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How to Win

Thinking to Win

Later today I’ll be posting from the World Luge Championships, but until the results come in, let’s talk about an athlete so mentally tough  he could have thrived in any venue, whether ice, water or turf.

Christy Mathewson, an original member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, had the mind of a sports psychologist. He was offering profound insights about competition and success long before peak performance experts appeared on the landscape.

Mathewson came to mind yesterday on our trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., because he was treated for tuberculosis and later died in nearby Saranac Lake.

Before then, he left an imprint on all of sport. A Bucknell University grad in an era when few players had much education, Mathewson actually wrote a book on the mental edge: “Pitching in a Pinch.”

Here are just a few of his gems, courtesy of a web site that carries his name:

“You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat.” (This was Mathewson’s reaction to being demoted to the minor leagues. When he returned to the major leagues, it was apparent he had learned a great deal.)

“A boy cannot begin playing ball too early. I might almost say that while he is still creeping on all fours, he should have a bouncing rubber ball.” (This insight came long before coaches routinely discuss the concept of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a field.)

“If you’ve ever been around a group of actors, you’ve noticed, no doubt, that they can talk of nothing else under the sun but acting. It’s exactly the same way with baseball players. Your heart must be in your work.” (Mathewson here was referring to the passion that is so much a part of success.)

Mathewson died early, after being accidentally gassed in France during World War I. That’s why he went to Saranac Lake. But even today, he is remembered as someone who won through the mental edge. And no matter what field you’re in, Mathewson’s insights can guide you.


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