A while back, I wrote a post about the, then, upcoming FA Cup Final (see Panning on Winning the Cup). Well, today is the day of the final itself and it turns out that Manchester City have actually made it to Wembley where they face Stoke City for a place in football history. For the benefit of my US readers, we are talking about real football here, the kind where the players actually kick the ball rather than throw it, hence the term ;). As I am having a little holiday at the moment and have very limited access to broadband, by the time I publish this post, the final will have been won.
The FA cup, in the UK is something like the Superbowl in the US – a day that everyone stops what they are doing to watch the big game. By the way, despite my little jibe, I do actually like American Football too. My team are the Chicago Bears and they have never won the Superbowl since I have been following them, though they did win it just before that, in the year that William Perry, the Refrigerator, scored his memorable touchdown.
Today, I wanted discuss the subject of finals. Reaching a cup final represents the moment before the achievement of a significant goal. It is of course, a great achievement to reach a cup final. For Manchester City, it is the 5th visit to the home of the national team. But Stoke City have never before been to the FA Cup Final, so it is a great achievement for them to be there and that represents the danger for Stoke today. The possibility is that they might already be thinking that they have achieved something significant.
Now, I don’t mean to take anything away from Stoke, or their tremendous achievement in reaching the final. But what I want to point out is that recognising that achievement too early could actually contribute to them failing. Strictly, I am a neutral with regard to this clash, but I find it almost impossible to watch the FA Cup Final without getting behind one of the teams. For me, as with many English fans, I tend to want to see the underdog win it, so I will be supporting Stoke today. To win the match, Stoke need to be at the top of their game, they need to be completely focussed on the task at hand and they need to believe they can actually do it.
The difficulty for Manchester City is that they may lack focus, but for a different reason. Without any disrespect intended to anyone involved with Stoke, Manchester City are probably the better side, they have the most talented players and they have the most strength on the bench. The danger is that they may mentally believe they have already won the game i.e. that they don’t have to try too much in order to win the game. The end result of such an attitude can be remarkably similar. If they are not completely focussed upon winning the game, they too can easily fail and, indeed, the history of the FA Cup proves this is true.
Now exactly the same is true for anyone who is very close to achieving a major goal in life. The temptation once we have reached our own personal ‘cup final’ is to do what I have described. For one reason or another, we are inclined to take our foot off the gas, so to speak, when what is needed is a mammoth final effort to drive ourselves over the line. Winning teams fully understand this principle. They know that reaching a final is not an end in itself and they also know that, whoever your opponent, you must treat them with the respect they deserve.
The difference between winning and losing often boils down to mental preparation. Of course, this is not any kind of substitute for doing the other work. The team members all need to be in peak physical condition; fit and strong. They need to eat properly, exercise properly and they need to understand the tactics they will employ in the actual game. All of this is undoubtedly true, but what will make the difference in today’s encounter is mental preparation. The team that is better prepared, that can overcome its own unique mental challenge, will be the team that wins the big prize.
You can be the fitter team and lose the game, you can be the best prepared mentally and still lose the game, you can be on the cusp of achieving your vision and still lose the game. As Allan Hanson was fond of saying at one time, you need the desire, the belief and the ability in order to succeed – all three. That’s why Habit 7 is so important for being properly prepared, whatever it is that we are trying to achieve, because being prepared is about preparing your body, mind and spirit – all three.
Who will win today? Most people will be inclined to say Manchester City, but the truth is that the side that wins will be the side that is the best prepared. The same is true for you when you face your own personal final. You need to be properly prepared and, in order to do this, you should take habit 7 seriously. Sharpening the saw needs to become a way of life if we are to go on to achieve ever greater goals. I hope you will join the estimated 4% of people who are engaged in doing it.
The above post was written before the game, so I thought a postscript would be in order. Stoke competed well and indeed, Sorensen, the Stoke keeper, had an excellent game, but Manchester City deservedly won the final. It was very interesting to hear Balotelli speaking afterwards. He said that it was not only important to treat the opposition with respect, but also to ensure that they were not complacent.
Couldn’t have put it better myself 😉