’t a life plan, but it’s a great tailwind to have at your back.”
Time is an amazing gift. It is incredibly valuable. We get to decide how we want to use our time. We get to decide what specific actions we want to take. We get to decide what attitude we’re going to have. We’re all given this wonderful gift. Zach Kreft used his gift to go from last to first place in the championship race. Jackie Mitchell used her gift to achieve the unthinkable; becoming a professional baseball player in the early 1930’s. Of course, time wasn’t the only tool Kreft, Mitchell and countless other elite, professional and Olympic athletes have used to achieve a goal. Time is a piece of the puzzle. Hard work is essential, too. It’s the grind. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. It’s the focus. And it’s the belief. It’s knowing you’re going to achieve your goal, despite the obstacles, no matter how seemingly insurmountable.
Not all goals are about winning. Alistair Brownlee demonstrated this when he helped his brother, Jonny Brownlee at the World Triathlon Series in Cozumel, Mexico. Alistair gave up his chance to win the triathlon, opting to help his brother cross the finish line. Less than 400 meters from the finish of the race, Jonny fatigued. Suffering from what appeared to be a case of severe low blood sugar, Jonny was unable to see or to stand on his own. Alistair immediately wrapped his arm around his brother’s shoulders and guided him down the final race stretch to the finish line. While passed by the eventual winner, they held off other competitors while running side by side. As the brothers reached the finish, Alistair gently pushed his brother Jonny across the line first. Jonny finished second, with Alistair finishing third in the race. After the race Alistair spoke with reporters, stating; “I’ve been in that position before…If it happened to anyone, I would have helped them across the line…It’s an awful position to be in. If he [Jonny] would have conked out 1K from the finish line, and there isn’t medical support there, you know, obviously, it’s a dangerous position to be in. You know, the World Series is a big play, but whatever. It’s the right thing to do.” Alister finished speaking with a smile across his face. His goal was met that day. No, he didn’t win the big race, but he was exactly the person he desired to be.3
Who do you want to be? Make a list of qualities that contribute to being that person. This isn’t a goal list, this goes deeper. This isn’t what you want to achieve, it’s who you want to be (keeping two separate lists will serve as a reminder of what you are striving for).
At the Talawanda Athletic High School Hall of Fame induction ceremony, cross country and track coach Dale Plank announced that throughout his years of coaching, he was two people. He was Dale Plank the teacher, the dad, and the person. And he was Coach Plank. And Coach Plank was a combination of both himself and his wife, Mary Lou. Coach Plank achieved incredible feats. Plank began his Talawanda teaching career in 1974 and continued until 2014. During that time, he coached 89 different athletic seasons: 38 for cross country, 36 for track, and 15 for middle school basketball. In that time period he was involved with 27 cross country championships. He coached many individual conference and district champions, numerous state qualifiers, and two State Champions. Plank’s athletes still hold 12 of 18 school records in boys track and 9 of 18 records in girls track.
After the banquet, at an informal celebratory gathering, Mary Lou and Dale reminded those in attendance that although the years of coaching had certainly been a thrill, the real pleasure had been derived in the amazing individuals they had worked with. It isn’t the accolades that are won, it is the content of your character that makes a person and an athlete a true success. It isn’t always who you are when you’re at the top of your game, but who you are when you’re at the bottom. It’s who you are to the core of your soul. It’s what you stand for and how you treat others that matter most.
If you don’t know what you want and who you want to be, you’ll never get there. J-Mac, otherwise known as Jason McElwain dreamed of playing on the basketball team. Placing himself in close proximity to his dream, J-Mac became the manager of his high school team. “The story of Jason McElwain, aka J-Mac, is right out of a movie. The 5’6” autistic equipment manager of a high school basketball team gets to play the last four minutes of his last game of his senior year in high school as thanks for his loyal dedication to the team. Once in the game, he catches fire, sinking 6 three-pointers and a two-pointer for an incredible game-high 20 points. You just can’t make this stuff up.”4 J-Mac didn’t give up on his dream, despite the hurdles he faced. He kept himself close to what he loved and he worked hard at the job he was given. He was loyal and dedicated and when he was placed in the game, he shined. He dared to be what he dreamed of being, and that dream came true, as it has for countless others who dare to take action on their dreams.
Successful serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Quest Nutrition, Tom Bilyeu posed the following question: “What is something that you want to know about more than anyone else in the world? What do you care about and are fascinated enough about to go so deep and know so much that you’ll know more about it than anyone else? That thing - if you can make money at it, do it.”5 You can be anything you desire. While “overnight success” takes years of hard work, belief and dedication, who you want to be and what you want to achieve are only impossible if you believe them to be. Try telling Ernestine Shepherd anything different and you’ll be met with a laugh. Shepherd is now eighty-one years old and she’s the world’s fittest grandma and the world’s oldest female body builder. The octogenarian didn’t start exercising until she was fifty-six. She doesn’t let age stop her. Shepherd knows she can be whatever she wants to be. She pays attention to how she eats and she works hard. Waking up at 3 A.M., she runs every day, sometimes up to 80 miles in a seven day period.6 And everyday she’s doing what many would believe to be impossible. She is being exactly who she desires to be. Are you?
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