Success, be it in a game, a season, or over a career, is the goal of any athlete. We always want to improve, and we always want to win. Whether we are used to success or not, it can be difficult to deal with it appropriately.
In press conferences for professional athletes, we see a wide variety of ways to handle success. Some athletes are highly confident and boast about themselves. Some are quiet and give more credit to their teammates and coaches.
It should be obvious that as athletes we should strive to be humble. But it is not automatic. It is a learned and practiced skill.
Happy but Look Ahead
After an important victory or a game well played, it’s important to be happy for yourself and your team. Because after all, if playing well doesn’t make you happy, you’re probably playing the wrong sport.
So we should be happy when we do well. But we also need to keep focus. Getting overconfident after a victory is an immature mistake. Be proud of how you played but always looking forward to the next game, the next competition. There are always new challenges to face. It’s great to have the feeling of overcoming an obstacle but don’t let that feeling get in the way of overcoming the next one.
Always Room to Improve
You may have played the game of your life: pitched a no-hitter, set a record mile time, scored a triple-double, but there is always room to grow. We learn from our success and gain pride and confidence, but we also have to look at our failures. There is always something that didn’t go quite right: a fumbled handoff, a hit-batter, a wild pass. Even in our moments of triumph, we have to be looking to improve. If not, we will fall behind the competition.
We have to assume that our opponents are always getting better, always finding a way to exploit our weaknesses. So you can bet that if you’re wasting time gloating and getting a big head, the other guy is working harder to beat you next time.
How to be Humble
It can be hard to accept praise gracefully. If you are used to success, then you are probably used to people being impressed with you. So you know how to smile and nod and take a compliment without showing off.
If you’re unfamiliar with praise, then you might be startled by sudden admiration. Remember that success is cool but bragging about cancels it out. People want to congratulate you only if you are gracious. People will stop being impressed if you don’t show humility.
Thank Your Teammates
Contrary to popular opinion, there are no self-made men and women. Everyone has the help of their teammates and coaches and probably other people in their lives as well. In the very least, they have the help of the institutions that allow them to compete. So whenever you hear a professional athlete after a game saying that they carried the team alone or won the game singlehandedly, they are mistaken.
If you never give credit to your teammates, they will feel forgotten. And if you are the star of the team, they may look up to you, but they know that they have important roles as well. It’s hard to have a cohesive team if one person thinks they deserve all the credit.
A true leader knows what’s important. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many points you scored if you lost the game. A leader focuses on the effort and outcome for the entire team, not just themselves. It may be a cliché, but it’s true that you win as a team and lose as a team even one person stands out as playing well. So be the kind of leader that supports her teammates and lifts the team up. Keep your team focused in times of success and failure.
At some point in your athletic career, you will experience success. It may be small, or it may be gigantic. Either way, how you handle will tell your teammates who you are.
My favorite memory from Little League basketball is of a kid getting his first points since the beginning of the season. It was a 3-point shot he just chucked up and it banked it. He was so excited when running back on defense the whole team cheered. And when the team crossed halfcourt with the ball he was back locked in.
I like this example because we could all see his joy of scoring but he didn’t let it get to his head. He put the team first and focused on what he needed to do next. He might not have been a great basketball player, but he was an amazing teammate.