A couple days ago the LA Lakers won their 17th NBA Championship. It got me thinking about what it takes to be a champion, and what people at the pinnacle of their sport or field can teach us. Here, I focused on someone I’ve followed for years — motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi.
What can we learn from someone who goes 200 MPH for a living? What can they teach us about being our best selves when right now when many of us are happy to finish the week with some forward motion, however small?
I answered my own question by noting six winning traits that I learned from motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi over the years. Who, you might ask? I’ve been a fan of Moto GP since a friend of mine introduced it to me years ago. Maybe it’s the Los Angeles driver in me, but I find the fact that 22 riders take to a track where they go anywhere between 150 and 200 mph so close they scrape the paint of each other’s bikes to be inexplicably intriguing.
With nine Grand Prix World Championships to his name, Rossi is considered one of the greatest motorcycle racers. He’s loved as much for his talent as his personality. As I watched him win and lose over the years I came to these conclusions about what makes him special.
SIX WINNING TRAITS OF A CHAMPION AT ANY SPEED
THOUGHTFUL ANALYSIS When he’s interviewed after each race, Rossi can give a detailed account of what happened and why at every turn during the 20-plus laps. It’s no surprise his nickname is “the doctor.” He’s constantly learning and using that knowledge like building blocks.
Notes: Why should we be able to define our creative process? For me, I find understanding it helps me to work at a higher level and be in control of the process, especially of writing. I’m able to sit down at any time and access that, rather than wait for the proverbial inspiration to hit. Consider a journal to document your process.
JOY While Rossi is there to win and is a ruthless competitor, he keeps a sense of joy about him. It’s clear he loves racing. Yet it’s not about winning at any cost. There is no cutting corners. No unethical moves. Just beautiful racing. It’s about the process, not the goal. He does what he loves and so he does it well.
Notes: Love the process.
STRATEGY A champion isn’t always first out of the gate. There were races where Rossi started at the very last position. Throughout the race he would take time to establish his own rhythm or to see what lines other riders are taking before beginning to pass them.
Notes: Always be looking, thinking and acting five steps ahead of the pack.
MINDSET V THE TOOLS It’s not just about equipment. Rossi raised eyebrows when he moved from Honda with whom he had won so many championships, to Yamaha. At the time, Yamaha was not a proven winning manufacturer, but Rossi won the next two championships riding a new bike and working with a new team. A champion is confident in that his or her own personal force that allows them to make it happen no matter the odds, or the engine.
Notes: It’s not only about the tools. It’s what we do with them.
HARD WORK Ah, you are thinking, that old saw. Yes! In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell cites a study of elite performers that reveals they had studied or practiced their craft for 10,000 hours or more by the time they were in their twenties. “The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, people at the top don’t just work harder or even much harder, than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”
Notes: The harder I work, the luckier I get.
PLAY THE LONG GAME. This is my favorite. Being the ingenue doesn’t last forever. In 2006 Rossi didn’t win the championship. He lost by five points. In 2007, he didn’t win again. That year, it seemed like no amount of joy, knowledge or hard work would help. There was one race that he ran flawlessly and yet, with finish line in sight, his bike inexplicably died.
Notes: Keep going. And yes, sometimes things will be out of your control but that doesn’t mean it’s time to call game over.
Champions have skill, of course, but what sets them apart is tenacity. From the moment the race begins, they believe they will win. And it doesn’t come and go, this belief. It’s there all the time. A true champion, Rossi didn’t retire when everyone thought he would. Instead, he came back for another season and went on to win his ninth GP title in 2009. And, at the ripe old age of 41, he’s still doing what he loves today.
To finish first you have to first finish. And that can’t happen unless you are in the race.
If you are still here with me, thanks for reading! I know the subject of a motorcycle racer might seem odd from me, but when you begin asking the right questions, the right answers could be anywhere, even from an Italian racer coming at you at 200 miles per hour!
Keeping moving forward!
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