Outcomes are important; we don’t play to lose! Countries do not go to war to tie. Hockey teams do not play to be average. Life is about outcomes. You can dream about getting married, but until you muster the courage to ask your partner, promise to be committed to them in front of the world and then risk a relationship going wrong … you are not married (an outcome).
If there is one thing that I have noticed over my last 50 seasons of participating on teams and identifying why certain players rise to the top, it is that these people know that they must generate positive outcomes. But at the same time, they understand the importance of pressing beyond these outcomes to focus on growing and developing the habits that help to deliver them.
Over more than 30 seasons around professional sports, it has become clear to me that superstars share a number of common qualities. The quality I wish to focus on in this article always differentiates the best in any field from those who are never quite the players that people hoped they would be. This single quality is the key to not only being a better player, but also to having a better life.
What I am talking about is Not Making Excuses.
The very best in any field refuse to make excuses. As a matter of fact, they don’t even use this word. The best-of-the-best choose to take responsibility for their actions, their attitudes and their mistakes, and they never offer an excuse for not accomplishing their goals or not being their very best. They just do it.
The greatest gift we could ever give our players is to help them apply both sides of this success coin:
Never offer an excuse for our actions.
Always take responsibility for our attitude and actions.
Hockey players frequently use the excuse that the refereeing wasn’t very good. I have conservatively calculated that over my 15 NHL seasons as a player I took around 12,000 face-offs (including playoffs). In my day, players were allowed more leeway in cheating their positioning, and the official dropping the puck had a lot of influence on which centre won the face-off. Early in my NHL career I focused on the officials and complained that they were negatively affecting my faceoff percentage. My trade to the Montreal Canadiens with its culture of intense media scrutiny combined with a high expectation of winning changed all of that. I adopted a policy of No More Excuses. Instead of blaming the officials or becoming upset with my opponent’s cheating, I focused on adjusting my approach to win the face-off. No excuses … just find ways to accomplish the task.
In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck itemizes the various excuses that a professional athlete gave to account for his failures over the course of his career:
– Once he lost because he had a fever.
– Once he had a backache.
– Once he fell victim to expectations and another time, the tabloids.
– Once he lost to a friend because the friend was in love and he wasn’t.
– Once he ate too close to his match.
– Once he was too chunky, another time too thin.
– Once it was too hot, another time too cold.
– Once he was under-trained and another time, over-trained.
Can you feel where this is going? When we do not take responsibility for our actions, attitudes and mistakes, the typical first resort is to find someone or something to blame for our underachievement.
When we dole out blame, we refuse to see the need for our improvement or our growth. In a world where our opponents are constantly improving, if we hold on to our excuses, we will fail!
The legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “You can make mistakes, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming others for those mistakes.” The No-Excuses and No-Blaming attitude changes everything. We can choose to change the way we do things (focus on improvement), or we can choose to actively focus on the alleged reasons why we were prevented from doing what we were supposed to do. According to Wooden we remain in the process of learning from our mistakes until we deny them.
I have observed that the best in the world make slight adjustments to their vocabulary to help them sustain the proper focus. They talk a lot about what they want to accomplish, how they are going to accomplish it and how their teammates are amazing people.
The best in the world also omit some things entirely from their vocabulary — whining, blaming others and making excuses.