by Coach Dave Kenson

“The hell you say!”  This is probably the immediate reaction to the title.  How can you surrender and be great?  Doesn’t this go against everything that we have been conditioned to believe?  The dying words of James Lawrence to the crew of the USS Chesapeake were, “Don’t give up the ship!”.  Winston Churchill said, “we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets; we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Jim Valvano in his famous ESPY speech challenged everyone to, “Don’t ever give up.”  Well, if this is what we have been taught, how then can I advocate for surrender?  The answer lies not in the act of surrender itself, but rather in what we are giving up.  The surrender that I am talking about is the final of four steps to mastery.  It is the step that takes us from good to great.  But first, let’s review the first three steps.

The first step to mastery is practice; the repetition of productive fundamentals with attention to detail.

“It’s the little details that are vital.  Little things make big things happen.”  —  John Wooden

“Success is the sum of the details.”  —  Harvey S. Firestone

The second step is wisdom; knowledge gained from experience.  It is not only what we learn, but also, what we become, especially as a result of our setbacks.

We work to become, not to acquire.”  —  Bill Russell

The third step is about love.  It’s passion for what we are doing.  Passion is what makes what we do enjoyable.  It results in extra effort and persistence.

“Passion is energy.  Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

 —  Oprah Winfrey

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”  —  Steve Jobs

“To be successful in anything, you have to have a passion for it, and that leads to being enthusiastic and demanding.”  —  Jeff Van Gundy

If we follow these first three steps, we can become very good at what we do.  But to become great, we need to add the fourth step:  SURRENDER.  The kind of surrender I am talking about is an addition by subtraction.  When Michelangelo was asked how he could take an eighteen square foot  block of marble and transform it into an anatomically correct representation of the human body in his sculpture of David, he replied, “David was always in there.  I just chipped away the excess.”

So, what is this excess that keeps us away from greatness?  What is it that we need to surrender:  It’s our EGO; the idea that it is all about us as individuals.  No one ever becomes successful all by themselves, so reaching mastery, or as Abraham Maslow described it, self-actualization, involves assuming roles along the way.

“Create unselfishness as the most important team attribute.”  —  Bill Russell

“It’s not about any one person.   You’ve got to get over yourself and realize that it takes a group to get this thing done.” – Gregg Popovich

“For a team to accomplish their goal, everybody’s got to give up a little bit of their individuality.”  —  Bill Belichick

“Check your ego at the door.  The ego can be a great success inhibitor.  It can kill opportunities, and it can kill success.”  —  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

This doesn’t mean that self-confidence is not important.  On the contrary, it is absolutely essential.  But you also have to be working toward something larger than your own individual success and play a role in its accomplishment.

The other thing that must be surrendered for greatness is the idea that we can control outcomes.  This surrender is accomplished by performing in the present moment; the NOW.  Athletes call this “being in the ZONE”.  Alabama football coach, Nick Saban, describes it as “being where your feet are”.  The only thing we have control over is what we do in the present moment.  Outcomes occur in the future, and we have no control of that.  However, the better we perform in the NOW, the better the results usually are.  Obviously, planning for the future while in the present moment is a good idea, but thinking about outcomes in the midst of a performance divides our attention and diminishes the immediate results.  When an athlete makes a mistake (foul, bad pass, missed block or tackle, etc.) and continues to think about it while the game continues, his mind is in the past, not the present.  This results in more mistakes being made because of lack of focus.  The point then, is that to achieve greatness our focus cannot be in the past or future, but totally in the present moment.  We must operate in the ZONE.

“The zone is a state of mind which is marked by a sense of calmness.  In addition, there is a heightened sense of awareness and focus.  Actions seem effortless, and there is an increased belief that your dreams or goals can become achievable and real.  In addition, there is also a sense of deep enjoyment when the person is in this unique, special and magical state of being.”  — Dr. Jay Grant, Sports Psychologist

It’s a perfect combination of…violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquility.”  —  Billie Jean King

The ZONE can be described as:

  • Effortless motion
  • Heightened sense of control over your own movements
  • Unconcerned over opponents’ actions
  • Just happens without thinking
  • Unconscious
  • Total concentration
  • Pure pleasure
  • The game slows down
  • Flow (matching the vibrational frequency of the universe)

We were designed for success and once we chip away the excess of past or future thoughts, we allow the success to happen.  Greatness is found in the ZONE through SURRENDER.