What You Need to Be a Champion

Michelle Wie
Courtesy Keith Allison


My granny was a champion. She was never sent to school, but she taught herself how to read. I remember her sitting on the sofa, dressed in her sari and her favorite cardigan, her knees tucked under her like a lithe teenage girl, as her fingers traced the words in the Gujarati magazine on her lap. She would sound out the words softly, each syllable at a time, and then lean back and say the whole word out loud.

It was painful to watch, and maybe that is why I remember it so well. I never offered to help her, and she never asked for my help. It is of course entirely possible that she knew my own Gujarati was as rudimentary as hers. We would both have been sitting on the sofa going baa, maa, kaa in slow motion. Strangely we also never spoke about it, it was just something she did while my brothers and I played around her.

I’m sure it took her at least a month to finish reading a single article. But finish it she did. For almost two decades I remember her struggling in the same way, day in and day out.

But she never gave up.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I read a newspaper article about another champion, a French woman, Colette Bourlier, who earned her PhD at the age of ninety-one. And it wasn’t a pity PhD, nope, in fact her supervisor said, “It was rigorous, analytical work.”

Ms Bourlier’s research was on the integration of migrant women into French society in the 1970s. Yes, there’s hope, that blog I’ve been meaning to write may still be fresh and new in fifty years time. Ah…please bear with me as I stop to marvel at the Circle of Life.

So imagine, little Ms Bourlier trudging up to the podium on her ancient knees, dressed in her cap and gown, and the room dissolving in tears as she accepts her degree certificate.

And then there’s Michelle Wie. No she’s not ninety…yet. She’s an elite Korean-American golf champion in her twenties. At the age of ten she became the youngest woman/ girl to qualify for a US Golf Association amateur championship.

One would think Wie must have superhuman eye-hand coordination to sink a tiny white ball into a hole the size of a baby’s fist from a few feet away.

But Wie has much more. She has what my granny had and what Ms Colette Bourlier has. It’s called GRIT. And research shows it is one the most important predictors of success.

“The game is eighty percent mental,” Wie said.

We all have the ability to drive ourselves, but most of us give up too soon. We often talk ourselves out of doing or completing something. I know I do.

Champions like Wie have confidence in their own ability to win. “To be great you have to be cocky. I’ve always struggled with that but as I get older I’m getting better at embracing my strengths,” Wie said.

Of course it helps when each time you hit the ball you get closer to winning a million bucks.

So…if you can teach yourself anything you should teach yourself self-confidence, focus and above all else GRIT, that is, the ability to persevere in spite of setbacks.

FYI, I’m still working on at it, not much success thus far.