The Champion’s Way

The Champion’s Way

Veronica KaramanBy Veronica Karaman17 Minutes

Excerpt from The Champion’s Way: Core Foundations for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life by Veronica Karaman

The Spiritual Zone, Part II:
The Power of Love-based Performance

In a previous module, I defined the spiritual dynamics of performance as identity, higher purpose, and values. In this module, we are going to add the power of love as foundational to peak performance.

Consider this truth: anything spiritual is relational. The Champion’s Way is a deeply relational approach to performance. It’s critical that we learn to perform from a place of relationship. When you begin to perform outside of relationship where all that becomes important is the goal—you begin to separate yourself from connection to your heart. Everything becomes focused on “that thing out there.” The goal, not your personhood, begins to determine who you are.

You can get so wrapped up in the outcome that you actually separate yourself from yourself in the pursuit of your goal. You eventually get all wrapped up in performance-orientation. Performance-orientation is a deadly spiritual condition. It robs you of your truth worth. You lose who you are. Your worth becomes determined by how you perform. When you’re so driven to achieve, you lose your sense of self in an obsession with the goal, creating a damaging crack in your foundation. Such was my downfall.

My father died when I was fifteen. I didn’t really “know” him; that is, what made him tick. He was a hard worker but never spent any quality time with me. I cannot remember him saying, “I love you.” I knew he did, but I never received any nurture from him or my mom. When he died, no one comforted me by saying they loved me, nor did I ever receive a hug from my mother. We never spoke about his death after the funeral. The day after he died, I had to go back to school. I just remember having to get 100 percent on my history exam. In the place where I needed nurture, I turned instead to achievement. Turning to achievement set off a whole lifetime of dysfunction. In order to have worth, I had to achieve something—and that something was never enough to fill the void of my self worth.

The trap of performance-orientation is that it looks deceptively good on the outside. People were impressed with my graduating as the valedictorian of my high school. I was the first girl from my high school to get an athletic scholarship to college. Attending Duke University as a star student athlete was a highly impressive achievement. All those accomplishments made me shine. However, I was fractured on the inside. I was lost. I needed to know I was loved totally apart from my achievements. Nobody ever told me my worth had nothing to do with my accolades and scores.

I remember caddying for a little champion just seven years old in a world championship. He triple-bogeyed the first hole. He stood behind the hole and yelled out, “I hate myself. I hate myself. I hate myself.” He defined his worth by his score. After the round, I spoke with his father with great concern about what I’d heard. Unfortunately, his father didn’t get just how severe his son’s performance-orientation was.

As a parent, a coach, or a player, what role does achievement play in the defining of self-worth? I often ask parents, “Are you raising a goal or a soul? Who is it that you’re becoming? What is it that you’re really creating on your road to championship? A whole person? A great competitor who is fractured as a person? How is your sport and your performance in it causing you to become a better person? Is your sport serving you, or are your serving the idol of sports?” The whole idea of mission is this: “I have a greater purpose, a greater end, and a greater vision than just the result.” Again, you want to be sure that you are working on your values, because your values are what keep you grounded and centered.

The antidote to performance-orientation is love-based performance. In love-based performance, the person’s value has nothing to do with his score. He is a valuable person just because he exists. When a player is loved, he is free to succeed and free to fail. Tiger Woods said, “I was never afraid to push my limits or to fail, because I always came home to love.” There should be enough relational deposit, enough support from parents, family, friends, and coaches, that any defeat is swallowed up in acceptance. According to Kyle Rote, Jr., a great world-class athlete, “Sports is a wonderful tool but an awful god.” We don’t want the sport to own us; we want to own the sport. Love is the relational glue that keeps an athlete or a performer whole.

The following is a more specific comparison between a performance-based and a love-based approach to peak performance:

Doing vs. Being

Something that is performance-based is centered on the doing of something. It is based on results, productivity, goal-orientation, scores and achievement. In a love-based approach, your worth comes from the being side of life. You are a person apart from your performer self. In other words, your doing comes from your being. Your being does not come from your doing.

Being has to do with connection, being loved, a focus on yourself as a person. Performance is based on results, and being is based on process. The process is growth-oriented, not just an end point.

Productivity vs. Fruitfulness

Performance is based on productivity, and being is based on fruitfulness. Performance is based on a goal, and being is based on a soul—you are a person. Performance has scores, being has stories and growth.

Achievement vs. Authenticity

Achievement is based on accomplishing things—doing. Authenticity is based on personal-growth—becoming. This is being who you really are apart from performance. The athlete may be a son or daughter, maybe a husband or a wife. We want to learn how to achieve peak performance, but from a place of relationship, from a place of being an emotionally healthy, whole person. This is what The Champion’s Way is all about.

To be sure that you’re being nurtured in your process of reaching peak performance, you must love yourself and receive love from others. You must also extend love to those you are raising and coaching to be high performers. Love is the only fracture-free foundation there is to raising a high-performing, whole person.

One time I was trying to qualify for the U.S. Open. However, I did not want to go about it alone. I had an idea of creating a caddy club, a support and encouragement group that would help me along my way. I invited eighteen friends to come join me on my journey. They would offer their encouragement, good wishes, and prayers for me along my way. Every Sunday night I would send them an email, telling them of my victories and my needs.

I invited both men and women, young and old, golfers and non-golfers, to join my caddy club. It was so amazing. By the time the qualifier for the U.S. Open rolled around, I had eighty people in my club. I was inspiring them, and they were inspiring me. There were times I would take a dip and get discouraged. Somebody would shoot me an email and it would lift up my spirit, sharing the exact words I needed to hear.

You can do this, too. I call it “the great eight.” I encourage you to start a caddy club. It isn’t important what sport you’re in or what your performance is; invite at least eight others to come join you on your road to championship. With Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, it’s so easy to invite others to take part in what you’re doing.

People love to be inspired. I remember sitting in airplanes, explaining to total strangers, “I’m pursuing this goal, and I started a caddy club.” They would immediately ask me, “Can I be part of your club?” I didn’t even know them. But there was something about the energy and the pursuit of a goal that other people were inspired by. I wanted to go after my championship from a place of relationship, encouragement, and love. It was a beautiful exchange of my inspiring others and inviting others to inspire me. A caddy club is the perfect antidote to the loneliness of being in an individual sport like golf.

The sign of a truly healthy person is someone who has the ability to give love and receive love. Of course, you want to be able to perform and achieve a goal. But you also want to be able to give and receive love, to be healthy in your soul as you go about pursuing that goal.

One of the greatest examples of love-based performance I’ve ever experienced happened during a stay in private housing while I was playing in one of my tournaments. It was after a hard day of competition. It was blistering hot, and I hadn’t played well. I felt defeated and totally depleted. It was that feeling of being worn out, of giving everything I had, and coming up short.

The folks I was staying with were wonderful and incredibly loving. The husband, Richard, was a gourmet cook, and his wife, Karen, was an affectionate and loving person. When I arrived back at their place, Karen swung the front door wide open. Surrounding me with the biggest bear hug ever, she remarked, “We love you, Veronica.” I literally felt all defeat, all discouragement, and all my depletion completely wash out of me, instantly! Karen’s loving energy filled my worn-out being with a fresh spark of life. I could feel her love invading every cell of my being. I will never forget that moment. She then handed me a glass of wine!

Richard had cooked a delicious meal. As we sat out on the back patio and talked, they continued to pour love into me. Their love and relational deposits dissolved the sting of defeat from the intensity of effort as I’d thrashed through my sport.

Perhaps you are not the player, but a parent or coach in a competition. Always remember to be intentional about loving in the midst of calling somebody up higher. My coaching always comes from a place of belief and faith in my student with whom I speak the truth in love. If I have to say something truthful to a student, it is always from a place of love, acceptance, and belief in the person. You want to be sure the player knows that they are affirmed and loved. Even in the midst of a performance, as in the example I just gave, a competitor needs a love shower as much as a physical shower to reach a peak performance.

This is a basic introduction to the concept of love-based performance. There are many more dynamics in the spiritual zone that I have not talked about when it comes to peak performance. There are deeper, more destructive spiritual dynamics, such as rejection, abandonment, self-hatred, and self-abuse that poison the soul of a competitor. Unfortunately, these dynamics are prevalent on the road to championship. Their destructive force is nullified when we form our self-worth apart from our performance. We want to be sure that our worth does not equal our score. In fact, we want to be sure our worth has nothing to do with our score. Drill this truth home in your heart: you are not your score!

I want you to be free from performance-orientation to be free to perform—to succeed, and to fail and rise again!

Sometimes stuff just happens in life. You could end up lying with your head on a pillow and find you can’t move because of an injury or illness. Should that happen, where will you find your worth then? I want you to receive your identity and your worth from a love-based place and be able to freely give love to others as well. That is The Champion’s Way.

My prayer for you is that you would know the love of God. You have worth simply because your Creator made you. You are priceless. No score or championship win or loss can give or take away the fact that you are a child of the Master of the Universe!

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