By Neil Perkins
There is a fine line between competing and winning. Having coached boxers at all levels from recreational to professional, the mindset of a person will very often dictate the outcome of a contest. I am talking about boxing, although I am sure this transcends to other sports and all aspects of life.
The world needs competitors so that we can assess where we stand in the pecking order of life. As humans we have evolved to compete, I am aware that despite been retired from boxing, I am still very much a ‘fighter’ – if someone tries walking past me in the street, I treat it as a race.
Boxing is the most primal sport of all. Competing in boxing for most indicates a massive personal achievement. Having guided over 350 people through this process I have seen many people learn to compete. Competition is about going through the process of preparation (training), battling the nerves in the build-up, showing up and giving an account of yourself and achieving the goal of competing. Competing itself is an achievement, the very fortunate will win on skill alone and will beat someone with a ‘winners mentality’ who lacks the necessary technical ability (‘coasters’ I call them) – Rocky was a falsify and wouldn’t have happened in real life. The exceptional have the winners mindset and sporting/ athletic talent. The mentality of winning is about the time in life when you must show your soul!
Winning is something that someone does at all costs, who refuses to lose and will go and go again. A winner will push beyond their comfort zone, not make excuses and will push on, a competitor is happy to have competed. Sports like ‘CrossFit’ show the mentality of winners and the ‘balls to the wall’ mentality needed to compete. I admire CrossFit athletes for their desire to push, but equally emphasise that they couldn’t succeed in a real sport (Crossfiters you can take that as a back handed compliment) I have lost count of the number of times I have looked at a boxer either at the weigh in, backstage before a contest, prior to the opening bell or during the contest and watched them switch from a ‘winner’ to a ‘competitor’ – equally I have also seen ‘competitors’ become ‘winners’ either down to exceptional coaching intervention or a pivotal point in a sporting contest – that bit of luck.
As coaches we look at our athletes at all levels and look how we can implement a winner’s mentality. Equally how we can stop our athletes talking themselves out a programme, fight or lift – ensuring they believe they can win and instilling that winner’s mentality. I have the joy of working with a talented coaching team I can recall the numerous occasions we have one rep max tested someone in Barbell Club and very often found they’ve added 20,30 or 40kg to a lift, only for the coach to come back and say, ‘there was more in them!’
Our white-collar boxing shows are some of the best matched shows I have seen (biased opinion I know) The theatre of putting two well matched individuals in an environment outside of their comfort zone and matching them up against each always brings excitement. I liken it the film ‘Trading Places’, but as opposed to the two Wall Street stockbrokers seeing if the street kid can survive in their world, I take the Wall Street stockbrokers and see if they can compete in mine. All of them compete and we have had occasions (more than one) where one has had to show their soul – the winners mentality.
Boxing Examples of Winners Mentality
Top athletes can sense this themselves and in boxing a refer to it as the ‘Fuck you’ mentality.
Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko was great example of this – wobbled, out on his feet and in danger of been beaten. AJ’s account of thinking to himself ‘you don’t want this more than me’ as he sat on his stool. He went on to knock Wlad out.
Lennox Lewis v Vitali Klitschko was an epic contest. Out jabbed, getting caught and out boxed. Lennox used one of his most overlooked assets – bravery and desire to win. He went toe to toe with Vitali, walking through solid jabs with the belief that the opponent would be stopped when he connected. Lewis was relentless.
Carl Froch v Jermaine Taylor. Froch never lost the belief that he could win this contest and trailing the contest got nearer the opponent and let barrages of punches go to force the stoppage.
The above three have a superb winners mentality, I believe that exceptional coaches (not athletes) can not only influence an athlete’s technical ability, but their mindset. Learning triggers responses and how to influence events are key in the coach’s arsenal. In a sporting contest, that ‘bit of luck’ can change the outcome of a contest, equally a tactical intervention or ‘whisper in the ear’ can see an athlete go from the mindset of ‘competitor’ to ‘winner’. Here are three of my favourite examples of coaching interventions…
Angelo Dundee. Sugar Ray Leonard v Tommy’s Hearns – ‘You’re blowing it son’, the influencial words of Angelo who rallied his man to the cause. A good talking to and Leonard comes out like a new man and stops Hearns to win the contest.
Kevin Sanders. Nigel Benn v Gerald Mclenan – ‘You’ve got him Nigel’ Overlooked due to the catastrophic outcome of the contest. Nigel Benn ‘the dark destroyer’ and been outgunned and knocked through the ropes in the opening round by the hyped American and one of the most feared ‘punchers’ on the planet. As he gingerly sat on his stool with wobbly legs Sanders in the corner wasn’t offering sympathy or defensive advice – ‘You’ve got him Nigel, his legs are gone, and he’s fucked, go out there and give it him’ Benn describes how he went from feeling trepidation and the worst fear in his life and in seconds had transformed to him saying to himself ‘wait till your feel one of mine’. Saunders re-ignited Benn’s natural ‘Fuck You’ mentality for a sensational comeback.
Teddy Atlas. Tim Bradley v Brandon Rios – ‘We are fireman’ A strange speech which had clearly been echoed through the strategy of fight camp. If you see how the boxer responds well to the ‘we are fireman speech’, watch the eye contact and relationship between the two – it surged Bradley to victory.
“The fire’s coming. Are you ready for the fire? We are firemen!” Atlas exclaimed. “The heat doesn’t bother us; we live in the heat. We train in the heat.”
The winner’s mentality must exist in all top-level competitors. It was Muhammed Ali that once said
Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They must have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
Equally another great quote if from Teddy Atlas again. This sums up the difference between competitors and winners.
“There comes a time in a man’s life when he makes a decision to just live, survive, or he wants to win. You’re doing just enough to keep him off of you and hope he leaves you alone. You’re lying to yourself because you’re gonna cry tomorrow. You’re lying to yourself and I’d lie to you if I let you get away with that,”