What we learned from the sports victories of Jordan Spieth and Jack Sock

Vital LeadershipAthletic Leadership, Stories, Students, Success

Trophy | Sports Leadership | Vital Leadership

A big weekend for American sports just concluded.

Jordan Spieth, 21, wowed the world and the field to win the Masters Golf tournament. His rise to the top has been steady and quick, since he has only competed as a pro for less than 2 years.

Jack Sock, just 22, added his American tennis talent to the headlines as he captured his first ATP Tour title and became the No. 2-ranked American player.

I’m familiar with them both, in different ways. Jack trains in Kansas City and I have conversed with his engaging friendliness and seen his smile shine on the practice court. He truly looks to be loving his tennis life. Jordan recently impacted the life of one of my mental toughness students, as she walked with him during practice rounds of the Phoenix Open. She talked of his kindness and friendliness – almost more than his golf game.

Great guys, yes, but when great guys the feel pressure of competition and the need to satisfy sponsors and fans with results, great guys or not, anyone can crack under pressure and fade away with a less than optimal performance.

Jack and Jordan, however, both handled the pressure of their moment and showed great problem-solving skills, as well as fight, courage, resilience and positivity that allowed them to reach their Ideal Performance State. They hit the shots they needed to hit because they didn’t hinder themselves with negative thinking and negative behavior, which is the definition of mental toughness and of excellent self-leadership.

Let’s take a closer look at the details. What did we learn?

1. Playing for something other than a trophy makes a difference. Jordan said he plays for his disabled sister, Ellie. Jack dedicated his win to his brother, Eric, who recently survived a lung infection that almost took his life. This would be called “playing for a purpose greater than self” and it’s a purpose far greater than money or titles or rankings. A great purpose creates sustained enjoyment of the game under pressure conditions. Jordan’s dad explained it: “He wants to make a difference in other ways in life that are bigger than the game of golf.”

2. Competitive fight doesn’t have to involve cuss words. As the pressure mounted on Jordan near the finish, many wondered how he would respond. Would he crumble? Get upset after playing SO well? Start to self-destruct? The answer: When Jordan hit a few bad shots, he didn’t cuss. Instead, he was heard to say: “Oh, Jordan.” Enough said.

3. Even individual sports involve teams. There is no such thing as a TRULY individual sport. Learning to grow as an athlete in tennis or golf or boxing or swimming or any of the other individual-type sports, undoubtedly takes a team: coaches, parents, practice partners, etc. etc. Jack could be seen looking to his corner for support. Jordan relied heavily on the guidance of his caddy. Both quickly thanked family for their love and support as they accepted their awards. Who can you and should you profusely thank for the opportunity, joy and privilege of regularly swinging a club or a racquet or whatever opportunity you are being offered?

4. Intense and focused? Yes. Grumpy? No. Both Jack and Jordan could be seen commending their opponents for good shots. Jack smiled as one ball just struck the line on a point in the third-set tiebreaker. Jordan congratulated his closest competitor, Justin Rose, as he made birdie and closed in on him in the final round. Relax and be happy for someone else’s talent (or even their luck) every once in a while. Take a minute to smile, to breathe. It will be good for you. Did you know that studies say that those who smile more live longer?

5. Mental toughness is something you can actually SEE in athletes. As recently as last fall, Jack could be seen having ups and downs on court, often breaking down in tough situations. There is a different air about him now. When the going gets tough, you can see a strength of purpose and a hope in him. There is no hanging his head after a tough break. That has been replaced with a look of fortitude. When Jordan Spieth started to unravel and hit a bad approach shot on Hole 18 on Day 3, he handled immense pressure well. He hit a very risky shot, but it was the shot that he later said gave him the greatest chance to save his par. It worked, because he believed. He went against even his caddy’s advice. He said his breathing kept him balanced, and he maintained his confidence and hope in his skills. He wore his confidence very well, throughout his 4 rounds, through bad shots, risky shots — through it all. Both Jack and Jordan gave themselves the best chance to succeed by sticking to their mental toughness games plans.

So, how is YOUR mental toughness?
What’s your why?
Who’s on your team?
How much do you smile and thank others?
Do you LOOK like a champion?