Attitude is king. That's what I'm learning, or rather what I learn when I get passed or out performed. I see it in my swimmers, too. Lately it seems that the kings of sport have the attitude. Not an attitude. The attitude.
Champions don't really say a whole lot. They are inquisitive, curious, play-motivated, and not attached to the result on the outset, but very disturbed by the results on the outset of their effort. And let me be clear, I'm a lucky guy. I am surrounded by attitude. State champions, runners up, top notch coaches, top time trialists, hell, just people at the top! The people that I surround myself with tend to say things that can be summed up with these two examples:
Me: Find something to work on during this set.
Swimmer: I'm tryin' to bust my ass. That's what I'm working on.
Me: How are you gonna swim this?
Swimmer: I'm just gonna go for broke. Just see what happens.
Lebron was asked how he rededicated himself to come back and win the NBA finals. He just replied with- I got back to the basics. Lots of hard work-. Ryan Lochte's espn segment featured him dragging a massive 450lb chain three hundred some yards. Why? Just to figure out how to drag every last piece of energy out of him. "You get to a certain point in races...where you just start fatiguing...No matter what, there is always something left. You just gotta find it." "Once I beat someone, they don't beat me again."
Attitude seems two-fold. Preparation: establishing a standard of performance before you begin, and then follow-thru: deciding that no matter what, you know the pain is gonna be there, but you can sustain the effort, and endure the feeling. If you don't decide prior that you will continue despite the pain, when the pain thugs knock on your door, you lock yourself in the bathroom.
It has taken me a while to learn this, and I still don't have it down. Want to teach yourself? Put yourself in situations where if you don't perform, you'll feel embarrassed. Nothing like pressure, around those who care, to teach you that its ok to fail, but that you can also avoid failure and find success if you realize that you need to bring it no matter what.
The champions I know grind themselves at the right times, and if challenged, are poised to crush it. They are alert, but before the event they seem unaffected and relaxed. They have already prepared mentally and physically. No improvement bothers them and they don't make conditions for doing so. In the heat or when its cold, windy, certain time of day, training cycle, life cycle - they understand that someone will take them out if they let up.
Your definition of a champion might be different. But I think the great ones have the right attitude to when they don't perform, just to knuckle down and say, "look I didn't have it today - that wasn't good - time to get better."
I'm grateful for the inspirational people around me. Those who pursue challenges, official or self-created, will win in the end. They learn to play the game, the art of effort, and they do so just to see what can happen.