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Matt Parker (Head of Marginal Gains at British cycling):


“Pursuit of excellence has to be relentless, people underplay the amount of time and effort it takes to be the best in the world at anything. It should not, and it cannot, ever be comfortable, because the moment you feel comfortable you stop challenging yourself, so you stop improving”



I’m reading some life changing books these days. I have just read another, Alastair Campbell’s WINNERS – AND HOW THEY SUCCEED”, just the ‘pick-me-up’ I needed, one of those book to which I’ll keep referring when I need a confidence boost.


In essence, Alastair Campbell, a man who knows a thing or two about winning, he examines what makes a winner. Let me say from the off that you can, and should, read this book even if you are not a fan of the man, his politics and/or his history with Tony Blair. There is some subjectivity and, to be fair, he has been through downs (eg alcoholism and depression) as well as ups so he has got some useful things to say but he is mostly objective, he lets the interviewees do the talking.


Campbell puts winners from three spheres, sport, business and politics under the microscope to see if he can identify the key elements in their make up, to see if he can identify what makes them win, if there are common denominators, and why the rest of us, I guess the other 999 in a thousand (or probably more like the other 9,999 in 10,000) fall short (or not even try). What have they got that we haven’t? Of course, there is a lot of overpal and one of the case studies in particular, whilst it doesn’t fall under any of the three heads as such, it could perhaps be said to straddle a couple. There is another area of life from which I wish Campbell had picked some case studies but I’ll not go down that avenue – it’s not a criticism of the book, it’s a personal thing. There is also another question I’d like to have seen asked but, again, it’s a personal thing and I don’t think it’ll occur to many as something missing in this book.


What becomes as a clear as day when you read Campbell’s book is that behind the scenes, what we don’t see when we watch the football match, the cricket game, the rugby match, the athletics competition (able bodied and paralympic), the F1 Grand Prix and so on is the mental preparation, the years and years of sacrifice, the soul destroying defeats followed by the getting back up, the dusting down and the getting on with it, the determination, the focus, the need.


Floyd Mayweather:

“Tough times don’t last…tough people do.”


Nelson Mandela:

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”


Sachin Tendulkar:

“I am in the zone when my positive thoughts are beating the negative and the conscious and subconscious are in harmony. Then I am operating by instinct and that is a wonderful feeling.”


Matthew Said (table tennis, ex British No.1):

“World class performance comes by striving for a target just out of reach but with a vivid awareness of how the gap might be breached. Over time, through constant repetition and deep concentration, the gap will disappear only for a new target to be created just out of reach again.”


All we see when we watch ‘the game’ is the front of stage stuff but the teams behind the performers, the incredible synchronistic team work, the mental and physical preparation, it is mind blowing (I’m not a follower of F1 but what goes into that sport, the engineering, the driving, that team work and attention to the most minute of detail, I was aghast when I was reading about it!)


I don’t want to spoil the book for those of you who are yet to read it so I’ll try to keep this book recommendation/review blog a macro, ‘big picture’ comment. People will get different things from this book. Certain things had a big impact on me, parts of the book which might go straight over other readers’ heads. Likewise, some people will see big lessons for themselves in parts of the book which will go straight over my head. There really is something for everyone here. Campbell begins with some tangible, subjective theorising, eg the importance of ‘strategy’, ‘leadership’ and ‘teamship’ (with input from ‘winners’ ) and moves on to more objective research into the less tangible areas of attitude and mental strength. It is here that we start to see common denominators, that even though, in some ways, everyone is different, in other ways, winners do have characteristics in common.


Eddie Reese, US swimming team coach at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics:


‘Eighty percent of swimmers like to win and 20% hate to lose and 95% of the Olympic team are from the hate to lose group’.


Another example – Sebastian Coe:


‘At the Moscow Olympics, a sports psychologist was advising him on how to create a “normal” environment as he prepared to go for gold. The usually mild-mannered athlete was having none of it. “Do you think I’m normal? Do you think what I do is normal? Do you think running three times a day, a hundred miles a week, is normal? I’m not normal. There’s not a single person in this team who’s normal. We’re all f**king mad.”’


In the sphere of sport, Campbell goes into the worlds of football, rugby, F1, golf, cricket, swimming, cycling, athletics et al and focuses on icons, legends and luminaries from Christiano Ronaldo to Sir Ian Botham, from Usain Bolt to Michael Phelps, from Tiger Woods to Daley Thompson and many, many others. The practitioners of the various sports amongst you, the participants, you’ll look at the minutiae of what your heroes say and think, how they prepare for competition, how they train. I, as one who watches sport, who doesn’t participate (well, I run but not at any great level of achievement), I look at their attitudes more than the specific nuts and bolts of how they play and perform. I look at character and philosophy, elements of their lives which are relevant to me, to anyone who wants to win at what they do or even merely wants to improve. We all live so I believe that there are lessons for all of us if we want to get more out of life, if we want to get the most we can out of life and living.


There are some great chapter/sub heading titles, eg.


Building The Team


The Strategist: Jose Mourinho


It’s All In The Mind


The Extreme Mind


Visualising Success


Innovation As A Constant Mindset


Changing Setback Into Advantages




The Art Of Winning.



There are also some terrific, mind-grabbing, inspiring quotes:


Jack Welch, ex Chairman and CEO of General Electric, now ‘retired’:


“Don’t overbrain things to the point of inaction”.


Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal Football Club:


“Human beings subconsciously understand that alone I am nothing, but in a team I can achieve great things”.


Wasim Akram:


“Will to win is not about wanting to win, it is about needing to win, and then doing what you need to do to be a winner”.



This is a great book and I fully recommend it to everyone. It has caused me to look closely at myself, to confront my weaknesses, to ask myself questions and I feel mentally refreshed, positive and inspired. I hope that you get something positive out of reading it, too.

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