Winning at the highest levels is about your head. It’s a mindset, a way of thinking about competition. Confidence plays a part, but I’m convinced it’s only one part of the formula. There’s more to it.
It’s true that without confidence you won’t get very far at anything, including fishing. It allows you to stay on your pattern even when things get a little slow. It allows you to look at another angler and feel no fear even if you’re a few pounds behind.
That’s good for a solid finish and a check, but is it enough for a win?
In my opinion being a winner isn’t about knowing that you can catch them or that you can be competitive. That’s confidence, but that’s all. Every angler in the Elite Series can catch a bass, and he knows it. We’ve all won big tournaments along the way. We all have confidence in our skills.
Winners have more than that. Their goal, and their belief, is that they can catch more weight than the other guys. There’s no objective beyond that.
And, forget about the concept of “swinging for the fences.” That kind of thinking implies a mindless, flailing away in search of five giant bass. Winners don’t do that. They make careful calculations as to how much weight they need and then they go after it.
The repeat winners in our sport are part of a relatively small group. A few others win a tournament or two over the years but that’s about all. The reason for that, I think, is that they don’t have the mindset to go all the way. They don’t have a singlemindedness of purpose to catch more weight than anyone else.
There is one exception to what I just said. Sometimes earning a Classic spot forces an angler to back off and make sure he catches enough weight to qualify. But that’s also a part of the winning mindset. Winners demand that they have their shot to win the championship.
Consider that I said win the championship. I didn’t say fish in the championship. Those are two very different things. If your goal is to fish the championship, then you’ve reached it the first morning. There’s nothing left. Winners have their eye on the last day. Only then is there nothing left.
Another thing that winners have — and this might be the most important trait they carry — is the ability to put their mistakes and shortcomings out of the picture. They don’t blame anyone or anything for their mistakes or problems. They never make excuses, and they don’t forget. They just move forward.
It’s like they can flip a toggle switch in their mind that allows them to turn those bad days into a non-issue. The past is just that, nothing more. It has no effect on the future. The next cast is a new opportunity and so is the next day. They don’t say they’ll make a clean break. They make a clean break.
Can the winner’s mindset be learned? I don’t know, but I have my doubts.