stay focused

Stay Focused: How Hall of Famers Think




The following blog post is an excerpt from the book- The Hinge: The Importance of Mental Toughness 




Here is how the mental game works. We are not only working on our own game, but we are also working on ourselves.

The skills of Motivation, Confidence, Focus, or Re-Focus are what we are working on in order to build our Mental Toughness. 

(INFOGRAPHIC) The hierarchy of mental toughness illustrates this point. 

The way we get confident is through our focus, and how we re-focus just reveals our confidence.

Hall of Famers are obviously the best and we often look at the Hall of Famers as having an extreme amount of confidence. Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t. A lot of the best were driven by the fear of NOT being good enough. 

The skill we need to look at is Focus. 

How did Hall of Famers focus? Did they visualize their end goals and see themselves giving their hall of fame speech? 

Or was it something else? 

Studying Hall of Famers revealed some amazing insight into how they stay focused. They were focused on this season, this day and this play!  They were obsessed with how to prepare and simple get better. 

What’s interesting is that the greatest in the world rarely spoke or thought about reaching the actual hall of fame! 

  • Jerry Rice stated, “I never looked down the road and said, ‘Hey look, one day, the Hall of Fame.’”


  • “Whitey” Aday umpired Alabama softball games for 27 years before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. He said, “I never dreamed I’d be in the Hall of Fame.”


  • Willie Roaf played offensive tackle in the NFL for 13 seasons: On his day, he said, I never dreamed I would one day be in the Hall of Fame. I was just thankful every day to play the sport I loved.”


  • Robin Yount, played with the Brewers for 20 years and had the most hist of any MLB’er in the 1980s. He said, “I never dreamed of being in the Hall of Fame. Standing here with all these great players was beyond any of my dreams.”


  • Herschel Walker once stated, “[my] biggest goal one day was to make it to Atlanta [to live]…you don’t dream about being a professional football player.”


  • Steven Dietrich played 18 years as a goalie in the National Lacrosse League. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, he said: “As I played my career, I never would have dreamed that this could have happened.”


  • Barry Larkin, played shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds for 18 seasons, and on his day stated, “I thought about being good, but I never thought about the Hall of Fame.”


  • Curtis Martin was a running back in the NFL for 10 seasons and grinded his way to the Hall of Fame. He stated, “The Hall of Fame was not even something that I dreamed about dreaming about. It wasn’t even in my thought process.”


  • Rusty Wallace had over 55 wins during his Nascar career, even winning the Winston Cup. When he was introduced, he said, “Growing up on the short tracks in Missouri, I would have never imagined any of this.”


  • Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns won four world-boxing titles. “I never imagined being a Hall of Famer.” 


  • “When our first record hit…we thought, ‘we’ve got two years,’” Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.


  • Jennifer Capriati won three grand slams during her career, but only after dropping out of the sport early in her professional teenage career. About her Hall of Fame induction, she mentioned, “This is one milestone I thought I’d never achieve.”


  • Dermontti Dawson played center for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 12 seasons and stated, “You have individual goals for yourself—the Pro Bowl, to be All-Pro—but I never, ever thought of the Hall of Fame.”


  • Pavel Bure played in the NHL for 12 seasons, the six-time all-star stated, “Growing up I never even thought I would be able to play in the NHL, much less make it into the Hockey Hall of Fame.”


  • Patrick Ewing, who became the Knicks’ all-time leader in points, rebounds, and blocked shots, said he “never imagined being a part of it.”


  • Wade Boggs, 12-time MLB all-star, stated, “…never in a million years would I ever thought that I would be on the same stage with all these great Hall of Famers and enshrined to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.”


  • Edwin Moses, 2 Olympic Gold medals and 107 consecutive victories in the 400M hurdles, once stated even in high school, “I had no ambitions to be an Olympic track star or any kind of athlete.”

The lesson is that the vision that we must possess should be short-term focused.

  • What do I have to improve upon?
  • How do I want to act and believe? 
  • What is the vision for my current day self?

What assisted Hall of Famers to stay focused was their ability to re-focus! 

Mistakes and major setbacks are going to happen, but the way you reach the Hall is by having a career of consistency. It’s the most underrated mental skill. The ability to re-focus is the second most difficult mental skill. It relies on how we let go of mistakes, let go of resentments, self-pity, and the curse of it all, perfection…

Our hinge becomes a doorstopper if we keep dwelling about the last play, our stats, or our performance. We become stuck if we allow mistakes to bother us so much that we become afraid to make any mistakes at all. That’s not how to stay focused! 

Adversity and painful lessons will occur, but what matters most is how we respond to those obstacles! Check-out how these amazing competitors refocused. 

  • In-game 5 of the 1956 World Series, Don Larson pitched the only perfect game in history. His previous outing, game 2, lasted only 1.2 innings while losing the game 13-8.


  • Hall of Famer Raymond Berry, who retired as the NFL’s all-time reception leader, only caught 12 passes his rookie year in the league for the Colts.


  • Roger Federer, the best tennis player in history (so far), has won to date seven Wimbledon titles. Yet, he lost in the first round of Wimbledon his first three years of playing.


  • Taylor Swift was passed over by RCA for a record contract at age 15.



  • Jeff Immelt was hired on September 7, 2001, as CEO of General Electric (GE), the multi-national conglomerate. He was following Jack Welsh, the famous icon. In his first week as a rookie CEO, he watched NBC, which GE owned, and saw two GE-financed planes crash into the Twin Towers that GE insured.


  • Jim Marshall of the Minnesota Vikings recovered a fumble and ran it the wrong way to the end zone, and threw it out-of-bounds for a safety. The next drive, he sacked the quarterback and forced a fumble which his teammate picked up and ran for a game-winning TD.


  • Matt Biondi was a favorite to win 7 Gold medals at the 1988 Olympic games. He lost his first two finals, going 0-2. He ended up winning 5 Gold medals at the Games.


  • Mike Krzyzewski, during his first three seasons at Duke University, had an equivocal record of 38-37, with an ACC in-conference record of just 13-29.


  • William Jennings Bryan was nominated by his party to run for U.S. President three times and lost every time. He became best known at the end of his life at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. This trial decided the teaching of evolution in schools.


  • Country singer Trace Adkins was shot and survived. The bullet went through his heart and both lungs.


  • Danielle Ballengee slipped and fell down a 60-foot cliff while on a training run and spent two days stranded outdoors with a shattered pelvis and internal bleeding. Just 150 days after her accident, she still finished fifth in a 60-mile adventure race.


  • Jim Abbott, who had only one hand and pitched for 10 years in the Majors, culminated with throwing a no-hitter in 1993. He threw his no-hitter against the Indians, whom he faced the outing before lasting only 4 innings and giving up 7 runs.


  • Lady GaGa was originally signed to Def Jam Recordings at age 19, but the company let her go after just three months.


  • George Washington lost more battles than he won and lost his first battle so bad, his daring escape is what saved the entire continental army. 


  • Johnny Unitas’ first pass was intercepted for a touchdown.


  • Napoleon Hill, author of a best-seller, could not think of a name for his book. Unless he came up with one, the publisher would use the title, Use Your Noodle to Get the Boodle. Hill awoke at 2 a.m. on the deadline date, when the title came to him, Think and Grow Rich.


  • Roger Bannister finished fourth in the 1952 Olympics. It was this disappointing finish that drove him to break the four-minute mile.

 It’s not about the setback, it’s always about the comeback! Can you withstand the hardships and failures that will happen to bounce back and overcome? Will you have a rain jacket ready for the rain? 

We stay focused by doing our best on TODAY! That’s it! We do have to possess a vision of who we want to become, but this is a short-term type of focus that we develop!

dr rob bell

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & Associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out all the books.   

Please check out the podcast 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness as we interview expert athletes and coaches about Mental Strength and their Hinge Moment.