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Mindsets of Competitive Success: Mastery

Updated: May 6, 2023

Yet, take a minute to actually think about it. Do we put Andre Agassi as the best in the world? He was one of the best during his time period and absolutely a master of his craft. Master craftsmen in trades, athletes who are playing in the top leagues and clubs of their sports, those athletes who represent their country in the Olympics or global tournaments. These are all masters to varying degrees. Each of these displays skills and techniques that are at a level beyond typical or average. Think about the NFL here in the USA. There are just about 2,000 players on active rosters during the season (1,696 to be exact). According to the NCAA (2020), in 2019, there were 16,380 football players eligible for the draft. This left you with a 1.6% chance of making it to the NFL via the draft.

Think about that for a minute. You have a 1.6% chance to be drafted into the NFL. If you ask me, I would say that even the worst player in the NFL would have to be a considered a master of their craft to make it to that level. So, you do not need to be try and be the best in order to be a master. This mastery mindset is really what most competitive athletes are referring to when they talk about wanting to be the best. They say they want to be the best, but in reality, they are looking to be their best. They are looking to continue to grow and improve so they say “I will be the best” but acknowledge they likely will not reach that goal and are satisfied with simply working to become better. That is an important distinction. It is also one that is perfectly ok.

There are two main types of motivation for athletes. They are either ego driven, or task driven. Mastery is more of a task driven mindset. You are looking to put in the effort and learn something new. Bestism and Perfectionism are more likely to fall into the ego mindset because they are focused on performance compared to someone else. Mastery does have the potential to become an ego driven mindset. An ego-based mastery mindset often comes when you compare what you know to what others know. A dangerous side effect of the mastery mindset becoming ego based is that you can fall into depression. You know that you are a master of your craft, but you start to become envious of those who still know more than you. At that point you have three choices. You can accept it, start to move towards a bestism mindset, or fall into that depression.

Mastery is also the most positive out of our three competitive mindsets. This is because, being more task-focused in nature, it is a growth style mindset. A healthy mastery mindset means that the athlete believes there is always something new to learn. They pay attention and study tapes not to compare themselves, but to learn. “How did this person beat me to the ball?”. “Serena Williams could always play that shot back with power, what are the differences between her form and mine?”. The task-oriented mastery athlete looks for ways to learn from people who do different aspects of the game better.

This means that these athletes are okay with being beaten. Bear in mind that this does not mean that they like to lose or find losing acceptable. For them it is okay to lose because it provides them with another opportunity to learn and grow. Their goal is to win and not be beaten, but it does not destroy them or their ego if they lose. Athletes with an ego centered mastery mindset are those who throw a tantrum when they lose. They know that they can get better and are going to get better, but they are ashamed that they were beaten, and their egos will be bruised by a loss. Often times, they will make excuses for why they failed. Either it was someone or something else’s fault, they were unprepared, or some other excuse that explains why they were not good enough.

In understanding these, we see that in order for many of these top athletes who are masters of their craft and focus on the mastery mindset to truly be successful, most of that mindset should be task oriented. Their process needs to be focused on what they can learn and improve upon. However, there will also inevitably be at least some bit of that mindset which is ego driven. Human nature does not allow us to be fully task driven. In fact, it is even rare to be fully ego driven. We often compare ourselves to others in order to find those areas that we need to improve in. The question is, what is the majority of your mastery mindset driven by? Are you seeking to be the master who is constantly learning, or are you always comparing yourself to your peers?

As mentioned earlier, if you are constantly comparing yourself to your peers and focused on trying to be better than them instead of what you can learn from them, you begin to slip into the mindset of “bestism” that we will discuss next week. Bestism often comes from an ego-oriented mastery mindset. The change can be subtle and differentiating between the two can be challenging. Hopefully, in detailing each of them between this week and next week you will be better able to understand and differentiate between them.

  1. Definition of MASTERY. (n.d.).

  2. NCAA. (2020, April 20). Football: Probability of competing beyond high school. – the Official Site of the NCAA.

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