What It Takes to be Number One,
by Vince Lombardi, Jr.
Lombardi! Perhaps no single word in the English language communicates such strong visions of excellence, discipline, commitment, and of course, winning. The Lombardi philosophy transcends football. His powerful words capture the fundamentals of success – in any sport, any business or any life.
Head and heart – mental toughness – was one of my father’s favorite topics. He believed that mental toughness was the single most important quality a leader needed to develop in themselves and in the people around them. Mental toughness is the ability to hold on to your goals in the face of the pressure and stress of your current situation. It’s the ability to hold on, and hold on to what you want in the face of what you’ve got. Mental toughness is the glue that holds a team together when the heat is on and helps them persevere just a little longer – which in many cases is just long enough to outlast the competition.
My father’s brand of mental toughness dated back to his college days at Fordham University. He was an average player compared to some of his more talented teammates. He played mainly because of his determination. He once played an entire game with a cut inside his mouth that required 30 stitches to close after the game. He said, “I can’t put my finger on just what I learned playing…but it was something, a certain toughness.”
He schooled his players in the mental approach to football, telling them, “Hurt is in the mind,” and he stressed that in order to win, they would have to disregard the small hurts and ignore the pressure.
In talking about mental toughness, Dad was emphasizing the necessity of staying the course when things start to go wrong. He was talking about using failure to come back stronger than before. We learn perseverance by persevering. “Sometimes it’s good to have an obstacle to overcome, whether in football or anything,” he once said. “When things go bad, we usually rise to the occasion.”
Mental toughness is the ability to be at your best at all times, regardless of the circumstances. It’s easy to do well when there’s no stress, but how many of us can be poised when the pressure is on? Mental toughness is constancy of purpose; it is focus and emotional control. Mental toughness is not rigidity in the face of adversity; it is stability and poise in the face of challenge. Mental toughness is seeking out the pressure that can’t be avoided anyway and being energized by it. It’s not just the ability to survive a mistake or failure, it’s the ability to come back stronger from failure.
Mental toughness isn’t inherent. It’s not something we’re born with. It is learned just like every other quality it takes to be #1.