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Aug/Sept 2010

“The difference between champions and near champions is the ability to play for something outside of self.” – Lou Holtz, Hall of Fame football coach

What comes first, success or confidence? For most of us, we are confident when we are successful, but how do we get that initial confidence? Can we be confident without the evidence of success? It’s like the old question: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” We want to believe we can succeed, but we need proof. We think we have to actually see David defeat Goliath before we believe it’s possible.

Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a story for The New Yorker called “How David Beats Goliath.” In this article, he cited research stating that for every war fought in the past 200 years “Goliath” had won 71.5 percent of the time. The defining characteristic of each Goliath was that their side had 10 times the power. On the flipside, though, the underdog emerged victorious in an amazing 63.6 percent of the battles when they chose a strategy that wasn’t conventional.

Conventional strategy is basically setting a goal, working hard and keeping our eyes fixed on the goal. It’s a powerful technique, but it’s missing an important element. Since we don’t have full control over whether or not we achieve our goals (i.e. hitting .300, winning a championship, being named all-conference), that strategy alone can lead to tension and the fear of failure.

The best athletes, however, like the shepherd David, play to win but don’t focus on the winning itself. Instead, they focus on being fully present in the game and connecting with their true selves. For us as Christians, we know that our true selves are who we are as children of God. Our identity is entirely rooted in Him, and our lives have purpose far beyond sports.

In our culture, we get so focused on winning and beating our opponents that we start to fear losing. David, however, became fearless by focusing not on what his eyes could see (Goliath), but on what he could feel (God’s presence). He left the outcome up to God. As he said in 1 Samuel 17:47, “…it is not by sword or by spear that the LORD saves, for the battle is the LORD’s.”

In the movie The Great Debaters, which is based on a true story, Wiley College Debate Coach Melvin Tolson teaches his students how to think quickly, speak clearly and believe in themselves. He taught them a mantra that went like this:

Professor Tolson: Who is the judge?
Debate team (in unison): The judge is God.
Tolson: Why is He God?
Team: Because He’s the One who decides who wins or loses; not my opponent.
Tolson: Who is your opponent?
Team: He does not exist.
Tolson: Why does he not exist?
Team: Because he is a mere dissenting voice to the truth I speak.

This debate team realized that their greatest battle was not against the other team but against their own minds, and the same is often true for us as athletes. Often, our toughest battle is against our mental misbeliefs. Once we realize this, we can then focus on confronting those limiting, negative thoughts, which lead to fear and take us out of the moment.

If we truly want to become confident (even without seeing David beat Goliath), we must learn to lead with our hearts. We must connect with our true self—the child of God—and learn how we want to live, feel and compete. In your own life, learn to slow down and feel God’s presence. Affirm every day that you already are the competitor you want to be because of the Holy Spirit living inside you. Visualize yourself performing with passion and focus, unattached to an outcome, seeing your dreams come true. Work on setting your goals, connecting with God each day, and being fully present in each moment. And that, my friends, will be the unconventional strategy that leads to true success.

Jim Murphy is a performance coach, motivational speaker and author who teaches athletes and teams how to live fully and perform extraordinarily. As an outfielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, he rode the emotional roller coaster and lived attached to the outcome. Now he focuses on connecting with God and serving others.

For more from Murphy, visit his blog ( or check out his new book, Inner Excellence: Achieve Extraordinary Business Success Through Mental Toughness.

--For more stories about faith and sport, visit, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.

Photo courtesy of Jim Murphy

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