Article written by Christiaan Mattheus THE MENTALITY

Ever wondered what it takes to win, what it really takes to be the best? When I say “win”, I’m not referring to your 9th grade athletics day participation medal. No, I’m referring to the type of winning that is synonymous with names like Phelps, Coan, Armstrong, Williams, and Ilyin. We can split hairs and have conversations about genetics, nurture, and drug-use but I believe that there is more to champions than double helices and odd looking syringes. I believe that champions, true champions have mastered the most important tool in our trade – mentality.

Allow me to elaborate. Variables such as drug use and nurture most certainly play a role in the making of a champion, but those variables are (to some extent) negligible. Let’s use professional bodybuilding as an example. If we remove all drug-use from the sport, I can guarantee you that the person who was in first place will still be in first place. He’ll be 50lbs lighter, but he’ll still be 1st. This statement should come as no surprise to you. Anyone who has spent large quantities of time around champions will know what I’m talking about. Winners win, and they’ll do anything to win…


In 1992, physicianosteopath, and publicist Robert Goldman posed a question to elite athletes. He asked them if they were given the option to take a drug that would guarantee an overwhelming success in their sport, but cause their death in 5 years time – would they take it. The results were rather overwhelming; more than half of the elite athletes that were questioned answered yes. This became known as “Goldman’s Dilemma” and the experiment was repeated several times:

  1. Gabe Mirkin: Elite runners – 50%+ Yes.

  2. Bob Goldman: Combatant power sports – 50%+ Yes.

As can be expected, more than half the athletes that were posed with the question said they would take the drug. Now I’m fully aware of the implications surrounding drug use in professional sport, so I propose we rephrase the question: “If you could make a deal with the Devil that would ensure you win every competition you enter, but in 5 years’ time would cost you your soul, would you sign?”


Now that we have established the mentality of those at the top of their profession, I’m going to play the Devil’s advocate for a bit – not everyone is cut-out to be a champion. It may not be what you want to hear but I think it’s what you need to hear. Day-after-day I see people inside and outside of the gym endlessly pursuing (what appears to be) a lost cause. They devote ludicrous amounts of time to training and when all is said and done, most of them end-up with a cheap plastic trophy and a T-shirt to show that they attended.

Please don’t misinterpret my statement; I’ll always be an advocate for hard work and purpose, but not at the cost of someone’s livelihood. At some point it is necessary for every person to sit-down and have a conversation with themselves – a conversation where they honestly ask themselves “Is it worth it?” We have all seen the YouTube videos portraying the champions’ sacrifices, the endless hours beating at their craft and the gold medal like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. This is a pipe dream; champions are born champions and sure, you can develop a given skill-set but for the most part, the mentality that these people possess is not something you can forcefully acquire.


The ugly truth? Not everyone walking around is a mental genius with an IQ score of 180, in the same way that not everyone is a physical genius with a SVJ of 42”. The champions I’m referring to are not only physical geniuses but also mental geniuses, they might not possess an IQ score of 180 but they have something else entirely. I’ll use Michael Phelps as an example. During his 4 year preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it was reported that he only missed 2 days of training. Yes, out of 1460 days he spent 1458 days head-down in the pool (it might pay to add that the days he missed were due to snow storms). Apart from his genetic pre-disposition to be built for swimming, his mentality is what finishes the job. After all, you can have the best genetics in the world but if you don’t have the mentality to finish the job, you may-as-well be a 12 year old driving a Ferrari…


The benefits coupled with setting realistic expectations and training accordingly will forever remain underrated. We will continually see athletes on both sides of the spectrum, one side believing they’re God’s gift to exercise and the other side believing they’re not good enough. Don’t be plagued by either side, find your niche and work to develop it to the best of your abilities. More often than not, the best of a person’s abilities ends-up being far more than they could ever imagine.

So, if the Devil came knocking with Goldman’s proposal, would you shake his hand? We hear “30 years as a lion, or 70 years as a lamb” all too often but when posed with the option, would you really? Would you really sacrifice everything around you, everyone around you just to win? If you answered “no” and you sent the Devil walking, then envision the mentality of those who said “yes” and know that they possess the mentality of a champion.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there is someone at the door and I hear he has something for me to sign…

Author Bio: Christiaan Mattheus

Occupation: Gym owner – Strength & Conditioning Coach Sport: CrossFit Clean & Jerk: 352 Snatch: 286 Squat: 506 Bench: 341 Deadlift: 575

About: Co-owner of Perish Strength & Conditioning. I have competed in 2 sports on an international level, 3 at national level and multiple national level CrossFit competitions.

Hometown: Pretoria, SA

Current city: Christchurch, NZ

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