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To win, you must start at the finish line!

True, those were my words. True also that’s the way to approach the matches the Super Eagles have to play to qualify for the finals…

True, those were my words. True also that’s the way to approach the matches the Super Eagles have to play to qualify for the finals of the World Cup next year – one match at a time.  But to shelve the talk of winning the World Cup at the expense of taking the matches ‘one at a time’ falls slightly and fundamentally short of what is needed to propel the Eagles (and any team for that matter) to the bus stop of their ambition. The practises of some of the world’s great athletes on winning reveal a trend that is common to most. It is simple. In order to win a race, or a game, an athlete must run the race, make the move, hit the ball, take the shot, or play the game, over and over again, and WIN it in his MIND first!  

Recall how Linford Christie, the British World sprinting champion at a time, used to prepare for his races. Imagine this. It is the finals of the 100 metres event at the world athletics championship. Linford is in the race. The 8 top athletes line up at the starting point pacing up and down the track. They are being introduced one after the other, Linford stands still, hands akimbo, eyes peering ahead into the distance focused like a lion at the last stage of stalking a prey, unflinching, unblinking. He remains in this position, only shifting slightly from side to side on his feet until the race is called. He walks to the starting block as if in a trance, eyes focused on the finish line.  The gun goes and the 8 men thunder down the tracks. Linford wins! Or loses (it does not matter which)! They ask him why he does what he does before races. He says in his mind’s eye he imagines himself run the race, stride after stride, to the finish line before the actual race even starts. In short he runs the race by going through the process of how he would win it in his mind before the race actually begins. Although he does not win all the time, this process ensures he gives his best every time!

High jumper, Brazil’s Sotomayor, perhaps the greatest jumper in athletics history, also does something similar. He stands a measured distance from the high jump poles, shuts out all distraction by delving into his inner recesses, focuses his eyes on the cross bar, moves his hands and feet in a slow motion simulating his rise and climb over the bar. He completes the jump and lands successfully on the other side. All of this in his mind before he makes the actual jump!

In football, Brazil’s Ronaldinho, Portugal’s Ronaldo and England’s David Beckham are three of the world’s best dead-ball experts. Recall their preparation before taking free kicks around the box.  They stand a short distance away from the ball. Look and focus on the part of the opposing goal they intend to bury the ball into. You can almost read their minds as they strike and bend the ball around or over the wall of defenders and follow its trajectory into goal, all of this in their mind. After this silent ritual of preparation they move to take the kick.

It is the same ritual in all sports. Moves are conceived and played out in the mind first before they are played out on the court, track, or field. That’s why by extension a country must conceive, believe and play out the possibility of winning the World Cup in the minds of all its main actors before the campaign actually begins. They must practise the be-do-have paradigm! That is done by Be-ing the winner in their mind, followed by Do-ing what a winner would do (play every match like a winner would do), and then observe the manifestation in the eventual reality!   

In reality, belief does not mean it will happen every time, but it provides the psychological platform upon which the team that will win will be built! In short, for any team to win the World Cup it must first conceive and believe in its ability to do so.  No team has won the World Cup by fluke or accident even if some matches have been won through the conspiracy of some luck and ‘accidents’! Winning the World Cup requires a deliberate consistent performance at the highest level as results have shown through the ages.  Winning is the product of belief, practise and consistent performance! That’s why a few countries would always go to every championship as favourites. They have developed or discovered this winning formula.  That’s why at every level except the World Cup Nigerians now expect their national team to win! The question is: why not the World Cup?  It takes doing nothing ‘to be’ and to live through the process of winning the World Cup.  To believe it will win it is a psychological starting point, followed by the playing out of the actions of a team that wants to win it, applying the one match after the other formula. This becomes evident in the attitude, an unshaken and unwavering commitment, determination and focus of the players, their supporters and the people.

That’s the character of winners – starting the race from the finish line! That’s the way the Eagles can qualify and possibly win the World Cup. It is not a position of arrogance but one of commitment that must be lived through all the matches including the qualifiers.