While watching Barry Melrose talk about the Penguins – Flyers NHL playoff match-up yesterday, he used the expression “will beats skill” when describing Philadelphia’s surprising 3-0 playoff lead over Pittsburgh. While the Penguins were the heavy favorite going into the series, it is the Flyers — playing with more heart and intensity — who are about to advance to the next round of the NHL playoffs.
Breaking down the Melrose expression, he is really talking about mental toughness and the degree in which players display confidence, focus, motivation, intensity, and the ability to develop the resiliency needed to “play up” and beat an opponent that seems to be the better team (Pittsburgh). In sports, it is often “who wants it more” that ends up beating otherwise better talented athletes and teams.
While most coaches and athletes agree that “will beats skill” when it comes to the outcome of many sporting events, it’s still a tough sell — especially when trying to convince kids that they can beat state-caliber teams and athletes. In these instances, kids are so intimidated that they either forget (or don’t believe) that their mental toughness can make a huge difference in the outcome of a game, and often the result of the game is fairly predictable (the more skilled athlete/team wins).
Great coaches and parents are able to connect with kids and “sell” the message that will beats skill, and when this occurs the athlete begins to “play to win” as opposed to “playing to avoid losing.” When kids buy-in to this approach, they begin to pay more attention to positive cues (the good block, tackle, or pitch they just made), while overlooking or dismissing negative cues (their missed tackle, strike out, etc.). What we pay attention to in life in large part dictates what we will do next — play harder or give up.
Will, motivation, perseverance, and resiliency are all things we can develop, and are independent traits from our physical abilities. Do your part to “sell” this message to a young person today!
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