This time of year, with March Madness dominating much of the national news, we will invariably be bombarded with SportsCenter highlights of the players who rise to the occasion when the game is on the line. Who amongst us hasn't dreamed of delivering in the clutch?
When the Most Outstanding Player trophy (given to the best player in the NCAA basketball tournament) is handed out, though, it will be in large part a reflection of the years spent practicing leading up to the Big Dance.
"We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training." -- Archilochos
Whether you're preparing for a triathlon, studying for the bar exam or preparing to start your own business, you need to put in the hours. Malcolm Gladwell hypothesized in Outliers that you can't become a master of anything until you've accumulated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in that field.
No matter what side of the debate you are on regarding his rule, you can't deny that to achieve one's top potential, you must train for it. Training, if taken seriously, is difficult. Because of its grueling nature, the temptation to take short cuts can be omnipresent. However, if you want maximum results, you've got to put in the highest effort every step of the way.
"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights." -- Muhammad Ali
Preparation for the big moment not only can be grueling -- it also can be lonely. Few people will see or know the unglamorous, behind-the-scenes effort that comes prior to the payoff. Champions do what others are unwilling to do when no one is looking. They don't take one rep off, skip a chapter or fail to do their due diligence. They know that each step of their journey is important and a part of their personal formula for success.
"There is no beast mode, there are only beasts, and they're like that all the time." -- Tim Grover
In my years of studying successful people from near and afar, one strong conclusion I've drawn is that top performers simply employ better habits than everyone else. So much of life is the culmination of consistent effort that eventually pays off. Some chalk up the tipping point to delivering in the clutch. In reality, though, it's more likely to be the result of constant, yet gradual, forward progress.
What I love about this quote from Michael Jordan's former trainer is that it's not about flipping a switch when needed: It's about always staying ready.
"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." -- Anne Lamott
Having faith in yourself and hoping that all of your efforts will pay off in the end is a critical part to reaching your goals. I can't help but wonder how many people in this very moment are on the precipice of success but throw in the towel one round too early. When champions face adversity, or if they even temporarily stop seeing progress, they continue to push on. They re-evaluate their methods and make the necessary adjustments, but they never give up.
The level at which you train and your perseverance to stay the course through any challenges will ultimately make the difference between reaching your target or falling short. We should also never underestimate the power of belief. You prepare yourself to be a champion in the years to come if you attack training with the right perspective, resolve now to never give up and believe in yourself today.