What football taught me about myself and life: Part 2


Football players (and athletes in general) possess an extraordinary level of mental fortitude. I have always been in awe of how they use their mentality and focus to carry them through the most challenging situations. The more I learned about this concept of mental strength, the more I began to realize that this attribute applies to much more than just the game of football.

In Part 2 of my series, I will discuss what football taught me about mentality and explore a closely-related concept that Tim Grover calls "The Dark Side."


There was something about the way that top players talked about the concept of winning that first got me thinking about mentality. Unsurprisingly, these thoughts first came to life through observation of the club that I've supported for over a decade: Juventus FC. The players at the club didn't just talk about winning, they talked about having the obligation of winning. That is, they said that they owed victory to their fans, the club, and the institution that they represent.

This absolutely fascinated me. How could the players be so calm, so assured, and so strong in the way that they described their responsibility to possess unshakable mental strength? How could they have so little time to feel insecure, weak, or sorry for themselves? Now of course, I do understand that as a fan I don't get to see the players' "true" faces after the camera is gone, but I still found that their behavior on the pitch quite impressively matched their words off it.

At Juve, winning is almost an obligation.
— Giorgio Chiellini (Defender for Juventus FC)

I continued to observe these great players and great players at other clubs. From this, I found out that one of the most fundamental prerequisites for achieving true success in your life is to create and be immersed in a culture of winning. This culture defines how you approach every moment, every game and, quite frankly, every challenge in life. Understanding this culture, then, was crucial in enabling me to understand why the greatest players had such an unwavering certainty and loyalty to both the concept of winning and the mentality of winning in itself. Sure, you can't just "think" yourself to victory through mental strength, but football made me realize that possessing a winning mentality is a crucial building block on the question for true success.

Victory may be a burden for some but for us, it’s an obsession.
— Claudio Marchisio (Midfielder for Juventus FC)

This mentality of winning isn't limited to just winning games or championships; it also extends to personal aspirations. Think of it this way. An obligation to win means that you constantly have to be the best, especially as others around you improve as they strive to knock you off your throne. If others around you are constantly improving and catching up to you, then you also have to continually improve every aspect of yourself, even though it may seem unnecessary given that you're currently on top.

However, your commitment to improving yourself has to be as ruthless as your commitment to winning. If this is not the case, complacency sets in, you get knocked off your throne, and you'll suddenly be left wondering what happened to the glory days of old. I guess I now see why and how I became so obsessed with personal development, which is particularly relevant today given that the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" is already well underway and forcing us to be constantly learning in order to avoid becoming obsolete.

I have to be good; I have to win. But I have no concerns over that. If I did, I would have gone fishing.
— Zinedine Zidane (Former coach and player of Real Madrid C.F.)

Always respect, never fear

This winning mentality also taught me another important lesson: always respect, never fear. Specifically, no matter how many awards, accomplishments, or credentials a person has — no matter how "out of your league" the person is — you should never fear or place him/her on a pedestal. Always show the person appropriate respect, but never show fear or feel weak. This is a trap so many people fall for. You know, when that one (very attractive) super high performer walks into the room and we're all falling over ourselves in praise and adulation.

Sidenote: I notice this a lot in interviews with Elon Musk. I really like Elon, but almost every person that interviews him displays this obnoxious "Oh my God Elon you're such a visionary and so amazing, how do you manage to bask in the radiance of your brilliance every day?" attitude in every question they ask him. It's terribly annoying.

There is a cliché phrase that commentators often use in games where the underdog loses to the big team: "the losing team just showed the other team too much respect." I actually believe that the use of the word "respect" here is inaccurate relative to the message that is being communicated. I think that, given what the commentators are (rightly) trying to say, it's more accurate to say that "the losing team just showed the other team too much fear."

And that's the thing.

That one person that we so admire walks into the room and we immediately throw all our abilities, intelligence, competence, and, quite frankly, self-respect out the window in exchange for bowing down to this person that we see as a godlike entity. Let the record show that I will absolutely not fucking have that. Or to channel my inner Vegeta, I bow to absolutely fucking nobody. A winning mentality obliges me to never diminish myself like this just because of the gravity of another person's credentials and achievements. I will acknowledge that you're more intelligent than I am, but I will stand my ground and debate you with the absolute best of my ability. Always with respect, never with fear.

When I was young, many kids were better than me. The difference was that I had the mentality, and they didn’t.
— Zinedine Zidane (Former coach and player of Real Madrid C.F.)

What better analogy to use than that of relationships and sexual interaction with the opposite gender? We've all had people tell us that a certain highly attractive and/or extremely accomplished person is "out of our league", which is mostly used in terms of the sex appeal of that person, but sometimes also with respect to that person's life and career achievements that happen to be far greater than yours (e.g. being a CEO of a big tech firm, having a few bestselling books, appearing on Oprah, and so on). Applying the lessons that I learned from football regarding mentality, I choose to never fear this person or place her on a pedestal. I will absolutely show her the respect that she deserves, but I'm not going to be the person to sacrifice five goats on an altar I made in her honor just because of her awe-inspiring status.

This obviously does not mean that my behavior is guaranteed to "win" this person over or that it will instantly woo her.  Of course not. Such a high value and extremely attractive person will be hot property, which means that I would face immense competition for this person's sexual attention and that, as a result, the odds wouldn't be much in my favor. My point is simply that no matter if I eventually "win" or "lose", I will never enter such interactions from a place of self-deprecation. Because where's the honor in that?

Fear no challenge greater than yourself because remember, every game starts 0-0.

The Dark Side

No, not that dark side.

The dark side is something that I've both felt while playing football and noticed while watching it. Here, I'll just quote Tim Grover himself:

You cannot be great, you cannot be unstoppable, you cannot be special unless you have a dark side and you know how to harness it.

The dark side is something that’s unique to each individual. It’s what fuels and drives that person and that’s unique to you. You’re not willing to share [it] with anybody, it’s special to what you do and you’ve learned to control it and to harness it.
— Tim Grover (from Episode 636 of 'The Art of Charm'; Minute 27)

Like everyone else in the world, I too have experienced and harbored anger and darkness in my heart. As is always the case, this is for a whole host of reasons: insecurity, sadness, feeling "wronged" by life and the injustices from life's events, personal failures, and so on. But adequately describing this feeling was almost impossible for me. Sure, it was anger, but it was far more mature than the crazy "I'm going to beat someone up and/or shoot someone" anger. I just couldn't figure it out.

Until I finally found someone that perfectly described it.

Forget about passion, forget about inner drive. You know what you have to have? You gotta have obsession. Because when you have passion, you can be passionate about a lot of things; you can have inner drive about a lot of things.

But these individuals, whether they are CEOs of companies or athletes, they are obsessed about one thing and one thing only: when they put their mind into that obsession, then the inner drive comes because that obsession is what’s fueling them.
— Tim Grover (from Episode 636 of 'The Art of Charm'; Minute 28:30)

Football taught me how to harness that anger — that dark side — and turn it into something productive. More than that though, football made me understand that dark side.

It's much more nuanced than mere "passion." It's anger. It's frustration. It's a raging obsession with winning. It's a fucking warrior mentality. It's a raw, untapped, and limitless mass of energy that is desperate to be put to productive use. In fact, when players score those crucial goals in big games and we see their explosive screams of celebration, what I see is the outward manifestation of that dark side.

And as Tim Grover said, the dark side is something truly relentless. Similar to the elements of a winning mentality, it's an obsession with victory and, as a result, a winning mentality and the dark side have a perfectly harmonious relationship.

That said, tread with caution. The dark side is a mentality that needs to be controlled, otherwise it will make you succumb to darkness. If you become blinded by rage and petulance, the dark side no longer fuels you, but instead utterly destroys you. Hence, just as the Avatar showed, the greatest power comes from combining this relentless energy with the purest mental clarity, tranquility, and focus.

See you, Space Cowboy.