Gretzky on greatness: “Confidence is everything”

Wayne Gretzky meets the media – including LSY! sports editor Hailey Rose Gattuso.

Wayne Gretzky meets the media – including LSY! sports editor Hailey Rose Gattuso.

Imagine a room where three guys are casually sitting around talking about sports.

Not too hard to picture, right?

Depending on the type of person you are, you may or may not want to listen in. But what if I told you they were talking specifically about what makes athletes so successful? Better yet, what if those three guys were world famous tennis player John McEnroe, basketball superstar Michael Jordan, and hockey legend and hall of famer Wayne Gretzky?

On the red carpet at the Hockey Hall of Fame inductions in Toronto, Gretzky described this scenario to me. I asked him how much he developed the mental side of the game when he was younger, and he told me he was talking about it the night before.

“I had the great fortune last night to sit and talk with John McEnroe and Mike Jordan — two of the strongest athletes I’ve ever met mentally in my lifetime,” he said. “We were just sitting around talking about it and it really is a big part of the success of a professional athlete.”

These men all play different sports, and have different opinions on certain aspects of the game. For example, McEnroe was a confrontational player on the court, while Gretzky spoke out against fighting. However, there is one thing they all agree on, and that is the importance of mental toughness. They all know firsthand what it takes to be a very successful athlete beyond the physical and emotional development that is required.

The turning point in mental training came for McEnroe during the 1980 Wimbledon Men’s Final when he had the advantage on Bjorn Borg after winning a tie-breaker, but then watched Borg come back and take the championship. It was then that he realized he wanted that kind of mental strength. McEnroe won over 30 titles following that match.

Michael Jordan is a very skilled basketball player, but it is the way his brain works on the court that has set him apart from other players earning him several All-Star MVP awards, One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, and many more. He once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

This mindset will not only help Jordan, but any athlete in any sport.

Gretzky was only 6 feet tall and weighed 185 pounds, but earned the name “The Great One” over the course of his 20 seasons in the NHL. His size and strength were not above average. He said, “The players today are bigger, better and stronger than we were when we played. These guys are really incredible athletes and they play high risk. It’s a physical game. It’s a fast game.”

Even though the game is changing, one thing has stayed the same. Skill and strength is something every player must have. It does not make them different or special. What made Gretzky great was the way he trained his mind. He was known for having what I like to call “puck premonition.” He was always in the right place at the right time.

Not only did he play the game, he understood it.

A common technique used in becoming a strong mental player is envisioning success repeatedly before it happens. It is an inner will that controls the future. Gretzky planted the seeds for this at a young age.

“I was telling my boys I still come here to visit the Hall of Fame,” he said. “When I was a kid I used to come and just stare at all the equipment and the names.”

Gretzky was not the biggest player on the ice but he never let that deplete his self image. On the red carpet in Toronto, he told me the key was confidence.

“I don’t care who you are, if you’re an average player in minor leagues or a superstar in the NHL,” he said. “Confidence is everything. If you lose a little bit of confidence you aren’t quite the same player and you have to mentally dig down deep and keep that confidence in yourself.”

If you want to be successful in your sport, career, or any endeavor, learn from three of the greatest athletes of all time by making sure your head is in the right place.

Hailey Rose Gattuso, LSY! sports editor, Mount St. Mary Academy

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