When talking about champions, everyone has an opinion just like the BCS College Football Standings. Are champions built or are they born? Are they a product of their environment or are they loners hungry for a piece of the pie? Whether we’re talking about an athlete, a business owner, a father or a husband, even a friend or a helpful volunteer—every one of these examples has the ability to be a champion in their own arena. Therefore, what follows is what I feel it takes to become a champion in any of the above mentioned areas.

This article will give you my interpretation of what I feel is the most important and the most overlooked trait any person must posses to become a champion. It is my goal to use this article as a way to share with you how to keep from overlooking this important trait that keeps you from becoming the champion you’re destined to be. This doesn’t just apply to powerlifting. It applies to being a human as well. When you come right down to it, isn’t that why each and every one of us is on this earth? To be the best we can possibly be at everything we do and leave the world a better place than when we came into it?

The missing trait that I’ve been referring to is the mental toughness one has to have to go from a competitor to a champion. This subject has been addressed hundreds of times. I’m simply going to address it from a powerlifting standpoint. However, there are two different kinds of mental toughness. First, there’s the ability to conquer fear. Second, there’s the ability to stay hungry (driven) to be the best and do whatever it takes.

This all sounds great when you read it or hear about it. However, how does a regular Joe just making a living with limited resources practically apply these philosophies specifically when it comes to powerlifting on a day to day basis in hopes of one day having a gold metal put around his neck? The answer is that you must train your mind as consistently and intensely as you do your body.

If you don’t have a dream backed up by a specific goal-orientated program, none of this will apply to you. Therefore, for those people, dream big and write down how you’re going to achieve that dream. If you don’t have a program written down to follow, it’s just a wish. If you do have a dream and you really want it, set a goal and then write down what it is. Then get a plan on how to get there. If you don’t know how to set that plan, do whatever it takes to talk to someone who does and get the help that you need.

Let’s get started on the first trait—the ability to conquer fear. Fear is simply false evidence appearing real. We’ve all heard the famous saying, “All we have to fear is fear itself.” This is so true. Fear is really the lack of confidence in the unknown. Let me be clearer as to how it applies to the powerlifting world.

Here’s a hypothetical situation…A man hasn’t trained to the best of his ability and hasn’t done the needed work to build his body in order to squat what he thinks he might be capable. He might appear strong and muscular and be able to talk the talk. However, deep in his mind he has a fear of getting under the big weight. He has this fear because he could’ve trained harder, not skipped those extra exercises at the end of his workout, or tried to make up for those missed workouts. Now, he hesitates to get under the bar. He doesn’t complete the lift with the aggression and tenacity that he should have had the confidence been there. People watch him, and they can see that the weight overcame him. They say things like “no heart,” “no confidence,” or even “wasted potential” when watching his lift. In reality, it’s none of those things. It’s simply that he’s trying to perform while in a state of fear. Therefore, the first rule we should conquer is the fear of big weights by not missing workouts, doing every set with the intensity it deserves, and finishing every workout as strong as you began it.

This builds your confidence, and this will be the biggest weapon in conquering fear. Fear with big weights also comes when this weight has crushed you or you’ve gotten hurt doing this lift. Once again, the same theme holds true. Rehabilitate your injury and then attack the weakness by intensely training the injured area. Never miss a single workout or set until it becomes a strong part. You must attack every set of max effort movements like it’s your last attempt ever. No powerlifter worth his salt would let the last attempt he ever does be a failure. So, if you treat every big attempt in this manner, you’ll be putting everything you have into it with the aggression and attitude that it deserves. You’ll make many more lifts than you miss.

Remember, it’s okay to miss a lift if you were prepared and gave it all you had. It isn’t okay to miss a lift because you’re unprepared or a quitter. To achieve, you have to believe. When you walk through the door of the meet site, look at the platform the day of your meet, and have a feeling of doubt in your heart, you’ve lost your mental edge. In summary, to conquer fear and be mentally strong like the champions we’re destined to be, you must work the plan to the best of your ability every day and then some. This will give you the confidence to attack the weight and complete the lift not only to your potential but above it. Then you’ll see three white lights.

Now, onto how to stay hungry to be the best or continue to be the best under the stresses of everyday life…The bottom line is that life is a battle. We’re all trying to make it. Some of us want to do more than just make it. We have a passion to be the best in our chosen arena. For 99 percent of these people, it doesn’t come easy. There are sacrifices, time, money, and other wants and needs. My college coach, Bob Skelton, summed it up best when he told me, “Champions do what they have to whether they want to or not. Competitors only do what they want to.”

Being the best (champion) isn’t necessarily the person in first place. Being the best is taking what God gave you above and beyond what you and everyone else thought you could go. I couldn’t get my point across any clearer than when I heard Billy Bob Thornton describe this to his players in the half-time speech of the championship game in the movie “Friday Night Lights.” It went something like this: “If you can look your teammate in the eyes with clear eyes and a full heart and know that you gave it your absolute best, then you are perfect.”

I guess at the risk of sounding corny, we all need to look ourselves and our loved ones in the eyes and ask ourselves, “Are our hearts full of love knowing that we gave it our all?” If so, then are we perfect? The most important eyes in the world belong to my son. I have a picture of him hanging above the desk in the front of my gym. It’s right by where I turn on the lights. When my day begins and when it ends, I look into those eyes. I never want to have to face him knowing I didn’t give it my all.

We have a responsibility to be accountable not only to ourselves but to our children. We have a responsibility to do our best every day. Therefore, if you can’t do the best you can in life whether it be your job or the weight you lift, do it for your children. Life, including your training, will throw you curves. The ability to be successful is the ability to foresee potential problems and already have a solution for them. Whether it’s time management issues, money issues, or any other kind of issue, take the time to look at your plan and foresee the potential problems that could occur. Then come up with a livable solution for them now, not later. Don’t wait until it happens and make your decision too quickly. Or worst yet, make it based on emotion. If you truly want to stay intense and hungry at becoming a champion, you must be absolutely and totally committed whether you stand alone or with everyone by your side. You must eat, walk, talk, train, work, and dream like a champion.

True champions have always been champions. They just all have their own individual time to shine. You aren’t only a champion on meet day and an average competitor on the other days. Whether you’re alone in the weight room or in front of thousands at a meet, you lift and approach that lift the same way—like a champion.

Here’s a story my coach shared with me years ago that I’ve never forgotten. It sums up commitment and staying intense much better than anything I know. I was getting ready to wrestle an opponent who I felt was much better, stronger, and tougher than I was. However, my coach believed that I could win and give this guy a run for his money. It was my last match of the season, and I hadn’t lost all year. I don’t know the exact words, just the general concept of the story. I ended up losing in overtime, and that took a long time to live with. The story my coach shared with me has motivated me always to give my best effort and stay committed through some of my most difficult times. I’ve often thought of this story when asking myself if I’m completely committed to giving my absolute all in achieving the goal. I hope it helps you keep things in perspective as it has helped me…

There was a famous general of an army who was given orders to go to a foreign land and fight to conquer this land. His army was small in number and had to travel far by sea to get to this land. His enemy was greater in number, had stronger soldiers, and had more weapons. These soldiers were waiting and prepared for battle with this general and his army. The general’s men were nervous, fearful, and unconfident. They couldn’t understand how they were supposed to win and why their general would lead them into such a battle. When the general and his army arrived on the shores of the land, they were ordered to conquer. The general summoned all his men to gather together. He then ordered a few of his men to go back and burn the ships while the others watched. The men were confused and fearful as to why the general was burning their ships.

It was at that time the general addressed all of his men and said, “Men, I believe we will be victorious because you have the hearts of warriors and you have never given up before. Yes, it is true they are bigger in number and stronger in size and more skilled in weapons. However, they do not have the heart that you have and are not nearly as motivated. You see, men, we now have no way home and you have two choices. You can fight with heart and live or battle in fear as a coward and die.”

So, I must ask you in your life and in the battles that you have to fight, how committed to victory are you? Are the ships that can take you home burned, forcing you to fight with the heart of a warrior as if your life depended on it and win? No excuses and no regrets.