I once saw a guy being interviewed asked the question: “What is it that makes you guys so good? Smiling, he replied, “It’s not that we’re that good, it’s that everyone else sucks.” I smiled too but wasn’t sure why and began reflecting on what it meant to me.
As a college baseball player, my standard was often based in comparison to the competition. I wanted to be better than the next guy to get playing time, better than the other teams in our conference, and “as good as” top 25 ranked teams. This was a good standard. As a mid major we won our conference and finished nationally ranked in the top 25.
However, on a special operations team, this mentality was challenged and changed. I recognized that we never really compared ourselves to other units, at least in terms of who was the best. Our question was not, “Are we better than the rest?” Rather, our question was, “How good can we get?”
Best was not a little bit better than the rest. Best was maximization of our potential and best was the standard we relentlessly pursued. We pursued it without moderation and unapologetically had no interest for anyone who was satisfied with just being good. We were here to be elite.
In my opinion, we were able to maximize potential by learning how to execute fundamentals under extreme stress. That’s what performance is. It’s the ability to execute fundamentals under stress. No matter the situation, we were trained to focus on what we could affect and execute fundamental action.
In competitive environments, we can’t control the outcome. If we could, we would have won every game we’ve ever played and so would everyone else. Competition would therefore not exist.
We don’t force outcomes. We influence them. We influence them to the greatest degree possible by demanding perfection of everything within our control. We master our process and eliminate the variables
The pieces of the process are fundamentals. Fundamentals are controllable actions of value. The key is to understand that controllable actions of value exist not only in mechanics (how we execute action), but also in mindset (how we think) and culture (how we treat each other). All three working together maximize potential.
When skill is matched, it can no longer be the separating factor. Mindset and culture fundamentals allow us to create separation as they have a direct impact on our performance.
For instance, I can teach anyone how to jump, dive, and shoot but that doesn’t make them a special operator. For the skills to be useful, they need to be able to calmly execute process under extreme pressure, have valuable responses in adversity, and be team-first when situations are difficult rather than retreat to self-preservation.
Ability to execute fundamentals under stress are learned behaviors that must become habit. Our instructors taught us “You don’t rise to the occasion; you default to your standard of training.” Nothing was proven more true to me. Everyday we create habits in all three fundamental types. The habits we create today make us who we are when it matters most. Fights are often won well before the first shot is fired.
A truly relentless pursuit of the standard creates pride and respect. Respect manifests itself in a desire to fight for each other when it matters most. The pursuit starts today. Although we can’t force results, we fight for results without moderation, because “moderation is for cowards.”
A teammate once said, “If you knew you would have to fight for your life tomorrow, would you change how you train today?” In athletics, that elimination game is coming and in business those critical moments are coming…if it were tomorrow, would you change what you’re doing today?
What is it that makes us so good? Technology changes, tactics change, but the standard remains. The standard passed to us from those who came before us. Living it is a lifelong battle. No matter what happens, stay in the fight, because it’s how winning is done and it pays to be a winner.
Jason Kuhn is a former Division 1 Athlete and Navy SEAL Sniper. He holds an M.S. in Global Leadership and pitched for a top 25 nationally ranked NCAA baseball team prior to joining the Navy after the attacks on the World Trade Centers in 2001. On the path to professional baseball, his dream was crushed by a crippling case of performance anxiety. Devastated but determined to overcome, he is now considered an expert in mental toughness and leadership development. He is the owner of Stonewall Solutions and creator of the nationally acclaimed Fundamentals of Winning Program having been featured in the NY Times and endorsed by teams from companies such as Planet Fitness, Bank of America, Arthur J. Gallagher and many more plus elite athletic programs such as the University of Florida Football, University of Georgia Baseball. TCU Baseball and many others!